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Long Exposure Lightning Photography

Long Exposure Lightning Photography

Lightning Photography and Long Exposure 

Photographing lightning can be a bit tricky. It is a mix of managing available light that may or may not be abundant, while anticipating a drastic change in brightness when a lightning flash occurs. This is all happening while facing the challenge of anticipating when and where the lightning will strike. There are a multitude of factors that govern the possibility of capturing lightning in a photograph and your success in doing so depends on preparation, flexibility, and sheer luck. 


To be able to capture lightning, the range of exposure settings applicable is much more narrow than other kinds of photography outdoors. Exposures would have to be longer than usual but not too long to the extent that surrounding ambient luminosity may cancel out the image of the lightning strike. At night, lightning strikes become easily visible because of how bright they can get compared to the luminosity of the sky. However, during the day, this can be a bit harder and daytime lightning photography settings often have limitations due to the fact that the abundance of ambient light might not result in enough contrast to show the difference of lightning strikes and nearby illuminated clouds. That is why the workflow of photographing lightning can have differences between doing it at night when it is dark, and during the day when light is abundant. 

Lightning Photography and Long Exposure

Essential Gear for Lightning Photography

To capture lightning, you would want a camera that can easily be adjusted to adapt to the situation. Shooting lightning means having to deal with a lot of changing environmental factors and on top of having good resolution and the right kind of focal length, it is important that the camera has manual functions that will give you more flexibility. 


A non-negotiable accessory to have is a good and sturdy tripod. It’s not enough to simply have something that the camera can stand on. Shooting lightning storms means having to withstand wind and even possibly rain and this is not just for the longevity of your equipment but also because shooting long exposures can ultimately be ruined by a single shake from the tripod being blown by the wind. 

Lightning Trigger Smart+

To make the process more efficient and fool proof, a smart camera trigger makes all the difference. Shooting lightning has specific settings that have to be achieved not just to get a clear photograph but also to get the best detailed shot of the lightning strike you are capturing. Using a very capable camera trigger, specifically one that has a lightning sensor, can give you the assurance of getting the flashes of lightning for the best results but also lessen the amount of wasted exposures. The MIOPS Smart+ is both an intervalometer and a lightning photography trigger. Along with other features such as a sound trigger, laser sensor trigger, and a wireless camera remote, the Smart+ is the most versatile photography tool for lightning photography, time-lapse, landscape photography, and many more.

Lightning Photography at Night

Doing lightning photography during the night can be considered a simpler endeavor than doing so during the day. This is simply because of the added limitation of exposure when there is a lot of ambient light around. At night, since it is much darker, it is easier and even a necessity to do long exposures to be able to get enough brightness in your photos. To be able to achieve the same lengths of exposure during the day would mean having to use extra tools. 

Lightning Photography at Night

Long exposure is an almost absolute necessity in photographing lightning. Lightning strikes are generally very elusive and hard to predict because they only last for fractions of a second. The general principle of being able to capture them even when you can’t predict when they will strike is simply by doing long exposures and hoping that a few lightning strikes will occur within your frame during the duration of the shot. Kind of like casting a much larger net to capture a very fast moving fish. However, lengthening your exposures also have a limit because even though the background (the sky) is darker at night, an exposure that is too long can make way for more light to illuminate the dark areas which will in turn cancel out the details of the lightning strike. This is particularly true especially when the lightning strikes happen early in the duration of exposure. 

There are a couple of ways to “catch” lightning as it happens in front of your camera. The first process is pretty much like casting a net, and the other one is aiming with precision. The net method is simply shooting with an intervalometer to be able to automate the process of shooting consecutive exposures. On a night when there are a lot of lightning activity happening around, you can simply point your camera to the direction of where the lightning is happening and shoot consecutive exposures until the storm ends. Doing this will give you hundreds or even thousands of consecutive exposures never missing a single second. Within these exposures, only a fraction will have images of lightning on them and that number will increase depending on how frequent the lightning strikes were. In any case, it is expected that you will get a lot of empty exposures where lightning didn’t happen. 

