How To Photograph Lightning At Night
This article is for people new to lightning photography and is meant as a starting point. Once you have a bit of experience you should try new ways of shooting lightning, with different settings and creative ways to frame them.
Basic Camera Settings
- Exposure Time: 10 seconds
- ISO: 100 – 200
- Aperture: f/9
- White Balance: Auto is fine, but some folks like a cooler balance.
Advanced Camera settings
- At night you can start at 3 seconds and go up to 30 seconds if you wish. It depends on how bright or far away the lightning is.
- I prefer to stay at ISO 100 always.
- Aperture can be adjusted from f/4 to f/16. More than exposure time, I prefer to adjust my aperture to make sure my 10 seconds exposure comes out correctly. But with lightning, you cannot always predict how bright the next bolt will be.
Read more about equipment recommendations for night photography
- DSLR Camera with manual settings.
- Microfiber cloth, in case your lens gets raindrops on it.
- A release cable. It is preferred to set your camera to B (Bulb) and apply a release cable rather than apply the shutter button.
- Something to cover the body of your camera (and yourself for that matter) from the rain.
Most of the time autofocus works well for lightning shots. But if it is very dark and your camera struggles to get it just right, set your lens to infinity or manually focus. Getting sharpness in your lightning is important; I would make focus the priority over all other settings.
It’s obviously difficult to scout a location in advance to shoot lightning, but not impossible. If you can find a nice foreground where you think the storm will approach, set yourself there. I think shots with lots of buildings or abandoned places look terrific, even an open field with crops.
- If your camera has continuous shooting or time lapse, use that so that your camera starts a new exposure automatically once it has finished with the current one.
- Lightning is dangerous. Please take precautions and use common sense.
- Be aware of the road on which you traveled to your spot. Once the rain starts to pour, will you be able to exit safely?
- Storms can bring violent winds, even tornadoes. As exciting as storm photography is, you always need to be aware of the risk you are in.
- Some storm chasers take risks by speeding on the road while watching the sky. Do not risk others’ safety for a shot. If you feel the need to speed, then you are already too late to get the shot you wanted; safely find another spot.
By Chris Attrell