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The Complete Guide to Lightning Types and Classifications

The Complete Guide to Lightning Types and Classifications

Lightning is one of the most astonishing natural phenomena. It’s a powerful electrical discharge that happened during rain or a thunderstorm. It looks beautiful, but it can be very dangerous occasionally. When it happens, it can heat the air to 30,000 degrees Celsius, which is five to six times hotter than the surface of the sun. Not only this, each bolt of lightning can contain up to one billion volts of electricity. Every second, around 80-90 lightning bolts strike on earth.

In this article, we’ll discuss types of lightning and how to take beautiful pictures of it.

Lightning Types and Classifications:

Negative Cloud-to-Ground Lightning:

Negative cloud-to-ground lightning is the most common lightning flash. It happens between a negatively charged thundercloud and the positively charged surface of the earth. Lightning channels usually develop from the cloud to the ground, for a fraction of a second.

This form of lightning is most common as well as most dangerous and can cause fire and property damage. It can take on many visual forms.

Ribbon lightning is a form of negative cloud-to-ground lightning, in which successive strokes are displaced from each other by wind, resulting in a broadened, ribbon-like appearance.

Bead lightning is also a form of negative cloud-to-ground lightning, where the luminosity appears to break up into a string of short, bright sections resembling a string of beads.

Negative Cloud-to-Ground Lightning:

Positive Cloud-to-Ground Lightning:

Positive cloud-to-ground lightning is the opposite of negative cloud-to-ground lightning. It happens when a positive charge builds up at the top of the cloud. It’s very rare but very deadly. Positive cloud-to-ground lightning strikes are often very bright and thunders from such lightning are very loud.

Cloud-to-Air Lightning:

It happens when the air around a positively charged cloud reaches out to the negatively charged air around it. In this lightning, the lightning bolts couldn’t reach the ground and cease in midair. It also happens during cloud-to-ground lightning in form of branches.

Positive Cloud-to-Ground Lightning

Ground-to-Cloud Lightning:

It’s an upward movement of lightning, and it can be both negative and positive in polarity. ​It usually happens near skyscrapers and very tall buildings.

Cloud-to-Air Lightning

Intra Cloud Lightning:

This is a common type of lightning, and it happens inside the same cloud which has different charges. It is easy for lightning to travel small distances between different areas of the cloud. It’s also called sheet lightning because it looks like a sheet of light in the sky.

Intra Cloud Lightning

Cloud-to-Cloud Lightning:

Cloud-to-cloud lightning is also called inter-cloud lightning. It happens when lightning strikes between two oppositely charged sections of different clouds and the strike travel in the air between them. Don’t confuse it with intra-cloud lightning, where lightning happens inside a single cloud.

Now we know about types of lightning, let’s talk about lightning photography. Lightning photography is not an easy task, as light strikes for a fraction of a second, and you don’t know when and where it’s going to happen. So, no matter how fast you click the shutter after seeing a lightning bolt, you’ll miss it for sure.

Fortunately, we have a camera gadget called MIOPS Smart+ that can take lightning photos for you with the least effort from your side. It has a lightning mode that detects the lightning and clicks the picture automatically. Now we’ll talk about how to use MIOPS Smart+ to take lightning pictures.

Find the location:

First, you need to find one or two locations for lightning photography. If you take a picture of the only sky with lightning, it won't look good. You need an interesting foreground too. So find a few places in advance that have open sky and some beautiful foreground elements like a tree or buildings or mountains. Make sure that it also has a shade for you so you can keep your camera safe from rain. Always try to avoid distractions like electric poles and wires in the frame.

Find the location

Keep an eye on the weather channel:

After finding a location, follow weather channels, so you know about the upcoming storm in advance, and you can reach the location on time. Always wear light clothes, and keep some essentials like water, snacks, coffee, a folding chair, dry clothes to wipe the camera, and something to cover you and your expensive gear.


Once you reach there, set your camera on a tripod and set the frame. A wide angle or a standard lens is ideal for lightning photography. First set the camera on manual mode, set ISO to 100, aperture to f/11, and shutter speed to 1/200. These are starting settings, and we’ll fine-tune them after taking some test shots.

Keep an eye on the weather channel

Now attach MIOPS Smart+ to the camera and attach the cable. Set the mode to “Lightning” and sensitivity to 1 or 2%. Now focus on the foreground and set the camera to manual focus. Since we are using a wide-angle lens and narrow aperture, the sky will be in focus automatically. If the foreground element is very near to the camera, set focus to the center of the foreground and sky.



Once everything is set up, just sit and wait for the lightning bolt. When it happens, MIOPS Smart+ will trigger the camera and take the picture. If it’s not happening, increase the sensitivity a bit. When you get your first shot, take a look, and now we’ll modify the camera settings accordingly. We’ll check exposure for both lightning and foreground.



Take impossible photos by turning your camera into a high-speed capture device!


If lightning is very bright, narrow down the aperture to f/16. If lightning is underexposed, we can either open the aperture or increase the ISO. In such a case, my preference would be to increase ISO, as opening up the aperture will result in a shallow depth of field.

Lightning Types and Classifications

If the foreground element is underexposed, decrease the shutter speed to 1/100 or lower. In case of overexposed foreground, increase shutter speed accordingly. Playing with shutter speed will not affect lightning, as it strikes for a fraction of a second.

Once everything is set, enjoy your coffee with a wonderful view while the MIOPS trigger will click pictures for you. After a few shots, you may change the frame for different pictures. You may also stack multiple images in post-processing to show multiple lightning in a single shot.

MIOPS Smart+ will trigger the camera and take the picture

Now you know everything about lightning and how to shoot it. Be prepared and get some outstanding shots during the next thunderstorm. All the best.​

About the Author

Ramakant Sharda is an author, iOS App publisher, passionate photographer and a MIOPS Ambassador based in the beautiful “Pink City” of India, known as Jaipur. His work has been published in various magazines, newspapers, and blogs. He has published three Coffee Table Books, he writes about photography and also teaches photography in his workshops. Check out his website to see the masterpieces created by him or download his free app for iPhone and iPad “30 Days to an Ace Photographer“.

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