Lightning Photography at Night 2

The other method is using a dedicated lightning photography trigger. This handy device shifts your workflow from a time and storage space consuming process to a more precise process that will save you from a lot of wasted exposures. A typical lightning photography trigger has a light sensor that aligns with the camera’s lens. This sensor is made to detect drastic changes in the light environment that would be typical of how light changes when lightning occurs. When the sensor detects a large enough change in luminosity, it triggers the camera to start an exposure. This means that photos will only be taken if and when a strong flash of light happens.

To be able to get the right exposure while also increasing your chances of capturing lightning strikes, the exposure time should be just long enough to give time for a few strikes and short enough that the details will not be cancelled out. Essentially, one can do shorter exposures and because lightning is typically bright, luminosity would not be a problem. However, doing so would also mean taking way too many consecutive exposures.

Lightning Photography at Night 3

To increase your chances of capturing lightning as well as a well balanced exposure, you can shoot with an exposure time of about 6 to 10 seconds depending on how frequent lightning strikes. If lightning is striking rather frequently, a shorter exposure is preferred as having too many strikes in one shot might cause for one strike’s brightness to cancel out the others. Aperture can be quite flexible however, the goal is to achieve a wide depth of field to make sure that both the foreground and the sky are in focus. Typically, an aperture between f/8 to f/11 should be enough. Since you are shooting with relatively prolonged exposures, there will be very little need to increase ISO and for the purpose of having as clean a shot as possible, an ISO sensitivity of 100 to 400 will be enough. 

Daytime Lightning Photography 

As mentioned earlier, photographing lightning during the day can be slightly more challenging. This is simply because the abundance of light might prevent the camera from seeing the lightning strike against a brighter background. However since lightning happens with very cloudy weather, even commonly with very thick and dark clouds, the probability of the sky being dim enough allows for lightning to be seen. 

Daytime Lightning Photography

Even with darker clouds, there will be some limitation on how much you can prolong your exposures to achieve the same lengths as shooting at night. This is where an extra tool can come in handy. By using a 2 or 3-stop neutral density filter, you can potentially extend your exposure time enough to better capture lightning strikes. Without an ND filter, even on a dark stormy day, your camera might only be able to do exposures of about 1/10 to 1/3 seconds and doing so will result in way too many images in very little time. Using an ND filter will allow you to shoot exposures of about 4 to 10 seconds depending on the situation which will give you more chances of catching the lightning strikes within the duration of time. 

When using a lightning photography trigger, you can lessen the number of wasted exposures but the limitation of ambient light will still be there. In combination, the use of an ND filter with a lightning trigger can give you better results in the pursuit of capturing elusive lightning during the day. With the said adjustment, daytime lightning photography settings will be relatively the same. The goal of shooting exposures up to 10 seconds is achieved with the use of an ND filter, at the same time, because of the abundance of light, there is more room to use even smaller apertures for wider depth of field and detail and ultimately since light is not a problem, an ISO of 100 will be enough. 

Post Production

The different approaches to photographing lightning yield multiple photographs depending on how many times lightning actually struck while you were shooting. If fortunate enough to have been shooting during a storm with a lot of pulses, one specific shoot can give you a good catalog of lightning photographs that you can either use individually or combine. The benefit of shooting continuously as the storm happens is that it will give you a good collection of images that you can later on combine to illustrate the experience of watching the thunderstorm in one single image. 

Post Production

Photographing lightning, whether simply to document and record the weather condition, or to use them as visual elements in landscape photography, is definitely worth the meticulous and lengthy shooting process. Whether during the day or at night, a lightning strike on a photograph always catches attention and conveys a dramatic mood. 

Blog Credit: Nicco Valenzuela

Nicco started his photographic journey in 2007 practicing the craft as a hobby. 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.

