Lightning photography could be an exciting, rewarding and adventurous hobby. However, lightning storms also come as a unique challenge to most photographers as it is one of the most unpredictable forces of nature. Although thunderstorms usually occur in rainy seasons, sometimes the photographer has to go to them. This would be gladly dubbed as storm chasing which in itself is an exciting hobby. It involves the activities of forecasting, tracking and driving into active thunderstorms. The next thing would be to capture the majesty of the storm and in the end, it becomes a fun-filled activity that some enjoy doing for years. This piece aims at shedding some light on lightning photography, more specifically on the lightning triggers, and tips on how you are going to take that perfect shot in a thunderstorm.
Kinds of Lightning
There are basically 4 unique ways of classifying lightning that is relevant and will work well in photography. These ways include the type, color, pattern, and intensity.
Type – On this method of classification, the most common kinds of lightning include the cloud-to-cloud, the cloud-to-ground, and the intra-cloud lightning. The cloud-to-cloud lightning bolt will move across the sky and it simply does not seem to strike anything at all. The cloud-to-ground lightning will appear as a descending bolt that strikes objects beneath it. On the other hand, the intra-cloud bolt will occur inside the cloud and not much of it is seen except for a burst-like flash. The type of lightning helps in deciding the kind of lens to use.
Color – The lightning color varies. Moreover, the lightning can strike in a variety of colors at the same thunderstorm. Although the most common one is white, it may also appear as red, green, yellow, purple or even blue. The color appearance mainly depends on the gases, chemicals, temperature, and impurities present in the atmosphere. A photographer might decide to be unique and try and capture the different colors of lightning altogether, which would be satisfying to both themselves and the photography enthusiasts.
Intensity – The intensity of a lightning bolt in photography is equally vital as an anticipation of this helps in setting up the right exposure. It is prudent for a lightning photographer to study the storm for a few minutes before deciding on taking a shot. Having the best lightning trigger will come in handy as it will help in taking multiple shots which can then aid in fine-tuning the DSLR camera so as to take the brightest bolt.
Pattern – Among the many objectives in lightning photography is to get a perfect piece of art. In this, the bolt must be simple, lone and clean. The most common type that will produce a fine pattern is the cloud-to-ground bolt.
Choosing the Right Gear
In a nutshell, you will need a camera coupled with a lightning trigger, a tripod, a remote shutter control, and camera rain protection. The variations in each of these objects will largely determine the success of your lightning photography. You can also check our other blog post about How to Take the Extraordinary Lightning Photos. Let’s discuss each in detail.
The modern DSLR cameras will work just fine. However, it is worth noting that the lowest noise-producing camera will be the best. In addition, it is advisable to use the fastest lens you can afford. This will aid in capturing the best shot at all times and on time. However, this is subjective some may want to zoom in on the scene and create a close-up of a single lightning bolt. On the other hand, some photographers will opt to use a wide-angle lens to capture the zigzagging bolts. All the same, faster lenses will facilitate better shooting at the existing light conditions.
On the exposure, long exposures will always work with this kind of photography. You should open the camera, hold the shutter open and wait. Normally, you will go through 10 to 15 frames on the film before capturing the lightning bolt. This means that each shot will not have the bolt. Although there are standard exposure settings, it is advisable to experiment with the different settings and come up find out what works best for you. However, on digital cameras, using an ISO setting of 100 will work perfectly. In rural areas, you should try and focus at infinity. This is F-Stop between F5.6-F10. In rural areas that have little or no light, it is recommended that you leave the shutter open indefinitely until a lightning bolt flashes across the frame.
In addition to using a good camera, a lightning trigger will come in handy. This will help in minimizing the number of shots. As such, in lightning photography, the idea has always been to capture as many shots as possible and then choose the best among them. In this, you may find that some even lack lightning bolts in them. However, the introduction of newer technology in lightning triggers is set to get rid of long tiresome nights. You may consider yourself a good photographer with finesse in all aspects of photography but lacks the speed to capture lightning strikes. This is where the camera triggers come in. Currently, the best camera trigger in the market is the MIOPS Smart Trigger.
The MIOPS Smart Trigger is a combination of a versatile camera and flash trigger in a single unit. The unique thing about this trigger is that it comes in many advanced triggering modes such as lightning, sound, laser and time-lapse. In this case, having this camera trigger alongside your normal camera would be the easiest way of capturing lightning strikes. This device has an integrated light sensor that detects the lightning strike and triggers the camera instantly. In addition, the MIOPS also responds to infrared light in lightning mode. It, therefore, could do all the work for you considering that thunderstorms are not as friendly as they may look in perfect shots. Another advantage of the MIOPS Smart Camera Trigger is that you can adjust its sensitivity if you find out that there are too many misfires. However, reviews from renowned photographers have shown that the capabilities of this device are unmatched.
Investing in a good tripod is essential in lightning photography. This is because you need to hold your camera at steady positions during time exposures. Other photographers will opt for other surfaces such as the beanbag or the pillow. However, this is entirely subjective and will depend on a photographer’s comfortability. At other times such as the case of storm hunting, it would be ideal to consider acquiring a small tripod or clamp mount. These can be simply set up in a car and you can comfortably do your photography without worrying about the safety of your gear.
Personal and Gear Safety
As much as it may appear to be a fun-filled activity, lightning remains to be one of the most dangerous natural phenomena of all times. The rule of thumb in this is that if you can hear thunder, you are vulnerable to being struck by lightning. In scenarios where the storm is producing lots of close cloud-to-ground lightning bolts, it is always advisable to stay in the vehicle and preferably use the window mount. Alternatively, using the MIOPS Smart Trigger will always ensure that you evade the wrath of nature. You can simply set up your gear on a tripod then operate the camera remotely from your vehicle. It remains one of the safest yet effective practices in modern lightning photography. In addition, you should review the National Weather Service Lightning Safety Tips. However, always yield to being safe at all times.
Moreover, dealing with rain in lightning photography is also considered a major challenge. Thunderstorms will always be accompanied by heavy rains. In heavy thunderstorms, it is even worse as the rain comes from all directions. As a result, this could end up damaging your camera temporarily or in severe case permanently. On the other hand, drops on the lens could end up inflicting much damage to the shots and most lightning photographers dread this. However, well-placed drops could be cloned out in Photoshop. You should strive to keep an ample supply of lens wipes at all times so as to prevent soiling of your hard work.
It is evident that lightning photography is a whole new enjoyable niche that you could flex your photography skills in. With the right mind-set, gear that includes the MIOPS Smart Trigger and the tips outlined above, you are good to go. It all takes an ounce of courage and determination.