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Capturing Lightning Photos

I get asked all the time how I get some of the photos I post, or how I made one of my artistic compositions. So, that got me thinking about posting a weekly photo blog with tips, equipment and instruction on how you can get the shot. I don’t use $10,000 lenses or a $5,000 camera, so I know with a little knowledge anyone can take their photography skills from snapshots to WOW shots. It just takes a little interest in going beyond the auto mode on your camera and learning a few simple techniques to get photos you will be proud to print and display in your home or office.

For my first post I decided on some shots I did close to home of lightning storms in my current city of residence, Crestview, FL. First I’ll go over the equipment and camera settings I used, then I’ll give some tips on what I learned as a result of the shoot. Please feel free to leave comments or post your shots related to the post in the comments section.

To capture lighting you are going to need a DSLR camera with manual settings, or an incredible amount of pure luck. Back when I only owned a point and shoot camera, I did capture a few lightning photos by just pointing the camera and hitting the shutter when I saw the flash, but the results were disappointing. I wasted a lot of time with very few usable photos. When I purchased my first DSLR camera, I was eager to learn how to capture amazing lightning photos because I love storms.

Let me say up front that any links to equipment in my blog may be affiliate links. They are how I support my blog and am able to continue bringing you free content. I won’t, however, place a link to anything that I don’t use myself in my photography. I will give you unbiased, real world use opinions on anything I link to from the site. So now, let’s start with the equipment I use.


Canon EOS 70D Digital SLR Camera


Lightning Bug Camera Trigger

Carbon Fiber Lightweight Tripod

Sigma 18-250 Macro Lens

Set up:

Daylight: The setup I use to capture lightning is adapted depending on whether I’m shooting daylight or night time storms. I use the Lightning Bug camera trigger during daylight hours, because camera operation is fully automatic. The trigger has an infrared detector that senses the IR pulse from the lightning bolt, and triggers the camera within a fraction of a second.  It does take some trial and error setting the Lightning Bug camera trigger so that it doesn’t trigger a shot on every flash in the clouds. Once you get the sensitivity set though, it works very well and you can sit back and enjoy the show that nature puts on. The only weakness I have found with the Lightning Bug camera trigger is after dark. It may totally be my settings entered, but I have found that the triggering is less sure after dark for some reason. It can be pretty frustrating when there is a beautiful lightning strike after dark, and the camera fails to trigger. But during daylight storms, I have found it functions flawlessly to trigger the camera. Here are a few shots I captured with the Lightning Bug when a storm was sneaking up on me and I only had a few seconds to pull off the road and set up.

Lightning strike Crestview, FL


Lightning strike Crestview, FL


Nighttime: For night shooting of storms I use an intervalometer. An intervalometer is used for long exposure shooting or for time lapse photography. The link above will take you to an inexpensive one I got for night photography. Just set your camera to bulb mode, set the intervalometer to 30 seconds, with a delay of 1 second, and the camera will continue to shoot 30 second exposures until you turn it off. The settings I use are: Mode-Bulb, ISO-100, F-4 and Exposure-30 seconds. I always shoot RAW with Medium jpegs. RAW allows you to have all the data in the photo for adjustment in Photoshop. Shooting with the added jpeg allows you to quickly scan through the hundreds of photos and find the ones you want to keep. Otherwise, you have to use a RAW viewer to open each photo individually. Having the jpeg saves you a ton of time! But if you have the ability with your camera, never shoot only jpeg to save space on your card. The compressed jpeg file loses some of the photo information, and you can never get it back. Here are a few night shots I captured using the settings and technique described:


Lightning- Crestview, FL


Lightning- Crestview, FL


Lightning- Crestview, FL


Please note: Safety should always be your first priority. Never take a chance with your life to get a shot. Lightning is inherently dangerous! I always use a carbon-fiber tripod to lesson the chance of a lightning strike on myself or my camera. I use the Weather Bug app on my iPad to track the proximity of strikes. If any are within 10 miles of my location, I set the camera and get into my car for safety. Note that the Weather Bug app is a free download and the Spark app inside Weather Bug will give you updates on strikes to help you track storms and set up safely.

I hope you found this post interesting and hopefully it will inspire you to get out and try the techniques to capture your own cool lightning photos. If you capture some please share them in the comments below.


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