How to Photographing Lightning

How to Photographing Lightning

Chasing Thunderstorms and Photographing Lightning

Photographing lightning can be one of the most unpredictable yet also one of the most rewarding photographic endeavors. The effect that a lightning flash makes on a photograph definitely leaves a highly electrifying impact (pun intended). When and where lightning will exactly strike is almost impossible to predict but through patterns of occurrence, lightning density trends, and the general weather forecast, there are various ways through which you can increase your chances of being able to photograph lightning. In this article, let’s talk about some of the best points for lightning photography.


Chasing Thunderstorms and Photographing Lightning

How and Where

A lightning pulse is a result of charge differences between one surface and another. Lightning can happen from one cloud to another or from one cloud to the ground. This happens when particles within the clouds move and collide with each other at a rapid rate which results in an electric gradient against another cloud or the ground. As this difference in charge builds up, the potential increases as the system seeks to neutralize this difference. The air between the two opposing sides act as an insulator until the insulating capacity breaks and a rapid discharge of electricity occurs to transfer the energy and reach electrical equilibrium.

How Lightning Happens

*Prepare for Lightning, https://www.wunderground.com/prepare/lightning

Lightning and thunderstorms can happen anywhere however there are particular regions have them more common and can be considered the best lighting photography places. Lightning happens commonly when there is unstable atmosphere, moisture, and abundance of warmth on the ground. This is why generally more tropical regions commonly get more thunderstorms. In the United States, Texas leads with the most number of lightning pulses in the year 2020 and various years before that, but Florida leads with a higher percentage of cloud-to-ground lightning strikes probably because of its more humid tropical climate. In Australia, the Western Top End and North Kimberly regions have shown to be more active when it comes to thunderstorms and lightning which makes these areas the best lightning photography places.

Where Lightning Happens

*2021 U.S. Lightning Report Recording, https://www.earthnetworks.com/

Spring and summer are generally considered lightning season for lightning photography as the frequency of thunderstorms happen more during these times. Autumn and winter generally get less but it is not impossible to happen. All these data and trends can be of help when preparing to photograph lightning.

Chasing the Storm 

Being successful in doing lightning photography means being at the right place at the right time and also not being at the wrong place at the right time. Planning is the most crucial part of this creative process because lightning can be so elusive to photograph and you can never be caught wasting time and making mistakes. It’s not everyday that lightning happens in multiple continuous pulses generally happening in the same area enough for you to adjust to it. This is why finding the best points for lightning photography right as the storm starts is your biggest priority. 

Chasing the Storm Lightning Photography

To find the spots where it will happen, there are various websites and apps that have real-time lightning and thunderstorm tracking that can guide you in finding an advantageous and safe vantage point to photograph the storm. These are apps such as Spark, Blitzortung Lightning Monitor, and My Lightning Tracker and websites such as LightningMaps.org and EarthNetworks.com. By using this information you can find a spot to shoot and even find foreground  elements advantageous for your composition. Lightning tends to hit taller structures so being able to keep skyscrapers (in the city) and trees (in open areas) within the frame increases your chances of being able to capture the lightning strike. However it is important also to consider that you should have significant distance from such to ensure your safety. 

Lightning Photography Nicco Valenzuela

Camera Settings for Lightning Photography 

Photographing lightning requires a few considerations about the scenario to be able to determine the right camera settings. While it is possible to photograph lightning during the day, it is obviously more visible when the sky behind it is relatively dark. Much of the impact that photographs of lightning make comes from how it illuminates the clouds surrounding it especially when the lightning pulse goes from a cloud to another cloud. Taking photographs of lightning is best done at night and during twilight when the sky is dark enough for the lightning strike to stand out. 


Since you will be working with a relatively dim environment, it is necessary to shoot relatively long exposures and this will also be generally beneficial in increasing your chances of capturing the split-second lightning strikes. However, it is important to also limit the length of the exposure to make sure that the strikes are visible. Given those considerations, it is best to take 6-10 second exposures that will help you capture any and all lightning strikes that will happen within that period. At the same time, the exposure won’t be too long that the luminosity of other elements in frame will cancel out the bright but brief flash of light. To be able to do this, it is imperative to use a relatively small aperture such as f/8 or f/11 to prevent getting blown out exposures and at the same time ensure that both the sky and the ground elements are in-focus and clear. ISO can be relatively flexible but the goal is to keep it at a minimum since the flash of light from the lightning strike is much brighter than the luminosity of the scenario when there are is no lightning.

