Lightning Round

I took this shot on my recent trip to Washington, and I've received a lot of inquiries on how to catch lightning in a bottle-- or a DSLR, anyway.

There are several techniques employed to achieve this shot.  I'll break it down.

First-- this is kind of a "duh"-- but you need to find a lightning storm.  While walking down Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, this amazing storm was lighting up the sky.  I immediately thought I might be able to capture something unique.  You never really know for certain-- and if the skies opened up-- I would have been hosed.  I was limited by the 50mm lens I had attached to the camera-- so we started marching down the avenue toward the Capitol to get the ideal framing.  

Fortunately the D800E has 36 megapixels-- so even if I get the shot reasonably close-- I'm in business because there's a lot of room to reframe an image of this size.  I still got close enough to fill the frame without too much signage in the foreground.

Next-- you need to expose for the Capitol.  The Capitol is the focus of the image-- it needs to be a perfect exposure.  I want a decent of depth of field-- and I wanted to extend the exposure time-- the longer the exposure-- the greater the chance a bolt will hit while the shutter is open-- and there were a lot of lightning bolts missed-- I can assure you!  

So I closed down to f/7.  Also-- set your ISO low to minimize grain and maximize exposure time.  On the D800/D800E this means ISO 200.  Everything under ISO 200 doesn't decrease noise at all.  Now you just set the shutter speed-- which in this case was 1.3 seconds.  I probably could have stopped up a bit further and extended my exposure window-- but I didn't.  As you get to aperture settings over f/10, you start losing sharpness.  The D800E has a sweet spot in the aperture between f/5.6 and f/10.  I picked something in the middle-- could have maybe stopped down to f/9, but you begin to split hairs at some point.

You can't be touching the camera while exposing.  The slightest camera movement will cause blurring- which would wreck the shot.  A tripod is ideal, but I didn't have one with me.  So I used my old standby-- And I use this often.  My iPhone with a case is the perfect height for under the Nikon lens.  I prop the lens on the case and I don't have to touch the camera.  

Even the act of pushing the shutter button will shift the camera slightly, so I set the self-timer to 2 seconds and let the camera do the exposure itself.  You can use liveview to set the frame-- I didn't-- I just pointed the camera at the capitol and shot a test frame.  

Next step-- patience!  You need a lot of patience and you're going to take a lot of photos unless you're really lucky.  I shot around 300 frames before this capture.  I needed to stop and clear the card a few times (missing a few great bolts in the process, naturally).  

Just start shooting and don't stop until you get the image.  I had only one other frame that might have worked-- I had to delete it for space-- it was a bolt off to the extreme right of the frame.  It just wasn't quite what I wanted-- so I pressed on.  

It's not a terribly difficult shot to achieve-- but with patience and a little skill, you can get this shot, too.

PrintView Printer Friendly Version

EmailEmail Article to Friend

References (8)

References allow you to track sources for this article, as well as articles that were written in response to this article.
  • Response
    Thank you for supplementary great blog. Where else could i accumulate this compassionate of info written in such an incite full way? i have been looking for such information.
  • Response
    Ebony Exclusive
  • Response
    See you..
  • Response
    Seriously like your sites facts! Definitely a great deal of facts that is extremely useful. Continue to maintain publishing and im going to carry on reading via! Cheers.
  • Response
    This a really lovely blog. Ive bin here readin for about an hour.
  • Response
    ood advices. It's good trend to give dofollow possibility to blogs. But what about PR. What is more valuable? Traffic to dofollow enabled blog or value of PR? Does anyone have some analitics or stat? Adauga Anunturi Gratuite Bacau
  • Response
    What would you get if you crossed a cow with a rabbit? Hare in your milk!
  • Response
    This is good post. Thank you very much for the quality information provided! I was looking for this entry for quite some time, but I wasn't able to find a reliable source.

Reader Comments

There are no comments for this journal entry. To create a new comment, use the form below.

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.

My response is on my own website »
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
Some HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <code> <em> <i> <strike> <strong>
« Oh No You Didn't... | Main | Fix It in Post »