Electrifying Night in Kennesaw, GA - How to Photograph Lightning
One of the benefits of lugging my camera gear around with me most places I go is when an photo opportunity presents itself, I'm ready to capture it. On June 22, 2010 a pretty nasty (albeit spectacular) lightning storm rolled through Kennesaw, GA. The storm at one point was directly over our office building and while I do not recommend going outside and taking pictures under these circumstances, I couldn't resist. Capturing pictures of lightning like this has a lot to do with luck. Typically the show lasts for a fraction of a second, so waiting until you see one pop and trying to react fast enough isn't really an option.
Here's how I got these pictures. First, you will need a good camera, a wide-angle lens and a tripod (something an interior photographer should already have). When I say good, what I really mean is a camera that has a manual mode and the ability to do long exposures. Set the camera up on the tripod and adjust the focal length of the wide angle lens until you have a good composition with plenty of sky. Second, you will need to dial in a few settings. For this these photos, I set the ISO to 400, The aperture to f11.0 and adjusted the shutter speed until about 6 secs indicated a correct exposure (metered off the sunset area). From this point, simply trigger the shutter to open and wait. If you are lucky, you will get a nice big bolt of lightning somewhere in the 5 seconds the shutter is open. Rinse and repeat.
So with this approach, we still get a good exposure of some of the other interesting elements in the composition (like the sunset and starburst from the lights) and if we are lucky to get the lightning, it happens so fast that it does not mess with the overall exposure. If your camera allows you to bracket exposures, you can also set it up to take three pictures back-to-back with exposures that are within a stop or so of the original (which is easy to correct later if the picture is a little too dark or too bright). This technique essentially gives you about 10-15 secs at a time of the camera ready to capture the action.
Oh, and my disclaimer: *DO NOT GO OUTSIDE AND TAKE PICTURES IN THE MIDDLE OF A STORM. ONLY CRAZY PEOPLE DO THIS...
Have fun and BE SAFE!