Camera Settings for Lightning Photography

Essential Camera Gear for Lightning Photography 

The camera gear and support gear to be used in photographing lightning play a key role in the success of the endeavor. Since this involves catching and photographing an elusive phenomenon that only happens in fractions of a second, it is important that the gear being used is reliable and can very well adapt to the situation. 

Cameras with high resolution sensors and good low light performance offer a certain advantage especially if the goal is to produce large prints or if there is a need for significant cropping. However the more crucial aspect about the camera of choice is the availability of manual controls. It is important for the photographer to be able to set the exposure settings with a certain level of precision to be able to capture the scene better. The choice of lenses depend entirely on the distance of the photographer from the storm which means that shooting from within the area requires a wider lens, and shooting the storm from afar necessitates a telephoto lens. The goal is to fill the frame with the lightning and the ground elements to be able to give it the emphasis and attention that it deserves. 

Shooting A Storm-lapse

Since shooting involves long exposures, stable support gear are an absolute requirement. The choice of tripod should focus on one that is stable and can keep the camera still even with a bit of wind that usually comes with the storm. Both the gear and the tripod should also be able to withstand a bit of rain since precipitation commonly accompanies thunderstorms. Heavier downpours will either require a rain cover, that is if the rain does not hinder visibility of the clouds and of the lightning strikes. 

To make the process much easier and automated, a dedicated lightning photography trigger makes all the difference.

Using A Lightning Photography Trigger 

Lightning photography triggers make the process of shooting automated. There are various approaches to photographing lightning and the most basic one is doing so manually while hoping that lightning happens within the exposure time. Another way is to use an intervalometer to keep the camera shooting consecutive exposures whether or not lightning happens. 

Lightning Photography by MIOPS Smart Trigger

*Instagram: @baseballsizedhail

Using a smart camera remote trigger like the MIOPS Smart+ gives you the automation of a lightning trigger and many more. The Smart+ can be used for long exposures, time-lapse, HDR, special effects, star trails, and night photography in general. For photographing lightning, the MIOPS Smart+ is equipped with a light sensor that scans the scene for flashes of light that typically happens during a lightning strike. You can set the threshold level of sensitivity depending on the intensity of lightning flashes that you want to capture. When the sensor detects a sudden flash of light that is enough to hit the threshold, it triggers the camera to start an exposure. This way your camera is not simply shooting blindly and wasting exposures on shots wherein no lightning happened but instead giving you only photos wherein lightning actually struck. This doesn’t only automate the process of photographing lightning but also helps lessen the number of shots wasted while waiting for something spectacular. 

Shooting A Storm-lapse 

To better capture how the thunderstorm starts and progresses, shooting a time-lapse is a great option. Since doing interval shooting is one approach to shooting lightning, it requires exactly the same process to produce a time-lapse. Capturing consecutive exposures and compiling them into a video clip allows you to compress the time into a video clip that shows the changes in the environment that would otherwise be too slow to appreciate in real time. If the frequency of lightning pulses is significantly high, the option of using Storm-lapse mode on the Smart+ combines the automation of using the lightning sensor as the camera trigger and the process of producing consecutive exposures together that gives you a collection only of photos wherein lightning struck that can either be used as individual stills, combined into a more encompassing multiple exposure composite image, or to produce a highly dynamic time-lapse sequence of the thunderstorm. 

Photographing lightning is a combination of luck, good planning, and preparation. The creative process can be quite a gamble given all the uncertainties surrounding the environment as well as the physical risk of being out during a storm, but when done successfully and with artistic intent, it can result to some of the most impactful and dynamic outdoor photographs that you will ever take. 


Blog Credit: Nicco Valenzuela

Nicco started his photographic journey in 2007 practicing the craft as a hobby. 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.

10 Top Tips for Photographing Lightning

10 Top Tips for Photographing Lightning

Everything you need to know to photograph lightning!

