This is my take on how to shoot lightning. You can find
lots of information on the web about cameras and settings
but these are the ones that work for me. You will need to
test this information for yourself as each camera/film/lens
combination is slightly different. Also remember to keep
safe, we've all heard the stories of golfers who have been
hit by lightning while playing the game. Consider a golf
club as being the same as a camera/tripod.
1. If you can, visit the location during the day. It's much
easier to frame your images when there is daylight.
2. Where to Focus ~ Focusing is going to
be difficult at night if you don't have distance markers on
your lens barrel. The best way to ensure sharp images of
lightning is to focus at infinity, which is usually more
than 30 metres from the end of your lens. Now if you don't
have distance markers on the lens, simply set your camera
on a tripod during the day and focus on an object 30 - 40
metres away. Then using a soft lead pencil, place a mark on
the lens barrel and focus ring. Now when you align this
mark you'll be focusing at infinity and you won't need to
look through the view finder. While you're out doing this
exercise you will probably notice that once you have the
lens focused at infinity, the focus ring can still rotate a
little further past this point. The reason for this it
typically infrared light photography and is why you
shouldn't rely on simply turning the focus ring all the way
out. Mark the lens barrel, it's the safest way.
3. What ISO to use ~ Use a low ISO setting
on your digital camera or film. I like to stay with 100
ISO. Remember, just because it's dark doesn't mean you need
a faster film. You're photographing bright light, so a
slower film speed/ISO is fine.
4. Aperture ~ The one that works for me is
f5.6. Remember, you're focusing at infinity so depth of
field is not playing an important role. What is playing an
important role is the light collecting ability of the lens.
You could go wider than f5.6 but this will impact the
amount of lightning you can collect before the bright
flashes become over-exposed. Getting this right will take a
little practice but f5.6 is a great place to start.
5. Shutter Speed ~ You'll need the longest
shutter speed you can get. If your camera supports 'B' or
Bulb then use this. The settings I've given so far will
result in multiple strikes in the image. You should be able
to get at least 4 very bright strikes before you need to
advance the film. If you are after single strikes, then you
will need to open up the Aperture and speed up the ISO to
ensure you get sufficient exposure for a single strike.
6. Cable Release ~ You will need a cable
release for your camera. The exposure times are around 2 to
3 minutes. If you think you can stand behind your camera
with your finger on the shutter button for that amount of
time, over and over again... well, my hat off to you.
7. Tripod ~ you will need the sturdiest
tripod you can find. Then you'll need to weight it down
with something. Remember, with storms there is usually wind
and with the lengthy exposure time you want to limit the
vibration of the camera/tripod setup. I remove the shoulder
strap from the camera or wrap is securely around the tripod
to stop it blowing around in the wind. I also lean heavily
on the tripod to keep it very still. If you have a
backpack, consider strapping this to the tripod if you
don't feel like standing out in a lightning storm with a
metal tripod. Trying to take photos of lightning from
within your car is a waste of time, in my opinion. The wind
that comes with the storm is going to rock your car around
far more than the tripod set up outside, resulting in
blurred images. Even you moving around in the car will
cause it to rock.
8. Shoot in RAW ~ If using a digital
camera that supports RAW mode, use it.
Safety: Lightning kills. If you're out in
the open with a camera and tripod, remember that lightning
can strike up to 16 kilometres ahead of the cloud bank.
Don't ever consider yourself safe if you're out in the open
photographing lightning. Wear a hat. Consider retiring to
your car while the camera is doing its thing.
Rain: Protect your camera with a plastic
bag around the camera. If it's raining heavily consider
packing up for the night. The best time for lightning shots
is before the rain starts. You have essentially clear
visibility up to that point.
Autofocus: Remember to turn this off.
Coffee or hot chocolate
Spare CF card, roll of film, batteries
Have fun, and let me know if these tips have been useful to
you or if you have others that I can add.