How to Photograph Lightning

How to Photograph Lightning

Nikon D3200  using a  Nikkor 18-55mm 3.5-5.6  Lens  f/6.3 - 30 Seconds - ISO 100  Ft Lauderdale, Florida

Nikon D3200 using a Nikkor 18-55mm 3.5-5.6 Lens

f/6.3 - 30 Seconds - ISO 100

Ft Lauderdale, Florida

Considerations

At first, the idea of photographing lightning seemed bothersome to me. Lightning comes and goes within the blink of an eye. It’s nearly impossible to predict and certainly an elusive subject. I soon came to the realization that photographing lightning requires a long exposure, since lightning only strikes momentarily. You should monitor the storm system to understand around where the lightning will strike, compose your shot, set off a long exposure, and hope that lightning will strike through your frame. Bring a waterproof jacket since it will likely be raining, plastic bags or covers for your camera gear, and a tripod since you’ll be taking some long expos.

Weather and Location

Some areas are more prone to heavy thunder storms than others. Refer to well-documented weather patterns for your neighborhood. Seasonal changes on-location should be kept in mind as well, before you set out to get the shot. Usually summer months yield higher probability of catching thunder storms. Humid climates are more prone to experiencing lightning as well. A few common phrases for worldwide seasons that potentially foster thunder storm systems are: monsoon season, wet season, heat lightning, and lightning season.

Nikon D750  using a  Nikkor 35-70mm f/2.8  Lens  f/5 - 30 Seconds - ISO 100  Mt Evans, Colorado

Nikon D750 using a Nikkor 35-70mm f/2.8 Lens

f/5 - 30 Seconds - ISO 100

Mt Evans, Colorado

Lightning Hot Spots

There are a few places on earth that see the most lightning in any given calendar year. The small village of Kifuka in the mountains of the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo sees more lightning than anywhere else on earth, receiving about 158 lightning strikes per 1 square-kilometer per year. Here, the elevation is around 975 m (3,200 ft). Another lightning hot spot is Lake Maracaibo in Venezuela which lightning is spotted about 297 days per year. A few other notable lightning zones include Singapore, Catatumbo in Venezuela, and Lightning Alley in Central Florida.

Strategic Positioning

Since you will be photographing the sky, you’ll want to make sure you have a large enough clearing to gaze at the storm. Usually beachfronts, rooftops (but not the tallest ones since you don’t want to get zapped), parks, high vantage points with an interesting subject or foreground will suit you the best. The wider your focal length, the more likely it’ll be for lightning to pass through your shot.

Required Gear - Tripod

The lens you’ll use doesn’t really matter as much as the timing. Of course you’ll just need to make sure the lightning ends up in your shot, so usually wider is focal lengths are easier to account for the random strikes of the lightning. It is however necessary to use a tripod if you plan to utilize long exposure. In this case, I used the MeFoto Backpacker, since it’s lightweight, sturdy, compact, and super portable.

Superbloom at Lake Elsinore - Poppy Apocalypse

Superbloom at Lake Elsinore - Poppy Apocalypse

Yosemite Firefall - Horesetail Fall

Yosemite Firefall - Horesetail Fall

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