Lightning photography is astoundingly beautiful but it takes precise camera control, expert meteorological tracking skills, and perseverance. It doesn’t require any specialist equipment beyond a camera and lens, but to get the best out of your experience it’s best to use a remote trigger or a lightning trigger such as the MIOPS Smart+. 

Camera settings can be tricky to master, especially for beginners, but again devices like the MIOPS Smart+ remote trigger has a lightning-specific mode for capturing lightning easily, perfect for beginners or pros alike. So let’s take a look at our ten top tips for the best lightning photography.


1. Use a Sturdy Tripod

The key to successful and sharp photographs of lightning is to keep the camera steady during exposures. Sure, you can place the camera on the ground or a wall, anything that will keep the camera still enough during the image-taking process, but this is far from ideal when it comes to composing good photos.

Ideally, you’ll use a tripod instead. But not just any tripod will do. You must make sure that the tripod (and the tripod head that sits atop it) can hold up the payload of your camera and lens setup. To do this, add up the weight of your camera and lens (including any memory cards and batteries) and then search for a tripod that accommodates that weight. For those on a budget, aluminum tripods offer good value for money whilst remaining lightweight. However, those that can afford it should look to carbon fiber models that are extremely lightweight and sturdy in equal measure.

useful tips for lightning photography

Tripod heads come in a range of different types from three-way, to pan-and-tilt, and even gimbals, each have their own specific usage. However, lightning photography is much like landscape photography because we capture the land around the lightning strikes as much as the strikes themselves. Therefore, it’s advised to use a ball-head. Ball-heads can rotate 360 degrees and allow for all kinds of camera orientations. They make it simple to level horizons easily on uneven ground and switch between horizontal and vertical orientations quickly without having to release the footplate from the screw thread underneath the camera body.

2. Choose the Right Lens

There’s no ‘lightning lens’ perfect for capturing those strikes, but some lenses will give greater advantages than others. A key feature to look for is a wide maximum aperture. This allows the greatest amount of light onto the image sensor and therefore keeps shutter speeds (or ISO sensitivity) lower whilst maintaining good exposures.

Image stabilization is largely unimportant for lightning photography because you should be using a tripod to keep the camera still. And there’s no sweet spot when it comes to focal length either. Wide-angle lenses can help with capturing a wide field of view, useful if your storm system is happening all around you, but mid to telephoto lenses are also useful for distant captures.

3. Tracking the Weather

Probably the most important part of photographing lightning, other than having the camera with you, is being able to find lightning in the first place. Using local weather forecasts are important as are online forecasts such as accuweather.com. Don’t just look at the top result displaying sun, cloud, or rain though, dig deeper and track weather systems via satellite data which shows the movement of storms. 

There are also storm-specific Facebook groups, and Twitter accounts that track local and national storm systems. Try a quick search online to find a group or account that covers your area. There are various apps that track storm systems such as My Lightning Tracker & Alerts which help when tracking storms in real-time. For those without access to a smart device though, websites like LightningMaps.org allow for storm tracking, too.

4. Best Lightning Locations

There’s no getting around it. To get lightning photographs consistently you’ll have to head to where the lightning is. Certain geographic locations are better for this than others. According to Accuweather, some of the cities with the highest lightning densities in the U.S. include Green River, WY, Rock Springs, WY, and Dickinson, ND.

For those in Europe you may want to head to northern Italy and nearby countries like Slovenia, and Croatia. And just as the location is important, so is the time of year you visit. Summer storms are more likely to bring thunderous storms because of the increased heat which allows cloud systems to build bigger than in colder seasons.

best locations for lightning photography

Real lightning photography buffs travel to find the best storms, but it’s likely that there will be a storm local to you at some point during the year. The best thing to do is to keep an eye out using weather forecasts, storm alert apps as aforementioned and speak to those who like to track and chase storms themselves to get the best results.

