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How to Capture Lightning Strikes

May 25th, 2018 10:34 am    A+ | a-

Here on the High Plains of the Central United States, photographing lightning and weather during this time of year is almost a national pastime. Photographing weather and lightning can be fraught with peril for those who are unprepared or unwilling to be safe. If you are new to weather photography, here are some tips to help you out.

Invest in Several Good Radar Apps

The go-to weather app for storm chasers is Radarscope. Radarscope is a full featured weather app custom designed for storm chasers. With numerous functions, a weather photographer can use the app to intercept a photogenic storm. With that being said, Radarscope is advanced compared to other apps on the market.

Lightning Radar App

Although the app will display lightning, the lightning could be either cloud to ground, or cloud to cloud. So if you use Radarscope to chase lightning because you want a great capture of a ground strike, you will have to wait until you get to the storm to see what kind of lightning there is.

There are several other good radar apps that are designed more for the everyday person who wants general weather information. One of the newest ones is called StormRadar and it is an offshoot of the Storm app. While the app will not give as much detailed storm information as Radarscope, it is easier to use.

A lightning specific app that I have started to use is called BlitzortungLive. This app is an offshoot of a real-time lightning map that is web-based. The advantage of this app is that it does show cloud to ground lightning.

Get Distance and Use a Zoom

They say that a lightning bolt can travel upwards to 20 miles. Many times, we are far closer to the lightning than 20 miles. A lot of people suffer from having a lower tiered camera with just a kit lens, so they have to get somewhat close to capturing a decent image. One of my more favorite lightning images was taken at 200mm.

Invest in a Quality Tripod

When it comes to finding ways with saving money in photography, tripods are not that area. You have spent hundreds and perhaps thousands of dollars for a good camera body and glass. You do not want to entrust a $50 tripod to hold that gear. There are numerous tripod manufacturers out there and you can find quality tripods that will last for years for several hundred dollars.

Experiment with Post Processing

Many times, a photographer can capture one lightning shot and they will love that shot. You could also find yourself in a place where you have several lightning captures that are okay, but if you combine them you might create an awesome image.

Lightning Bolt

Creating a composite of several different lightning shots is easy to do. In Photoshop, open the images you want to combine as layers. The first thing you want to do is align the images. Then for the top layers, switch the blending mode to LIGHTEN and you have your composite. You might have to apply a layer mask to those top layers and brush parts of the image out, but you will keep the lightning bolt that appears.

Invest in A Lightning Trigger

As I have told several other photographers, a lightning trigger is not a must-have. It is a want. Yes, we can go out, use the in-camera intervalometer to shoot a sequence of images and hope we have captured some lightning bolts. It is easy to do and does not cost you any more money. Where a lightning trigger comes into play though is that it lightens your workflow. Instead of having to browse through hundreds of images looking for those 2 or 3 good lightning captures, now you will only have a few shots to deal with. A real time saver.

MIOPS Lightning Trigger

A lightning trigger like the MIOPS Smart is so much more than just a lightning trigger. It can be used as a wireless remote, a sound trigger and to shoot time lapse.

Conclusion

These tips are not an end all, be all when it comes to weather photography and lightning. Chasing weather is inherently dangerous if you do not know the area, or how to read the weather. There are plenty of professional weather chasing companies and photographers out there that are willing to be your eyes, ears, and transportation to these once in a lifetime opportunities to capture Mother Nature at her best.

Related Article: How to Take the Extraordinary Lightning Photos

Lightning Strike


About the Author


Stanley Harper is a photographer located in the Oklahoma Panhandle. Not only does he love weather photography, he also loves to shoot rodeo, motorsports, seniors, and nightscapes.

You can see more of his work at:

Black Mesa Images – The Photography of Stanley Harper
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Tags:  High Speed Photography, How to Capture Lightning, Lightning, Lightning Strikes, lightning trigger,
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