And here we have one of the shots from the first time I tried taking photos of lightning. Sorry it’s a bit blurry, but such is the nature of the beast. I can’t recall if I had my tripod with me that night or not.
Tip time! Wanna know how to do this? You’ll need the following for best performance: A decent tripod with lockable footings, a remote trigger (technically optional, but highly recommended. Doesn’t have to be wireless), a DSLR camera, or other camera that allows manual shutter control or “bulb” mode.
Oh, and don’t try this if you have work the next morning. This and tomorrow’s shot were taken between 2 and 3 AM.
Confirm via Doppler radar that the storm you want to shoot is NOT headed towards you. $500+ cameras don’t like rain very much. A storm jacket may protect it, but setting up the remote trigger might be tricky. Best case scenario, the storm is passing very nearby without any precipitation reaching you. This’ll provide a nice clear shot without worrying about verga… or virga? The hazy cloud-like thing that is actually heavy rainfall. It obscures your view.
Set up your tripod and mount your camera. Use a Kit Lens (All around lens that’s a jack-of-all-trades master-of none) or a Wide Angle lens if you have one. Do NOT use a telephoto lens. You want the physical length to be as short as possible to allow more light to hit your sensor. If you have a lens with Image Stability, disable it. Also disable auto-focus, since you’ve got nothing to focus on. Set your aperture as wide open as it will go to enable maximum light intake and focal depth of field. (f-stop 22 or higher) Set your ISO value high. (Normally you never want to do this because you’ll have tremendous noise, but if you don’t, the shot will come out black.) Have it facing towards the storm, but make damn sure there are no street lights or other lights in your view. They will whitewash the shot. Set your camera to bulb mode, or manual shutter. If you can’t do this, set the shutter speed as long as it will go; you want the aperture to be open as long as possible.
Connect your remote trigger if you have one (they’re cheap as hell. You can easily get one for ~$15) and test it to make sure it’s working. You do NOT want to have any physical contact with the camera. The pressure of the blood flowing through your body as your heart beats is enough to foul the image. (as seen above)
Once you’re ready, frame your shot towards your target area and then take repeated shots with the aperture open for 15-30 seconds apiece. Any lightning that occurs in line of sight of your camera while the aperture is open -should- be captured.
You’re going to have a lot of blank shots. That’s just fine and is bound to happen. Some of the hits might not turn out so great depending on the brightness of the bolt of lightning in question. If you luck out, you’ll get a bolt of lightning that’s off to one side, but is easily croppable.
Just be sure to keep an eye on the radar and know for certain if anything’s headed your way. General lightning safety rules apply here; don’t stand in the middle of a field. Look out from a group of trees or other objects more likely to get struck than you. (Ok, that’s not really a best case scenario, but then again, you’re trying to take a picture of a stream of electrically charged exploding air molecules ten times hotter than the surface of the sun. Clearly you’re a risk taker.) Be prepared to QUICKLY pack up and take cover if things get hectic, and if you hear sirens, assume it’s gotten hectic. Even if it’s a false alarm, it’s late night with zero base visibility. Not even the craziest storm chasers chase at night, so get your ass indoors and take cover because you WON’T see it coming. The difference between a badass and a dumbass is that the badass survived.
I’ve got one more shot from that night and a couple from the next day that, in my opinion, are my best shots yet. You’re gonna dig them muchly.