Monsoon season in Arizona means that we will undoubtedly get a break from the scorching heat, but it also means that we are going to get some spectacular lightning displays. So, last night when a storm came rolling through again, I had to act. I literally ran out to my shed, pulled out the ladder and made my way to the roof hoping to get some good shots of the lightning. I’m going to help walk you through the steps on how to capture those great lightning photos.
Steps to Capturing great lightning shots:
- Make sure your lenses and sensor/mirrors are cleaned off before shooting. You can’t see it very well in this photo, but their were numerous spots on the lens that created dark spots on the picture. Luckily with the magic of adobe lightroom, I can make those spots disappear very quickly.
- When shooting lightning, it is important to make sure you have your tri-pod with you. The reason for this is because you are typically shooting at a slower shutter speed to capture those intermittent lightning strikes. When you shoot at a slower speed, you have a very high probability of capturing a blurry photo if your camera is not secured to something.
- Once you have your camera set on your tripod and your tripod is level, you’ll then look at the shutter speed, which will be the single most important factor in catching those wonderful lightning strikes. For this photo I had my shutter speed set at 5″ (5 seconds). This means that from the time I press the button on the camera to take the picture, until the time that the photo is finished, it takes 5 seconds. Anything that happens in front of the camera during those 5 seconds will show up. Note: You can set your shutter speed as low as a 30″ (30 seconds), but when you do, be sure to adjust your aperture and ISO settings to compensate for the extra light that will be let in to the camera.
- Next, set your Aperture. For this specific shot I was at F/3.5. Typically lenses can vary from as low as an f/1.4 all the way to f/22. This number is important because the smaller the number, the more light your lens allows into the camera which gives you a brighter shot. The higher the number (ex: F/22) the less amount of light that is let into your picture, which can result in a very dark picture. When shooting at night and in limited light, it is important to be shooting at the lower end of the F-stop spectrum.
- Once your shutter speed and aperture are set, then you can either bring the Iso up or down. Typically, because I was shooting in limited light, you would increase your ISO to compensate for the lack of light, but be careful, increasing the ISO too much will result in extra grainy photos.
- Last but not least, before you take that first picture, set your camera in manual focus mode. Try to find an object as far away as you can and manually focus on it. Once you have clear focus on that object, point your camera in the direction of the where you want to shoot the lightning and press the trigger.
- Tinker around with your shutter speeds, apertures and ISO’s as it gets darker. Remember you need to adjust with the conditions to make sure you keep capturing those clear shots.
- Most people don’t realize that many of those amazing lightning photos you see have been altered in some way shape or form. This photo I have included was re-touched in adobe lightroom to emphasize the lightning hiding behind the clouds. Don’t be afraid to get creative and have a little fun. You’d be amazed at what you can do to a picture by editing it just a little bit.
If you follow these steps and practice, practice, practice you can start to take photos similar to this and others out there. I encourage you to experiment and find out your favorite style. Good luck and please provide feedback if you think this is good information or if I have missed any important info. Please share if you find this helpful!