Yesterday I wrote a blog about the Top 8 Tips to Improving Lightning Photography that included the first 4 tips. Below is the complete list of 8 tips that I hope will help all Lightning chasers everywhere! All the shots below were from a shoot I did while on a Carnival Cruise ship in the Caribbean from 1:30am to 5am. More shots from this shoot can be found on the previous blog posting.
- Find a way to stabilize your camera (tripod is the best option....but it's also a lightning rod)! You can either be a little crazy like me and assume that when it's your time to die it's going to happen no matter what, or you can set it on a tripod, turn on your self-timer or intervalometer and reduce your chances of getting hit by lightning by walking away from your camera.
- Set your exposure for when the lightning hits, otherwise when it does hit your shots will be severely overexposed if you are exposing for the night sky without taking into account the immense amount of light the lightning shines into the sky. You will have to experiment for probably 10 minutes in shooting to get this right. How do you do it? You mount your camera, open the shutter up for at least 4 seconds and wait for lightning to hit in the frame of your shot during the shutter being open for 4 seconds. Start adjusting your settings to get the right exposure.
- SLIGHTLY underexpose the image. It's much easier to raise the exposure in Lightroom, Aperture, etc. than it is to try and fix an overexposed shot. PLUS, when you do get that shot where there is a lot of lightning you run the risk of overexposing that shot if you aren't slightly underexposing. 1 or 2 stops under should do the trick.
- Manual Focus- don't even try auto focus for these shots. You will miss it every time because the camera will have try to focus each and every time you press the trigger. And the worst part is it won't be able to focus because you are pointing at a big dark sky. What you need to do is auto focus your lens on something else around you (like the light from a lightpole), then change your focus to manual on your camera. No light poles around you? Use your car lights, flashlight, anything to shine light on an object that's not too close to you to be able to get your focus correct.
- Aperture- don't go with a wide aperture, it will be even more difficult to focus and there is a large chance that elements in your image will be out of focus as a result. If you leave your shutter open long enough you won't need a wide aperture.
- Wide lens- use a wide lens if possible. For the shots I took this evening I used a Nikkor 24mm lens. For a few shots I used a Nikkor 50mm but didn't use it for very long. Why? Because a wide lens is much better to create a bigger "canvas" for God to paint with lightning. Simply put, you have a much better chance capturing lightning with a wider lens.
- Low(er) ISO- I shoot with the D3 which is famous for it's amazing ISO sensitivity. Despite that when I shoot lightning I really don't need a high ISO because I am using the long shutter (usually 5 seconds or more) to allow the amount of light I need in. I lower the aperture because I know with night shots I want as little noise as possible in the shot for post processing purposes. Using a D3, a low aperture for me is anything under 2000. For other cameras I highly recommend keeping it under 1000.
- Patience- you might get lucky and get the shot of the century after 15 minutes....chances are you won't. That is due in large part because you are at the mercy of where the lightning strikes, fortunate that your shutter is open when it strikes, and it takes time to get your settings correct to account for a subject matter (lightning bolts) that aren't in the frame when you are making your settings.