Thursday, August 2, 2018

How To Photograph Lightning!

So it's monsoon season in the southwest, which means lightning!!!  I recently shot a few timelapses and stills of lightning, and they went viral.  Then of course, I got many requests for a lightning tutorial, so here it is!

And for those who don't want the video, here's a written version with the breakdown:
How to photograph lightning: Cheat Sheet
*Remember, this is NOT the perfect settings for every lightning scenario, it’s meant as a starting point and general guideline!
Before you go:
·         Check the weather, look for smaller storm cells if possible
·         Check the lightning strike map
·         Fill your gas tank
·         Bring RAIN GEAR
·         Water and snacks
·         Extra batteries
Once you’re there:
·         Try to stay 5 – 15 miles away from the cell
·         Pay attention to direction the storm is moving.
·         Staying BEHIND or to the side opposite cell movement is good for your health
·         If in front of cell, be prepared to move quickly
·         Lens hoods can help keep some rain off, especially if you don’t point the lens up at an angle (this only works with no filters or round filters of the same diameter)
Camera settings
·         Shoot in Manual mode
·         Your ideal shutter starting place should usually be between 1-10 sec (longer if super dark out).
·         If it’s daytime, use an ND Filter. Here are some different options for both round and square filters, for all budgets:  *Square filters require a filter holder; make sure you get the right one for which ever system you choose! (I will have more videos about square filters soon.  Here’s a very short video I did about a cheap square filter system
o   Round 3 stop (you can stack filters too if needed)
o   High End Square 10 Stop (also comes in 6 and 15 stop versions)
o   Here’s a video about ND and Polarizer Filters I did a while back
o   Here’s a video about How to use filters with phones
·         Aim for an exposure that’s a little UNDEREXPOSED (1-2stops), especially in daytime conditions; this will help ensure the lightning is not drowned out in the ambient light, and that the lightning will not be overexposed if it’s dark out.
·         Start with a low ISO ~100
·         Set your Aperture to whatever it needs to be to accommodate the ideal shutter and ISO (and remember to err on the side of slightly underexposed)
·          Set your focus and then lock it down to manual focus (using live view and zooming in to nail infinity is a great way to do this)
·         The longer your focal length, the shorter you’ll want your shutter speed, to help reduce camera shake, e.g., if using a big telephoto, like 200+mm, then you’ll want to keep it around 1-2 seconds tops, shorter if you’re greater than 200mm.  The most I tried, with varying success was 300mm at 1 sec, and 400mm at 0.5 sec (400mm at 1 sec produced a couple of useable shots, but not many) Take wind in to consideration too, especially for longer shutter speeds. 
·         Have a solid, steady tripod
o   Add weight to it by hanging your gear bag or a bag of sand/rocks/anything with significant weight, or hold it down if necessary
For timelapses:
·         Get an intervalometer if your camera does not have a built in one.
o   Here are a few that I recommend:
§  Cheap Intervalometer (make sure to get one that works with your camera)
§  Alpine Labs Spark (my secondary choice)
§  Alpine Labs Pulse (My main controller)
§  There are many many others out there; these are just what I use.
·         Set your intervals to 1-2 seconds LONGER than your actual shutter time, e.g. if your shutter is 5 sec then set your interval time to 6-7 seconds.  This is important!
·         For a solid timelapse you want at bare minimum 150-200 shots, I usually do 300 or more, but that’s just me…I love timelapses, and they are my business.
BONUS: Editing multiple lightning images
Here is the link for my tutorial on this.  It’s VERY EASY!
That’s about it!  You should be totally ready go chase Thor down and capture some EPIC lightning images!
Be sure to follow me on Instagram and Facebook to see more of my lightning images, and everything else I’m up to!  And tag me on Instagram @lightbendersvisuals if you get some awesome shots, I’d love to see them!  Thanks for making it this far, and good luck shooting lightning…don’t get zapped…