The Difference Between Daytime and Nighttime Lightning Photography

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Just about everybody loves to see photographs of lightning as it illuminates a pitch black sky. However, you can also get some pretty decent shots of this amazing act of nature in the daytime too.

You might need quite a bit of luck and patience, but it can definitely be done. If the camera settings are right and you’re well prepared then you’ll have a good shot at it. Of course, you’ll probably also have to take dozens of photos before hitting the jackpot.

Daytime-and-Nighttime-Lightning-Photography

You’ll really need to use a digital SLR camera for this since point-and-shoot models are usually a bit on the slow side and don’t allow you to manipulate the settings.

Since the exposures will typically be at least 30 seconds long you’ll need a steady tripod or something just as sturdy to support the camera. A remote/cable release will enable you to take the shot without touching the camera, which means you won’t get any blurry shots from camera shake.

The size of lens doesn’t really have a great impact, but many photographers prefer something like awide-angle zoom lens at approximately 28mm to 150mm. As long as the lens allows you to use manual focus you should be fine since you’ll need to focus at infinity.

Other than that, you should really have everything you need for some exciting lightning shots. If possible, you want to take the photos when the lightning storm is between six and 10 miles away. This will make it safer for you and the images are generally better at this distance.

If you hear thunder and count until you see lightning, every five seconds generally represents a mile. So if the lightning takes place about 30 seconds after the thunder then you’re about six miles away.

If it’s raining, you’ll need to keep yourself and the camera gear dry by setting up shop under cover. Just make sure you’re not standing near any trees, metal poles, or overhead cables etc. In fact, you may want to take the shots from inside a building or car.

A bolt of lightning last a fraction of a second, but it’s usually followed by several secondary strikes and these are usually the ones caught on photographs.

Set up your equipment and watch the location of the storm. Point your camera towards the lightning and focus on infinity in the manual mode. As soon as you see a bolt of lightning you should press the shutter cable and with any luck you’ll capture a secondary strike.

If the camera is set to the bulb mode, it means the shutter stays open as long as you’ve got your finger pressed on the release cable. You may want to set the ISO at 100 or 200 for night shots and the aperture could be about f/5.6.

Press the shutter release and keep it open until you see a couple of strikes of lightning. At night time, it’s hard to overexpose the image so you could leave the shutter open between 30 seconds and two minutes.

If the images look too dark you can try using a longer exposure time, higher ISO, or wider aperture. If the photos look too light then you can try the opposite. When taking shots of lightning in the daytime it’s going to be harder because your surroundings will need to be properly exposed.

You can try a shutter speed between 1/15th and 1/4 of a second with an ISO of 100 or 200. Take a few practice shots of the surroundings and then adjust the shutter speed until everything looks properly exposed.

Just remember, that it’s going to be harder to capture lightning if the shutter speed is too fast. If you use an ND or polarizing filter it will enable you to reduce the exposure by two or three stops.

This will allow you to utilize slower shutter speeds. The biggest difference between daytime and nighttime lightning photography is the length of exposure. You can always try out a lightning trigger if you’d like to make things a little easier.

This is basically a sensor which can be fit into the hot shoe of the camera and it plugs into the cable release. When the sensor sees a flash of light in the sky it will automatically press the shutter. They work well, but can cost quite a bit.

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