Photographing Lightning: Tips and Techniques

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Have you ever tried photographing lightning and been disappointed with the results? In this video, outdoor photographer Doug Gardner and storm chaser Brian Barnes travel through the Kansas plains and show you how photographing lightning takes skill and preparation. You will learn where to identify a storm cell, how to find the best positions to shoot from, how to adjust your camera settings, and how to measure the light.

In photographing lightning, your shooting position is the key. If the storm is moving to the northeast, you want to be on the southeast side, the sunlight through the dark clouds providing contrast. Near sundown, Doug and Brian discover a roiling storm, the sky black and blue, streaks of lightning slashing to the ground. To capture the lightning, you will learn to set your camera at the bulb setting. This allows long exposure times because the shutter stays open as long as the shutter button remains depressed. Doug suggests running your f-stop setting at between f-8 and f-22, depending on the intensity of the lightning. He uses a wide angle lens set to infinity, which gives him sharp focus from foreground to background.

Since the shutter is on the bulb setting, he uses a cable release with a lock to hold the shutter open. This technique helps you vary your captures. If you want one lightning bolt in your frame, then unlock the cable release. If you want to capture ten bolts in the same frame, then leave it open. If possible, find a composition with city lights below the storm. This compositional element adds a horizon line to your photographs. It is also a good idea to include trees in your foreground. These shapes can add drama to your final images. The exciting part of photographing lightning is that no two storms are the same.

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