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  • Anita Wasko

How to photograph lightning


huge lightening bolt during night storm
Lightning over Athens OH

I love photographing storms, there's that trilling, in the moment, perfection.

In some ways, as a wedding/ portrait photographer, I can see how it's akin to other areas of photography - that prefect moment is in everything we do (or see), but what really gets me when the storms come around, is the smell, the wind, the feeling of this awesome power wildly unleashed around me.


But how does one capture it? It's a flash, so short, how do you know when to push the shutter button?


No matter what camera you have, it is important to be able to use the Manual Mode, because there's going to be a few things you have to change, or have control over.


Firstly, shutter speed is important! You can't keep pressing the button in hopes you're actually going to catch it this time. That's just misusing your tool. You have to have a long shutter speed. You can use anything over 15 seconds, but I prefer to go go all the way to 30 seconds if the lightning strikes far apart form one another. That means that your shutter is going to stay open for long enough to record when the lightning strikes, and if you're shooting at night, you don't have to worry about too much light coming in.


Shutter speed will determine everything else: ISO and aperture.


Since the shutter speed is long - which means it will let in a lot of light, therefore you can have a high aperture (for lots and lots of detail, or depth of field) and a low ISO (which will help with granulation/ pixelation). A hight aperture will let less light be recorded (vs, low aperture lots of light, and also shallow depth of field), as well as low ISO will record less light (high ISO lets in a lot of light, but will pixelate your photo).


For the photo above, I have used: Shutter speed 25 seconds, f # (aperture) 7.1, ISO 300.

This specific combination balances the open shutter, the aperture and ISO, lens 24mm.


This is one recipe. Feel free to play and change things arounds, little by little. If it feels like your photo is too bright, try lowering the ISO to a minimum, or raising that aperture even higher. Of course, for the opposite problem, the picture being too dark, change to a higher ISO, a lower aperture, or both.


Have any questions? I'd love to answer them, to my best knowledge.

Now go have fun, but don't get struck by lightning! :)


Anita Wasko Photography

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