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 Tips for storm and lightning photography

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pulse1
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PostSubject: Tips for storm and lightning photography   Tue Apr 13, 2010 10:40 am

Get info and help re daytime and nighttime lightning photos.
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PostSubject: Re: Tips for storm and lightning photography   Tue Apr 13, 2010 7:37 pm

Lightning photography is simple but not easy per se. Ever tried taking lightning with a point and shoot hand held digital camera and you'll know what I mean - it's not worth the efforts!

You should buy some sort of digital SLR camera, which brand is not important but what is important is that it has functions that enable you to dial in your own settings on the fly as conditions change light wise.

Getting into a position to photograph lightning is a bit of a trick in itself and takes experience to find the big bolts safely - if there is such a thing - so observation of storm structure and type of storm will help enormously, but like I mentioned with chasing comes experience and you get to know your prey! If you are new to chasing or even experienced you should have an exit plan route or at least stay on the side and behind the storm to avoid heavy rain and hail.

Okay, so for example sake lets assume you've found a nice storm system or cell in front of you at night. You should always keep in mind that SAFETY is your main priority - NEVER the photograph. If you feel threatened or unsafe in any way, then move to a more distant location. Lightning can strike over 20km from the cloud, so whilst this is safe, it is rare that people are hit from that distance. Use the 30second rule. If you can see lightning and 30 seconds later you can hear thunder you're too close and should move. If you hear thunder way under that time you are definitely too close!

Things you must have are...camera (not much good without that), a sturdy tripod and a remote shutter release, either wireless or cable which connects to your camera. Look through your viewfinder at either a light pole or something and focus on that manually and get it nice and sharp. If you have an infinity marker (a sideways 8 on the inner ring) line that up with the marker and don't touch the lens!

Once you have manually focused on something leave the lens alone - but get your depth and angle right naturally. Now turn on the camera and plug in your remote switch. Set the dial on your SLR to BULB setting. This setting will allow you to manually pre-set the exposure time and F number depending on light around you and how bright the lightning is AND your ISO setting.

The setting you used will be one of experimentation, so hopefully you've been practicing on street lights and city lights to see how the different settings affect your images.

Lightning is very bright, especially when it is close or is illuminated on cloud cover. I usually take a few test shots in the area i am and review the images and make changes accordingly, otherwise you run the risk of blowing out all the lights and lightning and it will look decidedly yuk.

Usually with lightning say 20-40km you want a low F number say at 5.6 or 6.3 and exposure time around 15 secs. Your ISO (which determines how much light comes into the camera also) should be around 200, just to let some light in given the distance. But always review your shots and adjust either setting.

Lightning that is closer you can go up to F8-12, ISO 100, exposure time 5-10secs. Anything closer than that and you'll be up as high as F22-32 and really way too close for comfort...and yes, I've been in that situation may times but it's what I do when chasing, photographing lightning.

If you start out at the base settings mentioned just work on that, if the lightning appears orange or red when viewing then the storm is a fair distance away and whilst they might look nice, you'll struggle to get any decent bolts, but for landscape images they're cool. If you lightning channel blows out due to over-exposure then you will have to up the F number (smaller opening to let less light in) or shorten your exposure time again. I'm always changing my settings if the storms are coming toward me, I've learned over the years chasing of what to look for now and it's easy, but I still mess things up!

An underexposed shot will give you weak, faint looking lightning and be very soft in appearance. You have to find the happy medium for correct exposure etc but it takes practice.

Right - now the storm is in front of you...now be patient...just wait to see how many strikes it produces before rattling off images. If it produces lightning more than say 1 per 10 seconds you're in luck. Point the camera to the storm and try and get everything in, not just a zoomed in shot - your settings are done, now flick the remote switch and leave it on for the chosen time. If it's ten seconds then watch your camera's display to countdown, turn the remote off and do the same.

Now if there is a continuous shooting option on the camera then it's even simpler. Set that to continuo8us, do your settings and flick the remote and forget! The camera will fire a shot every pre-determined time of your choosing until the battery goes flat! But remember, flick the remote off after a couple of shots to check your images. If they look over or under exposed then compensate for the lighting and lightning and turn it on again and take one shot - or wait till another bolt - and review the image. If you're happy with your settings then go for it.

