Monday, August 16, 2010

Lightning Strikes!

There was a fantastic storm this evening, so I took the opportunity to try to capture lightning. I'd never done it before, but I had somewhat of an idea of how to do it. Basically, set the camera shutter to bulb, point it what you think is the right direction, open the shutter, wait for the flash, and close the shutter.

Sounds easy, and when the sky is lit up as much as it was tonight, capturing some lightning isn't that hard. But getting that one amazing fork takes a bit of anticipation, and a bit of luck.

Two tips that I discovered tonight:

1) Follow the path of the storm. It will seemingly travel across the sky, and as long as you pan the camera from time to time with it, you should be more or less pointed in the right direction.

2) ISO sensitivity has a lot to do with how striking your lightning fork is. The shots I captured at ISO 400 had that glow that the best lightning shots all seem to have, while the ones at 100 or 200 just didn't have the same drama. The caveat here is that you're fighting noise, so you shouldn't keep the shutter open much longer than about 30 seconds. Any longer than that, and the noise just gets too grainy. Just close the shutter and re-open right away to start a new exposure. Sooner or later you'll get a shot of lightning.

Remember to find a sheltered spot, otherwise you and you precious camera will get very wet. Rain gear helps if you have some for your camera, short of that a plastic bag will do in a pinch.

Here's the best of what I got tonight:

This was the best of the bunch. Like I said, sometimes you need a but of luck to get that special one... It happened right in front of me and lit up the sky like it was on fire.

Here's a different crop of the above shot, and converted to black and white. Then I added a tinge of yellow to warm it up a touch. I actually made 5 different versions of this image. Click the one above to see the rest.

This one was severely cropped. The original had the lightning bolt in the bottom-right corner.

Here's an example at ISO 200. Lots of lightning, but it just doesn't have the same striking effect as the ISO 400 shot.

- jc

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