Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Photo: Lightning Shots

Flash! Crackle! Boom!

Location: Toronto, Ontario, Canada
: 2008
Camera: Canon 40D, 17-85mm L f/4-5.6 lens
Settings: ISO 100, f/7.1, 1 second, 47mm
Support: Manfrotto tripod
Other: wireless shutter release

Details: As a kid I was always amazed at lightning, whether at home in Halifax or on vacation in some exciting locale. The sound that you could feel was amazing. The bright flash that illuminates the night sky was eerie. The raw, untamed power that surges from mother nature's arsenal leaves one speechless. It was always fantastic!

Before I got into photography I would see the occasional photograph of lightning and would wonder what special camera must have done that. I thought it would cost a fortune to for that photograph. Then I got into photography and learned some tricks...

If you want to (try to) catch some amazing lighting photographs, here are some basic points to consider when you start:
  1. DSLR: You will need a DSLR that will allow you to use an external shutter release, have a manual mode, and allow you to set the speed to "bulb".
  2. Tripod: A must for sure, as you will have slow (1 or more second) exposures.
  3. External Shutter Release: I recommend that a shutter release is used so you can start the exposure without touching the camera. Set the camera to "bulb" mode, which means the first time you press the button you will open the aperture and the second time will close it.
  4. Aperture: You will want your aperture set to a level when it will take in a lot of light (since it is dark, but give a good enough crispness of foreground and background. Somewhere in the f/5.6 to f/9 will work well.
  5. Composure: You will want to set up your camera and compose the scene that you want. Try to make the area large enough to increase the chance of lightning in your photograph.
  6. Focus: You should manually focus your scene and leave it on manual, and automatic focus is slow/ineffective in the dark.
  7. Patience: You will need lots of it. This is my best shot (below) of my 50 photographs I've taken (the others had nothing!)
  8. Finger on the Button: You have two approaches. You can wait for a bolt and press the shutter release immediately, then close the shutter right after. This will produce a short exposure (1-2 seconds). Or, you can take random, longer exposures (3-7 seconds or even higher) in anticipation of lightning striking during a storm. You will need to adjust your aperture accordingly for longer exposures and based on the ambient light level.
  9. Keep Back: Perhaps obvious, but I will remind you that lightning is VERY DANGEROUS! Please observe the usual rules of watching lighting with respect to distance, what you are near, etc.
  10. Lucky Penny: A good lightning photography is hard to get, so if you know how to get some extra luck, please proceed.

Processing: added my signature in Photoshop CS3. Otherwise, no other processing.

Some Lightning Safety Tips:

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