Storm Photography

February 28, 2020  •  1 Comment

Recently there has been a lot of thunderstorm activity in and around North Queensland.

Photographers are attracted to storms for storm photography and the opportunity of an awesome cloud formation or lightning photo. The cloud formations are a lot easier to photograph but to get one with a lightning bolt in it requires a good setup, positioning and also a bit of luck.

The biggest thing for me with chasing storms is SAFETY. To put it bluntly lightning can kill you in a split second and you may only get one chance so staying safe is paramount first then work toward getting the photos. Don't put yourself in a bad position just to get a photo. If in doubt opt to stay in your car or even stay home. Another thing to consider here with lightning is that it can strike kilometres away from the actual front itself so be aware.

In order to capture lightning photos there are a couple of ways you can go about it. One is to use a dark ND filter to extend your shutter speed and take a truckload of photos then sort through them later to pick out any shots with lightning in them. The other way is to use a lightning trigger. The one I use is a Pluto trigger. It has a light sensor in it which detects the bolt and activates your camera shutter for you to capture the bolt. A typical lightning bolt duration is approx 150ms whereas the lag time on your camera shutter is about 30ms so that's how the trigger works to capture the strike.

As far as setting up, for the ND filter option setup your camera in manual mode, Av f8-f11, ISO100 (or lower if possible) and manually focus on a suitable subject using live view. You don't want your camera to be focusing as well before each shot. A dark ND filter can typically give you a typical shutter speed of about 2secs as an example in average afternoon light (when most thunderstorms occur). You need to monitor your exposure as it gets darker and adjust accordingly. Set your camera shooting mode in continuous or burst mode and use a remote shutter device locked on so you camera continually takes photos. Then sit back (maybe in your car!) and wait. If it is dark you can just remove the ND filter and use continuous 30sec exposures to capture shots the same way.

For the trigger option you don't need a dark ND filter so your exposure times are a lot quicker. Typical settings may be f8-f11, ISO100 (or lower) and a shutter speed around 1/20th of a second but you need to adjust according to the light to get correct exposure. Don't have your shutter speed too fast or you may miss some bolts. Manual focus is again required, you don't want the trigger detecting the bolt and your camera missing the shot because it was focusing. Triggers can also be a bit unreliable sometimes especially for distant storms. Again you have to monitor your shutter speed to get correct exposure. Triggers have sensitivity settings also so it can take a bit of trial and error getting this right. To sensitive and the camera takes continuous shots (with usually nothing in them) and not enough sensitivity means you may miss some strikes. You can also use a trigger at night, set your shutter speed to 30secs and let the trigger initiate the shot. Any other strikes in the 30secs means you get multiple strikes in the one frame.

Below are some of my photos I have captured over the years both lightning and clouds. 

Good luck with your storm photography. Remember stay safe out there!

Let me know if you have any questions.

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Dave Law(non-registered)
Thanks Phil
Very interesting and helpful as always.
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