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The Essential Guide to Cityscape Lightning Photography

The Essential Guide to Cityscape Lightning Photography

Lightning photography is the most challenging photography genre for photographers. Lightning is unpredictable, and you don’t know when and where it will strike. It happens for a fraction of seconds, and before you can click the shutter, it disappears. In this article, we will overcome all the challenges in lightning cityscape photography. So, shall we start?

Gears you required:

Let’s talk about the gears you require for this photography. First, you need a camera. Any DSLR or mirrorless camera will work. If you have a full-frame camera, it would be better because it gives better results in low light conditions. A wide-angle lens is the second requirement because lightning bolts are enormous, and we also want to capture city buildings. Any wide-angle lens you have will work fine.

The third requirement is a tripod because lightning photography needs lots of time, and we can’t hold the camera for such a long time. It should be sturdy as there may be heavy winds during the storm, and a light tripod can fall and damage your expensive gears.

And lastly, you need a lightning trigger. A lightning trigger is a camera remote that clicks the lightning pictures automatically. MIOPS Smart is the best camera remote to capture lightning. It has a laser mode that detects lightning and clicks the image at the right moment. You have almost zero chances of missing the shot with this lightning trigger.

gears required for lightning photography

Some of you may be thinking that why can’t we use the sound mode of the camera remote to capture lightning. The reason behind it is that the speed of sound is much slower than the speed of light, and by using the sound mode, you will always miss the shot. If you’ve noticed, when the lightning strikes, you hear the thunder after one or two seconds of the light flash.

Other than these, don’t forget to take something to protect your camera and other gear. Lightning cityscape photography will require lots of time so bring some snacks, hot coffee, and water.

Location and Timing:

We need to find some locations with an open sky and beautiful high-rise buildings in the foreground. If you live in a city where you don’t have high-rise buildings, you may use mountains or trees as foreground elements. It’s not advisable to take pictures of the only sky with lightning. It’ll not look very interesting.

lightning photography tips

Find three or four locations in different directions, so no matter from which direction the storm is coming, you’ll always have a place to click the picture with the interesting foreground.

After location, we need to know about the weather, so you can be there well in time when an opportunity comes. Nowadays, many apps are available for weather forecasts and storm alerts. Use them to know about the weather in advance and plan accordingly.

Camera and trigger settings:

Okay, let’s talk about the camera and trigger settings. Mount your camera on the tripod and set the frame. Now focus on the buildings and put it again on manual focus settings. We are using a wide-angle lens, so we’ll get a deeper depth of field, and the sky will be in focus automatically.

We will control exposure for lightning using aperture and exposure for buildings using shutter speed. Light strikes for milliseconds, so shutter speed will not affect its exposure. First, set the ISO to 200, aperture to f/5.6, and shutter speed to 1/125. Now attach MIOPS Smart to your camera, set it to “Lightning” mode with 2-5% sensitivity.

cityscape lightning photography

Now, wait for lightning to strike. When it happens, MIOPS Smart will automatically click the picture. Check that picture, and if lightning looks dark, increase the ISO to 200 or set the aperture to f/4 (wide open to enter more light). If it’s overexposed, set ISO or aperture accordingly. Keep the aperture between the f/4 to f/11 range.

Now take another shot of lightning, and if it’s perfect, it’s time to set the exposure for buildings. Look in the viewfinder or back screen and half-press the shutter button. The camera will major the exposure for buildings and tell you if it’s underexposed or overexposed. If it’s under, lower the shutter speed to 1/60 or 1/30 and if it’s over, increase the shutter speed.

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Now take a shoot and see if the buildings are exposed correctly. If exposure is proper, you are all set. Now sit back, relax and enjoy the fantastic weather with hot coffee. Whenever the lightning strikes, MIOPS Smart will take the picture automatically. You may change the frame after 5-6 good shots.

Capture multiple lightning in one shot:

Okay, let’s talk about taking some incredible pictures. You can take multiple lightning strikes in a single shot. You need to lower the ISO to 100 or 50 (if your camera allows), set the aperture to very narrow, like f/16 or f/18, and shutter speed to 1 second or more. Our primary goal here is to open the shutter as long as possible.

You may use an ND filter for this. ND filter or neutral-density filter is made of dark glass that reduces the light entering the camera without changing the colors. With an ND filter, you can open the shutter for a longer time. Let’s say, with camera settings and the help of an ND filter, your shutter speed comes to five seconds. All the lightning bolts will be captured in a single shot during this period.

multiple lightning strikes in one picture

If you don’t have an ND filter, you have another option too. You can take multiple shots of lightning and merge them in post-processing too. Just remember that camera should not move during these multiple shots.

multiple lightning strikes in one picture

Be Safe:

Safety is a significant concern in lightning photography because lightning can be very dangerous or even deadly. Before you go shooting, google safety tips for lightning and follow them strictly. We can’t risk our life for some pictures, so always shoot from inside your car or a building. Your expensive equipment will also be safe from water when you shoot from inside.

Most of the tips and tricks we are talking about in this article will also work for cityscape photography, so you can take beautiful cityscape photographs too when the weather is clear. So be prepared, wait for the next storm, and click some beautiful pictures. All the best.

Blog Credits

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 http://ClickManic.com to see the masterpieces created by him or download his free app for iPhone and iPad “30 Days to an Ace Photographer“.