High Voltage

Many evenings here in Eagle, Co, we get an afternoon thunderstorm.  I have wanted to take some photographs of the lightning that occurs with these storms, for a few weeks now.   Last night at about 10:30pm, I decided that even though I couldn’t get anywhere good to photograph the lightning, I would take some photos off of the deck outside my apartment.  There are a lot of power lines and trees in between me and the horizon, but it was still fun to capture the lightning.

My technique for taking photographs of lightning, since I don’t have a lightning trigger for my camera, involves simply a long shutter exposure and luck.  I thought some of you might be interested in my camera set up to try for yourself, so here it is.

Because the lightning is so much brighter than the background, I find an ISO setting of 100 to be good.  You really don’t need a more light sensitive ISO unless your goal is to include some foreground detail.  I then start out with an aperture of f/4.0 and go smaller from there.  Last night, I found an aperture of f/6.3 to be pretty good at controlling the really bright flashes.

You can see my umbrella in this shot.  I was using an umbrella to protect the camera and lens from the rain.

Occasionally though, you’ll get a very bright, very close strike and it blows out the exposure.  The D800 is amazing at the detail it can hold or contain.  This shot below was completely blown out white, but by reducing the exposure by -3.10 in Lightroom, I was able to recover the splinter lightning from the larger flash.

I then use the longest shutter speed possible, which is dictated by the amount of ambient light in the frame.  Last night most of the city lights were below where I was shooting, so I was able to use a 30 second exposure.  Finally, I find a distant light to focus the camera at infinity.

Once you have the camera set up it is just a matter of pointing your lens in the direction most of the lightning is occurring and repeatedly take 30 second exposures hoping for some magic!

So out of 75 shots taken last night, these 14 shots were the ones with lightning in them.

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