The distance of lightning an the type of lightning and everything around you determines your settings. No one setting is perfect, some are, but you will have to make adjustments. If you were in complete darkness with no light pollution then you can even leave your exposure as high as 30 seconds or more, but you risk 'noise' on the image due to over exposure...again trial and error.

If you have any questions just ask and i'll post some examples of over and under exposed shots of lightning later on.

hope this helps!
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PostSubject: Re: Tips for storm and lightning photography   Mon Apr 26, 2010 9:08 pm

mike, thats a fantastic explanation there, and something i've been looking for for a while Very Happy i have a continuous shot setting which i think i'll try. still need to get a remote for my camera. just need storms now to try it out on Exclamation i also need to get a bigger lens as i only have the 18-55mm VR lens.
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PostSubject: Re: Tips for storm and lightning photography   Tue Apr 27, 2010 1:41 am

Hey, JP

The lens you have is quite fine for lightning shots. It will give you wide enough angle and some zoom. Personally I don't use my 300mm for any lightning shots. If it's that far away you should really be chasing closer to it!

I've only used a long zoom once and although the images came out okay, you risk losing a lot of usable width.

If you have continuous shooting mode then set it to the appropriate exposure time...for example if the strikes are coming frequently and close enough to be able to clearly see them, then go for F6.3, ISO 100 and exposure time of say 13secs BUT if you use continuous mode you have to press the shutter button every 13 seconds - def get a remote, that way you leave the remote 'on' and it tells the camera to keep shooting for whatever time period you have set it to. This would apply for nighttime shots though.

Daytime shots are another ball game...F22, ISO 100 and the exposure time must be determined by you - take a few shots to get the picture perfect then you can adjust the exposure time to suit the lighting...all you have to do then is try and grab a strike using either a single shot or multiple shot setting - like sports mode - whereby the camera will take X amount of frames per second, you waste a lot of shots but you might get lucky.

Alternatively get yourself a trigger...roughly about $200AU and you can get them online..just type in 'lightning trigger' and see if you camera is compatible.
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PostSubject: Re: Tips for storm and lightning photography   Tue Apr 27, 2010 2:35 am

Awesome tips there Mike, thanks!

I looked at my cam yesterday for the continuous shooting mode, and I found "timed interval" shooting mode. I set the camera up for an exposure time of 10 seconds, then set the timed interval shooting to fire 2 seconds after that, and it worked perfect. Just set it up and watched it take pics. Of nothing interesting mind, my living room wall! But it worked.

JP - Your cam must have this setting too.
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PostSubject: Re: Tips for storm and lightning photography   Tue Apr 27, 2010 4:30 am

more great advice there mike cheers Very Happy i've just been and bought a remote....£20 and its a nikon too.

now i've got the remote im gonna do some messing about and see what happens. will try some shots of the appropriatly placed street light outside the house and the ones in the distance.

wazza, im not sure if i have "timed interval shooting mode" but i know for sure i have "continuous shooting" will delve a dit deeper and see what i can find.
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PostSubject: Re: Tips for storm and lightning photography   Tue Apr 27, 2010 7:35 pm

Yeah for sure. I found it in the main Menu in the shooting mode settings.

That remote sounds a brill idea, may have to get one of those. £20 is a bargain!
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PostSubject: Re: Tips for storm and lightning photography   Wed Apr 28, 2010 1:34 am

i've got a 2 second delay on my remote settings but thats it. the remote works a treat too! only thing you gotta remember with continuous shooting is not to take your finger of the shutter release or remote lol!

defo gotta be some differences between our cameras mate. but what they are is anyones guess?
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PostSubject: Re: Tips for storm and lightning photography   Wed Apr 28, 2010 1:48 am

What's this 2 second delay bizzo?

Does that take effect when you press the remote or shutter button? Your remote should have two options, on/lock/off. But it depends on what you paid for it - some do have the option, but I would have thought that it has a clickable region on the remote that keeps the shutter 'on'. Otherwise you'll still have to press the remote every X seconds...i used to do that all the time until some bright spark said...'Mate, you have continuous shooting mode..'

