Lightning storms and my attempt to capture them

lightning storm
Living in Germany, I get to enjoy a lot of different weather. Even though it’s Summer, it’ll be in the 90s (without a/c, mind you) one week, and then barely getting over 70 the next, with lots of rain. It’s mildly bi-polar here, but I honestly love it.

Last night, we had quite the thunderstorm, and as I was lying on the ground, with my head against the balcony glass door, so I could look straight up at the sky, I watched as lightning bolts streaked the sky. They were so bright, I would be momentary blinded by the flash.

It was awesome!

After about ten minutes of watching it dance across the sky, G, who was sitting next to me, asked if I wanted to grab my camera. It was perfect timing, because I was dreaming of having my camera all set up to capture the gorgeous sight. It’s been one of my goals to shoot lightning!

So, I jumped up and ran downstairs, but not before asking G to google “Canon settings for lightning,” because I may know how to shoot in manual, but I sure don’t know the first thing about shooting lightning! After grabbing all my gear, I set up the tripod, got the settings to what trusty Google said they needed to be, and starting taking photos.

The majority of the bright bolts right overhead had passed, but off in the distance, we still had some pretty impressive streaks. The settings proved to work, (thanks, Google), leaving me with some nice shots, and me dreaming of my next chance to shoot a lightning storm.

Even though I’m an amateur and have only done this once (technically that should make me an expert, right? ;-)), I’ll post my settings below each picture, just in case they help you when you want to shoot lightning. Every camera is different though, so, it’s important to know what you’re working with to ensure you’re getting the shot you want.

I have a Canon 5D Mark III and used my 35mm 1.4 for the night.

lightning stormLens: 35mm, Shutter speed: 13 seconds, F/stop: 8, ISO: 100

lightning stormLens: 35mm, Shudder speed: 20 seconds, F/stop: 8, ISO 100

lightning stormLens: 35mm, Shutter speed: 20 seconds, F/stop: 8, ISO 100

You can see I didn’t really tweak with my settings too much, only changing the shutter speed from time to time; opening the shutter up longer to let in more light.

These bolts happened when I first started shooting, and it was fun knowing I was capturing at least a couple.

As the night wore on, the storm was passing and less and less lightning was appearing. When G and I would talk about packing up and calling it a night, another bolt would strike and we’d vow that we’d wait for “just one more” and then head to bed.

lightning stormLens: 35mm, Shutter speed: 25 seconds, F/stop: 8, ISO 100

We got excited seeing the one above and really hoped the camera got it in all it’s glory. When we saw it did, I quietly set up for the next photo, while G sat there unmoving. We weren’t packing up. We weren’t calling it a night. We didn’t want to miss out on another potentially awesome lightning bolt!

lightning stormLens: 35mm, Shutter speed: 25 seconds, F/stop: 8, ISO: 100

And thank goodness we didn’t because I got this gorgeous shot shortly after. We were wowed by it, and so glad we stuck around, which had us wondering if maybe our “one more” rule should be tossed out the window.

We stuck around for another five minutes or so, and definitely noticed the lightning getting few and far between. We called it quits after I got this very last shot below, and hurried downstairs to look at the photos.

lightning stormLens: 35mm, Shutter speed: 25 seconds, F/stop: 8, ISO: 100

Its always amazing to me to see God’s work. Lightning and thunder leave me in awe of his power, and I’m so glad I got the chance to witness the spectacular show, last night. If I get another chance to shoot lightning, I think I plan to change lenses and mess with the settings again, but if I don’t, then I’m happy as a clam I have these for my memory.

Is there something you’ve always wanted to photograph but haven’t yet? Share in the comments, I’d love to chat about it!

edited to add this one super important tip:

There’s one thing I completely forgot about that is just as important as all the other camera settings, and that’s the FOCUS! Because it’s so dark out, your camera will not be able to “find” an object to focus on, so it’ll constantly be looking and blur the image because it’s unable to lock onto something.

So, it’s really important you put your lens on infinity and then switch it from “AF” to “MF” – auto focus to manual focus. By doing this, the lens will stop looking for something and you’ll have full control. By setting it to infinity (the little sideways looking 8), it’ll put the lens looking at the furthest possible point (ie. the sky) and have that be sharp and in focus! Which is exactly what you want!