5 ideas and strategies for taking lightning images

The sweetness and energy of lightning have fascinated me since I used to be a child.

So it ought to most likely not have been a shock I might find yourself in Florida, the lightning capital of america. My dwelling lies in an space that has acquired the excellence of being known as “Lightning Alley,” with extra strikes per sq. mile recorded yearly within the hall from Tampa to Titusville than wherever else within the U.S., the second most worldwide!  

Regardless of the potential of lightning almost any day of the 12 months, it’s nonetheless a troublesome factor to search out and {photograph} efficiently. It’s additionally a particularly harmful factor to {photograph} — it’s by far the primary explanation for weather-related deaths in my neck of the woods. The following pointers and strategies will assist maintain you secure whereas serving to you get a crack at capturing these bolts out of the blue!

Guidelines 1, 2 and three … BE SAFE!

Your security is your primary concern, lightning by its nature is highly effective, harmful and unpredictable. Don’t let your want to get a cool pic override your private security.

My state of Florida, with the frequency {of electrical} storms, leads the nation in fatalities and accidents brought on by lightning. Even in the event you mix all different sorts of storms in Florida, lightning continues to be the primary explanation for weather-related deaths.

The Nationwide Climate Service warns in the event you can hear thunder, you’ve the potential of being struck by lightning. Lightning can strike even when it’s as far-off as 10 miles. In case you are outdoor, the Nationwide Lightning Security Institute advises avoiding all steel objects, water, bushes, open areas, and floor greater than surrounding areas.

Tornado descending - lightning a possibility
Twister descending from a thunderhead at Sundown. Taken at Fred Howard Park, Tarpon Springs, Florida, on the Gulf of Mexico.

Work distant storms

A minimum of with my Florida storms, if I’m listening to loud thunder, it’s most likely too late to get good lightning pictures from the place I’m. The primary time I made a decision to {photograph} lightning, I checked the radar and noticed a storm blossoming into life a couple of miles from my home. I threw the gear within the truck and headed off for my first storm images expertise.

However, what I hadn’t factored into the equation was the storm was too shut. The fast-moving/low-altitude nature of many Florida storms meant I used to be proper within the coronary heart of the storm inside a couple of moments. Drawback #1: I used to be in peril and wanted to remain undercover. Drawback #2: For the reason that lightning was so shut, I noticed solely flashes up within the clouds above me, not distinct bolts on the horizon.

The second day out I selected a distant storm heading towards me. With this cell, particular person bolts have been seen at a distance, in addition to the towering storm clouds which make for some nice images topics, too! With this additional respiratory room, I might additionally control the radar to verify the storm wasn’t too shut, and keep on high of any climate alerts that could be issued.

Use a tripod!

You’ll usually be taking pictures in low gentle situations, the place you have to to stabilize your digicam because of lengthy exposures. A tripod provides you with the stable base it is advisable to get sharp pictures on the superlong shutter speeds usually utilized in lightning images. Nevertheless, be sure you are utilizing a sturdy and steady one. Within the winds that always accompany storms, a light-weight or flimsy tripod may very well impart extra vibration to your digicam, or worse, tip over in a sudden gust and dump your digicam on the bottom.

Night time and day

The strategies for capturing pictures of lightning within the daytime versus the night time are like, properly, night time and day.  

Daytime method

Although the storms rolling by way of within the daylight could block the solar, you continue to have far more gentle to work with, and may far more clearly see the options of the panorama and storm. However, with this obtainable gentle comes a problem. The strikes are so quick and your shutter speeds are so excessive, that it’s troublesome to simply shoot once you see a strike and hope to seize it. These items are measured in milliseconds, by the point you see the strike, it’s most likely too late to hit the button!

An approaching thunderstorm, approaching proper at sundown. With the solar low within the sky, the double rainbow lasted for almost an hour because the storm rolled in. Intra-cloud lightning supplied dramatic gentle within the clouds.

For daytime pictures, I take advantage of a lightning set off, in my case the Lightning Bug by MK Controls. The machine is an easy module, powered by a 9-volt battery that sits within the sizzling shoe in your digicam. A patch wire connects the Lightning Bug to the distant launch port in your digicam. When it senses a lightning strike, it journeys your shutter like a distant management, taking the image. Of their phrases, it’s primarily based on the science of lightning:

“There are two elements of lightning; the intense white flash everybody desires to seize and the unseen infrared gentle that at all times precedes it. The Lightning Bug™ makes use of a high-speed photodiode sensor optimized to the infrared burst that happens simply earlier than a lightning strike. This infrared gentle comes from the vaporization of air and particles within the air. The Lightning Bug™ acts as a lookout on your digicam, anticipating a change in infrared gentle. When a big change of infrared gentle over a brief interval is detected, it directs the digicam shutter to journey and seize the lightning in motion.”

Science apart, it simply works and is far more profitable at capturing daytime strikes than my attempting to guess the place and when a lightning bolt goes to happen. Whereas the Lightning Bug could aid you “press the button” on the proper time, it’s nonetheless as much as you to compose the scene and have the proper settings. The set off will go off whether or not you might be pointed instantly on the lightning strike or not, so that you do must gauge the place you suppose it can strike to get the shot.

Nighttime method

Whereas a lightning set off is a good device at night time too, you’ll be able to go with out by “dragging the shutter” in low gentle. This phrase merely means placing your digicam into handbook mode and setting your shutter pace to a number of seconds. The concept is that over this era, one thing will doubtless occur, and be etched into your picture. Consider lightning as nice huge digicam flashes, every strike will seem in your picture as they solely final for an prompt, very similar to popping flashlights on and off when gentle portray.

For this system, there are plenty of variables, like simply how darkish it’s, how shut the strikes are, and the way frequent they’re. Typically, I take advantage of a wider lens, normally working within the 35mm equal of a 24-70mm lens. Wider angles will permit you to cowl extra of the sky, growing your chance of capturing a bolt, however can even make the bolts seem smaller within the shot.

Typically, my settings begin off at ISO 400, and aperture within the f/5.6 to f/8.0 vary, and a shutter pace of round 5 seconds. This normally takes a little bit of experimentation, and because the storm will get nearer, you might have to extend your aperture to forestall the pictures from being overexposed.


If in case you have a lightning set off, combining it with shutter drags is what I’ve discovered to be essentially the most profitable method. The set off senses a strike, journeys your shutter, after which by “dragging” you’ll be able to seize a number of strikes in a single picture. Better of each worlds. This method works properly for varied different “lights at night time” topics too, like fireworks, the lights of shifting site visitors, and so on.

To infinity, and past …

Set your focus to infinity, and switch off your handbook focus. As a result of it is advisable to open up your aperture to let gentle in (I discover I’m usually within the f/5.6 to f/8.0 vary), you’ll be able to simply have your bolts dropping outdoors of your depth of area in case your focus is just too shut. Locking your lens’ focus at infinity will assist make sure the bolts come out crisp and sharp.