5. Which Camera Mode Should You Use for Lightning Photography?

Compact cameras, bridge cameras, and some entry-level DSLRs have various shooting modes to allow beginner photographers to take images before they learn all the ins and outs of the camera’s settings. Sometimes this includes a lightning capture mode, which sets camera settings automatically without user input. These can get good results, but manually dialling in settings is the best option.

Set the camera to manual mode, open the aperture as wide as possible and set the ISO sensitivity between 400 - 1200 depending on the light levels (night-time lightning photography can be some of the most stunning, so higher ISO sensitivities are required). Set the shutter speed to between 1-5 seconds (or longer depending on light levels) and take a sequence of images over the period of several minutes or hours. Within one of these images you should have at least one clear shot of lightning.

To make this easier, you can rely on the MIOPS Smart+ camera trigger to automatically capture some of the best lightning photography. The Smart+ device works as a lightning trigger by detecting lightning and instantly triggering your camera so that you always capture lightning strikes without all the additional missed shots.

6. Use a Remote Shutter Release

Pressing the shutter button when capturing long exposures of lightning can introduce vibrations to the camera and leave your images blurry. So to avoid this you should use a remote shutter release. If using a remote shutter release it pays to get one that also doubles as an intervalometer which can automatically take consecutive images in order to reproduce the shooting method described in point five above. 

However, since the MIOPS Smart+ camera trigger can automatically detect lightning and trigger the camera immediately, we’d argue that this is a better option than an external shutter release. The Smart+ device can also be used to capture bursting balloons, timelapses, it can be triggered by sound, has laser mode, and camera control can be operated via the MIOPS app on a smartphone.


7. Focusing in Low Light

When shooting lightning in the daytime autofocus takes care of getting photos perfectly sharp, but as soon as the sun goes down and the sky gets dark, things get tricky. Autofocus stops working and starts hunting because it doesn’t have enough visual information to grab on to. That’s where you’ll have to engage manual focus on the camera body or lens.

Start by engaging the rear screen (or the electronic viewfinder, if your camera has one) and zoom in to a distant street light or a star in the sky. Alternatively, set the lens’ focus to infinity and fine-tune it (infinity markers generally don’t yield the best results).

8. Staying Safe

Photographing lightning is tremendous fun, but it’s a dangerous business. If you’re chasing storms in a car make sure you stay in the vehicle when near them and keep the windows rolled up. There are plenty of storm-chasing companies and plenty of storm-photography businesses that offer workshops who have good equipment, knowledge of getting near storms safely, and have other safety protocols in place to keep you safe.

how to do lightning photography

9. Shooting Sequential Photos

If you don’t have the MIOPS Smart+ camera trigger and are using the first shooting technique described in point five then use the camera’s internal intervalometer to continually take multiple photos in sequence without repressing the shutter release button. This will give you several photos with lightning strikes in some shots. But how do you put these together to create a single, impressive photograph? Let’s take a look.

10. Compositing Sequential Images Together

An image editing software such as Adobe Photoshop or Serif Affinity Photo can layer several photos and blend them together to create a single composite shot of several lightning strikes. In Photoshop go to File>Scripts>Load files into stack. Then select all lightning photos and click OK. When the photos have all opened, select the top layer and change the blending mode to multiply. Right-click on the layer and choose copy layer style, then shift-click on all the other layers except the bottom-most layer. Then right-click on these layers and choose paste layer style. All the lightning shots should now appear atop one another in a composite.

Blog Credit: Jason Parnell-Brookes

Jason Parnell-Brookes is an Internationally award-winning photographer, educator and writer. He won Gold in the Nikon Photo Contest 2018/19 and was named Digital Photographer of the Year in 2014. Jason is a qualified teacher, Masters graduate and works with many high profile international clients. Further information can be found in his website www.jasonpb.com.

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How a Lightning Camera Trigger Helps You Capture Incredible Lightning Photographs

How a Lightning Camera Trigger Helps You Capture Incredible Lightning Photographs

Here’s an informative list of how a lightning camera trigger helps you capture incredible lightning photographs especially if you’re a beginner.

The post How a Lightning Camera Trigger Helps You Capture Incredible Lightning Photographs appeared first on MIOPS.