Night photography deals with capturing many environmental phenomena that allow you to create a marvelous image of the land and the night sky. Most night photography images are taken during very still and clear situations.
But sometimes, one can be extremely lucky to find themselves in an opportunity to capture one of the most dynamic environmental elements in landscape photography, lightning.
Capturing lightning in a well-composed landscape photograph can give you striking results. Knowing how to shoot lightning photography can definitely impact your portfolio as a landscape photographer.
Challenges To Overcome in Photographing Lightning
Capturing lightning from your Canon or Nikon camera involves a great deal of unpredictability and preparing for anything that might happen. While most landscape photography deals with a lot of pleasant scenes and environmental conditions, capturing lightning deals with the exact opposite and it’s not just about having bad weather, but also being on the right side of the storm as it happens.
Lightning can be captured from any location with a wide enough view. Whether at a natural or rural location, by a lake, on the beach, on top of a mountain, or even in bright towering cities, photographing lightning is often unplanned but prepared for. Wherever you may be shooting from, if the scenario allows you to capture lightning photos, you better be ready.
Of course, one of the most important considerations in planning your shot is to be able to do it safely. Most of the time when lightning storms happen there is accompanying rain that can pose a threat not just for your photography gear but as well as yourself.
Generally, the best situation for shooting lightning is being able to find an elevated location outside of the area of the storm and capture it with a zoom lens. Often, this also allows you to capture a significant fraction of the area of the storm giving you more chances of capturing the lightning strikes.
3. Lightning Tracker Apps
There are, of course, lightning strike apps that can help you monitor the weather and prepare for such opportunities to do lightning photography. Such applications on your smartphones can give quite good predictions on the lightning strike maps for you to be able to find a good location with a foreground composition that would work well with the scene.
4. Must-have Gear for Shooting Lightning
The equipment required for lightning photography is pretty much similar to what one would need for any other landscape photograph. A good camera with pretty significant-resolution, dynamic range capabilities, and manual functions is very important.
Lenses depend entirely on the distance of your vantage point from the area of the storm. However, two significant pieces of gear are essential in your lightning photography kit. One is a very sturdy tripod that can withstand significantly unpleasant shooting environments, plus of course, a very reliable camera trigger.
The MIOPS Smart+ trigger takes and reduces the complexities and unpredictability of photographing lightning with both automated and manual functions that the photographer can use with ease. The MIOPS Smart+ is capable of doing way beyond what other camera triggers can do.
With its modifiable time-lapse mode, you can set up your camera as if to shoot a time-lapse and continuously shoot frame-after-frame to capture as many lightning strikes as you can. Whether set up on the device itself or through the MIOPS mobile app as a remote camera trigger, the MIOPS Smart+ can help you capture your best lightning photos and not miss a strike.
The Smart+ is the standard of what a lightning photography trigger should be. In addition to time-lapse mode and interval shooting, the MIOPS Smart+ features a customizable lightning sensor that triggers your camera to shoot right as the lightning strikes.
The sensor on the trigger monitors the environment right in front of it and triggers the camera when flashes of light from the lightning strikes occur. Both on the device and the app, you can set how sensitive you want the sensor to be and capture as many lightning strikes as possible.
You can also set the camera through the device to pre-focus to reduce the time between the flash of light and the start of the exposure. You can never predict when the exact lightning strike will happen and how good it will look in the frame, but the Smart+ trigger can allow you to capture every strike that happens in front of it.
5. Camera Settings
Lightning photography settings are very much dependent on the lighting conditions but there are a few principles to follow that will allow you to determine your base settings to optimize the quality of your images.
The rule of thumb is to keep ISO to a minimum for best image quality and avoid having noisy images. This is also because to capture the lightning strikes as well as other details in the scene, the exposure time will be flexible enough to compensate for the relatively low ISO.
With a good camera sensor, anywhere between ISO 100 to 400 would produce the best images especially if there are details you would want to recover in post-processing. However if necessary, an ISO of up to 800 can still give decent results depending on the quality of the camera you have.
The only consideration for aperture is to have the depth of field wide enough to keep most of your vista in focus and have a very detailed image amidst the harsh environment. Any opening from f/8 to f/11 should be enough.
8. Shutter Speed
Shutter speed for lightning photography is most crucial. Given that lightning is best captured at night, the exposure time should be long enough to come up with a properly exposed frame, but short enough to make sure that the lightning strike isn’t washed out in the exposure.
Lightning strikes only last fractions of a second and having a very long exposure time can ultimately allow for the light in the background to cancel out the details of the strike.
Generally, a shutter speed of about 5 to 10 seconds allows for a well-exposed image that captures the details throughout the frame and also gives enough time for a couple of lightning strikes. Once all these lightning photography settings are established, the camera trigger will take care of the rest.
9. Interval Shooting
One way to effectively capture as many lightning strikes as you can is to set your camera (and camera remote trigger) on Time-lapse mode to continuously shoot consecutive exposures automatically.
Once you’ve set up your camera on Bulb mode with your desired settings, placed it on a tripod, and composed accordingly, you can begin your shooting sequence.
Set your desired exposure time or shutter speed on the device or the app, set your interval to 0 seconds to capture as seamlessly as possible, and set the limit to 9999 to ensure that your camera doesn't stop shooting.
Most of the time, the lightning storm won’t take longer than the 9999 exposures and there is no way to predict exactly how many exposures it will last, so you can just end the sequence manually instead.
With the ultra-long capacity of the MIOPS Smart+ camera trigger battery, the length of your shoot shouldn’t be anything to worry about. It is, of course, important to make sure that you have enough camera batteries for what you intend to do.
10. Lightning Mode
This automated lightning mode for the MIOPS Smart+ camera remote shutter simplifies the process even further. Instead of having to shoot thousands of frames consecutively and capturing countless empty frames in which there was no lightning strike, this intuitive camera trigger for lightning narrows your shots down to the ones where there is an actual lightning strike.
This way, you can reduce the number of unnecessary files to sort out and store, and at the same time, conserve your camera’s battery. On the device or the app, you can set your desired sensitivity level.
Maximal sensitivity allows you to maximize your number of exposures in which the camera will shoot at even the slightest flash of lightning.
Decreasing the sensitivity, however, will basically tell your camera to capture only the brightest and biggest lightning strikes that would have much more impact on your nighttime landscape photos.
Capturing lightning is as exciting and as thrilling as the final output. Think of it as landscape photography with a striking twist. It is important to ultimately be ready with your gear and knowledge of how to shoot lightning photographs for when an opportunity arises. By knowing how to achieve the output you envision, may it be through a single exposure or a composite image, preparing and setting up are the most crucial parts.
Once everything is set, you place your trust on your gear and your trigger to do the rest. The thrill is in the waiting game as your camera and remote shutter are doing their thing, which gives you the perfect chance to experience and live the moment as the environmental phenomenon unfolds right in front of you. Do remember to be safe as the storm happens.
You can also check out this blog post if you need more tips about lightning photography.
Blog Credit: Nicco Valenzuela
Nicco started his photographic journey in 2007 practicing the craft as a hobby. Through the years he explored the various genres of photography and found himself in love with the discipline of outdoor photography. Frequenting the elevated vantage points of the cities, he found his voice in shooting cityscapes which ultimately lead to a career in Architectural Photography. Currently, he shoots for various local and international architectural firms and construction companies. Out of his love for sharing his knowledge, Nicco began writing about photography and various pieces of gear.