View Full Version : Capturing ol’ Sparky

07-03-06, 22:54
After posting a photo’ of a lightning strike in the gallery’s, I was inundated by requests (well ok, two then;) ) for a quick overview of the technique which I used to make the capture.

I had in the past tried unsuccessfully to take such images, with the results being either completely under or overexposed. Prior attempts were not helped by noise issues on a camera with a smaller sensor (Minolta 7i). The pictures shown below were the first opportunity to try with a DSLR, I am not stating that you can’t achieve a good result with a ‘compact’, just that it will be a little more difficult.

First off you need a good thunderstorm – the more violent the better !!

I was fortunate in that the storm in the pic’s approached directly from northwest in line with my front door – how lucky can you get ? This allowed me to set the tripod (essential) immediately outside the front door.

An important factor in lightning photography is rain – or the lack of it !
As water falls though the air it forms a miniature lens, whilst this is great for rainbows, it will be a poor companion for lightning shots. If it has started to rain be prepared to pack up or move to an alternative location if you have time. Luckily for me rain went both sides by about half a mile.

The lens used was the standard kit lens (18-70), I selected a focal length which would cover a fair region of the sky/foreground, but not overly so (35mm actual). There is ultimately a trade off here, the wider the angle the more sky you can cover per shot and the greater the chance of capturing a strike. However, the chances are most shots, if not all, will need to be cropped to some degree and so the longer the focal length the more detail you will retain in the final image. Some thinking should be given to foreground and how this may be lit by the lightning as this may benefit the image. The same thinking can also be applied to the clouds, the undersides of which can be illuminated as with ‘Strike 1’.

My first attempts were made with ‘shutter priority’, I had hoped the metering system would help me out but errr…..no. I had given myself a 2 second exposure and this generated a F4.5 aperture, it’s no surprise really the camera wanted to expose for the scene and tried to open up wider than the Dartford tunnel. The massively overexposed strike was the result of this set-up.
So the only option now was to retain my 2 second exposure time but close down the aperture. The situation was fortunate in that I could take a couple of shots (with or without a strike) and then examine the results on the pc, this allowed me to try a couple of options before settling on 2” at F9.5. This allowed sufficient time to expose the foreground slightly, but retained the definition of the strikes.

The trigger method used should be one of two options for best results, either a remote release or a timed release. Both of these will prevent camera shake at long exposures. Once you are happy with you setup, just keep shooting. By the time I was happy with the settings I managed roughly 130 exposures and got four goods hits a very poor success rate, but not too bad given the subject.

Additional info:
Focus is manual and set to infinity.
ISO 200
White balance – Tungsten (for the warmth of the street lights)

Next on the list will be a device to predict the timing of a strike by measuring the potential energy in the air (from a distance).

Above all remember to consider you safety, trees do not afford protection. They will attract strikes, and when hit, the sap vaporises and causes the bark to explode like shrapnel !
If you do get caught in the open, either seek refuge in a car which is very safe, or lie down flat (preferably in a depression or ditch).
If none of the above are possible just try standing next to someone a little taller.

I started this thinking it would only be a couple of lines so well done if you’ve got this far and I hope the above has been of some help and interest to you.


08-03-06, 01:43
I think picture number 5 is stunning, you have convinced me to have a go next time I get a storm round here.


08-03-06, 11:03
Thanks Steve, must give it a try but good thunderstorms are rare.


Canis Vulpes
08-03-06, 11:30
Thanks for the information, Steve.

I tried using 20-30 second exposure times to get a shot but never caught anything. I tried a few times in the middle of the night last summer through glass as I did not want to be outside at 3am in my boxers!!

I guess you had a belter of a storm at a reasonable hour.

Nigel G
08-03-06, 12:23
Great captures and really useful info.

Don't forget that Carbon Fibre (tripod) is a great conducter :eek:

08-03-06, 13:07
Thanks, Ledaig.

Don Hoey
13-09-06, 21:06
Possible opportunity on the horizon. Camera and lens now wrapped in clingfilm as it is raining. :D

So far we have thunder but no sign of Sparky.


Canis Vulpes
13-09-06, 21:14
Possible opportunity on the horizon. Camera and lens now wrapped in clingfilm as it is raining. :D

So far we have thunder but no sign of Sparky.


I hope you are using the trusty workhorse D100, please tell me you are!

Don Hoey
13-09-06, 21:24
I hope you are using the trusty workhorse D100, please tell me you are!

Stevie won't let me get HER camera wet. :) Women !! :D :D

Not going to prove the seals on the X hence its now in a poly food bag. Changed my mind over the clingfilm.

Sparky momentarirly showed up but way on the eastern horizon. Met Office radar suggests lots on its way. It will be with you after you have gone to bed.