A Crash Course in Lightning Photography

Written by:

“We interrupt the 100 Steps broadcast to give you this crash course! We do not regret the inconvenience and are pretty sure you will agree!”

Okay, enough jokes :P

The other day, the weather here was very stormy. Thunder, lightning, strong winds and cars flying around! Alright, I’m kidding about the flying cars, but seriously, it was awesome weather. I love this kind of weather and am not one to rush inside. And I’m glad for that, because staying outside, I was able to witness spectacular lightning like I’ve never seen before with my own eyes. And standing there looking at yet another one of nature’s many wonders, I was reminded of a time when I used to look at pictures of lightning and say to myself, “WOW! How the hell did they manage to capture THAT!?” 


Photo by midwinterphoto


I still go wow whenever I look at a good lightning shot, but the difference now is that I now know how to do it. And the fact that it’s simple enough for anyone to do adds to the fun. So here I would like to share with you the simple and easy way to take brilliant pictures of lightning. Here’s what you need to do:


Photo by Carlos Gutierrez



  •          You’ll need: A camera with bulb mode (Bulb mode allows you to manually expose the sensor for as long as you want), a heavy, sturdy tripod, and a remote or cable shutter release.
  •          Next, you need to look for a good vantage point. Basically get someplace where you can get a good view of the storm and lightning.
  •          Set-up your tripod and mount your camera on it. Use a sturdy tripod that’ll hold its ground, because high speed winds can take lots of stuff with them ;) Make sure you set up in a location where your camera won’t get wet.
  •          Next, set the focus of your lens at infinity. Use the wide end, because it’ll give you a higher probability of capturing a bolt, along with a more dramatic view.
  •          Observe the sky for a while and determine where the probability for a lightning strike is maximum, or where there are boltless flashes above the clouds, or where the bolts last longer, and frame your shot accordingly. Including a landscape or cityscape enhances the picture.
  •          Use an aperture of f/5.6 to f/11, depending on the exposure time you intend to use. A wider aperture (smaller f number) will also mean thicker bolts and vice versa.
  •          You’re all set then. Press the shutter release, and hope to get some shiny displays. Hold the shutter open long enough to capture some bolts. Different combinations of aperture and exposure time will result in a variety of exposures. Experiment.

That’s it! Its that easy. It helps if you enjoy such weather so that you don’t have a problem waiting. And of course, luck does play a role.


Photo by a o k


Photo by wvs


This is a 45 minute film exposure! (Photo by camil tulcan)


I hope you enjoyed this post, and that you’ll be out going clickety click in the next storm. Remember to take basic precautions that are meant to be taken during lightning (don’t stand in the middle of an open space or under a tree etc.).

 Your comments mean a lot, so keep ‘em coming!

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