So I was on a big Carnival Cruise ship this week in the Caribbean and at about 1am I look out my window and see big flashes of light filling the sky. I immediately thought, "That has to be lightning," so I decided to see what I could capture. I have had some great shoots with lightning over the years but this was truly unique. Why? Because I've never had a lightning storm hit while I was on a ship in the middle of the ocean...and we were heading straight for the storm.

I grabbed my Nikon D3 and my monopod. I left my tripod at home for the trip and had to figure out a way to be able to shoot lightning on a moving ship, in a storm, with lots of wind and rain, and virtually no way to keep the camera still to get the shots I needed. So using my monopod I "Jimmy-rigged" the camera and monopod to the railing of the ship using my camera strap to secure it. I have included some pics to show you what I did. I get a lot of questions regarding how to shoot lightning photography. So to help I have created The Top 8 Tips for Taking Lightning Photography:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
Full list of the Top 8 Tips for Improving Lightning Photography including tips 5 thru 8 are coming next as well as many more shots from this shoot!!

The best thing for you to do is simply look at this like a fireworks show from the heavens and fully take it in. For this shoot in the Caribbean I shot for 3.5 hours. Many times I truly just marveled, yelled, "WOW!" and instead of getting frustrated (which is easy to do), I just enjoyed something truly remarkable. Hope this helps anyone trying to capture lightning bolts or strikes during a lightning storm. If you haven't done it before give it a try and you will LOVE it.
Nikon D3, 5 seconds at f/13.0, ISO 1250 at 24mm.
Nikon D3, 5 seconds at f/13.0, ISO 1250 at 24mm.
Nikon D3, 5 seconds at f/7.1, ISO 2500 at 24mm.

I didn't have a tripod with me so I improvised by tying my monopod to the ships railing...