If there is a delay of 2 seconds from the time you press the remote to it shooting you will miss some good lightning I can tell you! Your shutter should open straight away when you use the remote - what's the point otherwise!

set your camera to single shot mode with your chosen settings and try the remote - it should open the shutter immediately with no lag...

when you're using the remote and continuous shooting it's supposed to keep firing...if you have it set on a mode where it takes say 4 FPS then that's okay for daytime lightning or car racing etc...but you don't want to be doing that at night. rattling off a gammit of images all the time repeatedly will wreck your shutter curtain in no time.

test it at night....ISO100, F8 at say 20 seconds with some street lights or city lights...a view would be nice actually. Set your camera to single shot, plug in the remote and press it...it should open the shutter and keep it open for that period and then close, then view the image and if it's blown out drop the exposure time to say 13secs - if it's too dark then up the F number to F6.3 and ISO 200 and see the difference.

If you get lightning at night this is what you have to do all the time on the fly...adjusting the settings to suit how bright or close the lightning is....
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PostSubject: Re: Tips for storm and lightning photography   Wed Apr 28, 2010 2:00 am

i think its for family shots or waiting for people to smile lol! i do have the option for taking the shot immediatly.

wazza has the model up from my camera......he's just posh Razz lol!

theres no lag either, hit the remote and the shutter opens straight away. works a treat with continuous shooting too! will try it tonight with a 10sec exposure on the moon and mess about some more.
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PostSubject: Re: Tips for storm and lightning photography   Wed Apr 28, 2010 2:07 am

Oh i get it now...yep...time delay

I have a 2 sec and 10 sec option for mine....don't want that mode for anything but family and friend shots - well kinda...

oh and the moon is a really bad subject to practice on. It may look big to the naked eye but the camera does not have the same depth of field as we do...it will turn out to be a white dot...no matter what setting you use. You need a pretty good zoom and an L series lens to get close moon shots.

Go for a drive, find a nice view if you have one or somewhere around town with a bridge and a river so the reflections cast of it...they always look great and cool to practice on.
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PostSubject: Re: Tips for storm and lightning photography   Wed Apr 28, 2010 2:49 am

okie dokes i'll scrap the moon idea. will see if i can get up to high force, a big waterfall not to far away from here, and theres a bridge going over the A19 dual carriage way 10 mins walk from here.

defo gonna get some quick movement shots to practice before the storms roll in, if they roll in lol!
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PostSubject: My Options for DSLR..   Wed Apr 28, 2010 7:37 am

Hi Members.
I have a few settings for DSLR users...

1) ALWAYS shoot in RAW format... A must for late total editing options.

2) When in full manual mode... Take the lens out of AF (auto focus) this will reduce image shake and speed up picture time. When using long exposure times

3) Set the lens to focus to ∞ (Infinity) as with long distance photos there is no set focal length.

4) In advanced settings, if using a tripod select Mirror lockup. (to reduce cam shake)

5) If using a long exposure time. Try and use a cover just in front of the lens drop it away then recover the lens in the same way this will give a very crisp image. (sounds very pin hole camera age but works for DSLR’s as well)

6) In advanced settings there may also be a setting to adjust AEB (auto exposure bracketing) this will auto take a number of photos (normally 3) with pre set exposure + - 2 to 5 points, in ⅓ to ½ steps. This will allow fast checking of exposure levels in rare photos...

7) If using a high F number try your shot with a high ISO number to allow your sensor to become more sensitive in evening shots. (This will increase image noise as a pay off)

This it just a few options I think may help... But everyone has there own way round problems just a few ideas

afro study
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PostSubject: Re: Tips for storm and lightning photography   Wed Apr 28, 2010 9:52 pm

Nice one guys.

I'm gonna pop out this evening when it gets dark and test all this out. Loads of lakes around here so plenty of reflections to play with.
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PostSubject: Re: Tips for storm and lightning photography   Wed Apr 28, 2010 11:22 pm

The only thing with high ISO settings is that there will be trade offs to quality of the image processed. Remember that choice of F stop, ISO and exposure time will change the effect of the subject matter. Your depth of field changes dramatically and then there's the choice of lens' and the size of the sensor. Whilst it's nice to cram as much light onto a sensor as you can, you will inherently get over pixalation overcrowding it - hence noise.

