How to Photograph Lightning

The capturing of thunderstorms is within the grasp of any photographer with a basic SLR camera. All that's required is a "B" or bulb setting (and almost every SLR made has one of these, or a "T" setting which is even better), a tripod, and a lockable shutter release.

I also have a sturdy water and dustproof covering which I throw over the camera whilst on the tripod when all hell breaks loose and I'm running for shelter.Carrying the tripod during a violent thundersquall is like carrying a lightning rod!!

Because of the unpredictable nature of thunderstorms, it can be extremely frustrating to achieve that 'special' photograph. You need to be patient, persistent and get to understand the relationship that exists between:

      • the intensity of the storm,
      • the lens you use,
      • the speed of the film used,
      • the aperture selected, and
      • the length of exposure.

As a general rule, use an exposure time of about 5 minutes and with ISO 64 film use an aperture of:

      • f11 for lightning within 2 miles (3 kms),
      • 5.6 for lightning up to 10 miles (16 kms) away, and
      • f4 for lightning over 10miles away.

To calculate the distance, count the time elapsed between the lightning flash and the thunderclap; 5 seconds equals about 1 mile (1.6 kms).

At the first mention in the weather reports of the chance of "thundery showers" or thunderstorms, I start my preparation.

I have a number of locations selected that I can photograph at short notice, depending, on the direction that the storm is coming from. When it is apparent that the storm is approaching, I contact the Weather Bureau to determine its intensity, size, direction and rate of travel. This then determines which location I'll set myself up at.

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