How to Capture Lightning

Photo: Lightning and a starburst light up Lake Michigan and the Frankfort Lighthouse
Lightning and a starburst light up Lake Michigan and the Frankfort Lighthouse
I’d like a print!

It’s storming here, which has inquiring minds wanting to know how to photograph lightning. There are a few ways, including the use of a lightning trigger, but if you don’t want to invest in specialty equipment, blocking ambient light is your best bet. You’ll need a stable place for your camera, like a tripod, and some patience. If you don’t have an ND filter, set your camera with the smallest aperture you can (like f/22), the iso as low as it will go (like 100), and then meter the scene so that you can get the longest shutter speed possible without over-exposing. This will depend entirely on how much light is available. Then simply trigger the camera repeatedly during the lightning event until you capture a photo you like.

Another option is to attach an ND filter to the front of your lens. The stronger the filter, the longer the exposure you can get. This will also allow you to play around more with the depth of field you prefer. You may be able to do 1-minute or longer exposures, increasing the chance that you’ll get multiple strikes in an image. Even the use of a polarizing filter will block out some ambient light, giving you a bit more exposure time than just using a small (f/22) aperture alone.

The above image was shot at f/22, 4-sec, iso 3200, with no filters. The light was fading, so I could have opened my aperture and dropped my iso to get a properly exposed image with a 4-second shutter speed, but I wanted the starburst over the lighthouse. I shot image after image, until I captured this one.

Be safe, and have fun! Have questions? Join the lightning photography conversation on Facebook 🙂