The decision has to be made as to what affect you want to achieve with using a high ISO. Longer exposures are far better achieved with a low ISO so you're not bombarding the sensor with a whole lot of light all at one time.

If you change any settings as per the 'exposure triangle rule' then you have to compensate and change one of the three - either ISO, F stop or time. By altering your F stops you c an gain some stops of sensitivity and visa versa with ISO...

Sure you can take shots with high ISO but the exposure time or shutter time must be shorter...you invite not only noise but motion blur to your images...that's how you create the effects of movement you want or don;t want using this method - day or night. Smile

But are we talking about storm and lightning shots or other ? If general night time shots of any subject are referred to then the rule still applies, but for lightning it's a whole different ball game.
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PostSubject: ISO vs F-STOP vs SHUTER TIME   Thu Apr 29, 2010 9:04 am

I think that you have a number of great points... But I think the main one is that if you’re in the prime position (location), to be able to leave shutters open for prolonged periods of time then a low ISO is a must... But in the UK there are so few places even at night that you can get away from a swamp of light pollution that veils a dreaded orange glow across the night sky...

As for lighting photgraphy its high on my list of musts, but with only two or three storms in the UK a year, and with them not being that strong/intense either. It’s tough to get any photos but I’m always hoping Laughing Laughing
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PostSubject: Re: Tips for storm and lightning photography   Thu Apr 29, 2010 9:35 am

I've never used Mirror lock up probably because I've not a 400mm lens!. It''s a handy thing to use with telephoto or macro lens' because you need to be completely still (camera) to get the sharpness. It comes back to shutter speed...if you use a telephoto lens then speeds of over 1/15 must be used otherwise you'll have to use MLU or sandbag your tripod and add another tripod under the camera lens.

If you use the right shutter speed then vibration should not be too much a problem when using tripods, MLU is just another thing DLSR's have to help emliminate 'shake'. Not all cameras have this function though.

In general, for lenses of 300mm and over (and macro work), users should try to avoid using shutter speeds between 1/30 and 1/4 second for optimal sharpness. For "normal" work with lenses of 100mm or less, sharpness loss due to mirror induced vibrations does not seem to be an issue.
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PostSubject: Re: Tips for storm and lightning photography   Thu Apr 29, 2010 9:49 am

with my nikon i've got the VR lens (vibation reduction) which is a great thing to have. i dont have a large lens at the moment so im ok on that side of things. just hope we get some half desscent lightning this year to try out the tips i've learnt from you guys. your advise is fantastic and well recived. cant wait to put it into practise tho.
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PostSubject: Re: Tips for storm and lightning photography   Thu Apr 29, 2010 8:01 pm

VR or IS lens' do make a bit of difference especially when hand held...a tip is to turn it off when using a tripod..you won't need it on and it will save battery power.

Although VR etc is just that, it's not fool proof so make sure your shutter speeds are adjusted. Rule of thumb is that if you have say a 50mm lens then your shutter speed should be 150, 200mm lens...250 and so on. Shoot faster than the the actual lens size is.

Faster shutter speeds eliminate or limit the amount of 'shake'. If you use a long lens of more than 200mm you should be using a tripod, no VR or IS lens will stop hand shake no matter how long you hold your breath!
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PostSubject: Re: Tips for storm and lightning photography   Sun May 02, 2010 3:08 am

I should add also that although I mentioned not using high ISO much, you can in fact use high ISO in many instances, so long as you have a full frame sensor and a camera that is designed just for that choice. Small sensors will not take high ISO, which is why we get noise on our images...whereas pro cameras are specifically designed for it...

sorry for any confusion!
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PostSubject: Re: Tips for storm and lightning photography   Sun May 02, 2010 5:48 am

Nice one Mike.

I took some high ISO shots yesterday with maximum shutter speed, not sure how they have turned out yet as they're still on my cam, but I'll upload them later and see. When I zoomed in on the LCD they looked nice and crisp.
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