Some have asked how the lightning shots at the end of last week’s post were taken. Its simple. 1) Hold the camera with one hand. 2) Hold a cold water pipe with the other. 3) When your hair starts to tingle, start shooting!
Just kidding! – please don’t try that. Its much simpler and doesn’t require any expensive equipment. Any point-and-shoot camera will work, though you will need a tripod.
Please: Never take a risk around lightning.
Set your camera up and point it towards a portion of the sky where there are consistent flashes. Now it’s time to get into the manual settings. Adjust everything you possibly can for a proper exposure at longer times. This isn’t too critical; the lightning will always be overexposed and the landscape will acquire the mood of whatever exposure you give it. Turn the ISO all the way down, 50 if possible. Make your aperture as small as possible. Usually f/8 is the smallest on pocket sized cameras (the larger the “f” number, the smaller the aperture – you knew that already). Now set your shutter time for a proper exposure – the camera will let you know if it’s possible or not. This is where it’s helpful to shoot at night or in a very dark storm. If you can use a neutral density filter to slow the exposure down, even better. The picture you see here was taken behind the shaded metallic window film in the high-rise we were living in at the time.
Now look for the continuous shooting feature on your camera, sometimes called “burst”.
You should be able to use this in conjunction with the self timer. Set the camera to continuously shoot for as long as it can, with the longest exposure time possible, at two seconds after you release the shutter. Experiment with five, ten, and fifteen seconds. If your shutter will stay open longer, even better. This is another area where a low ISO helps out tremendously. The long exposure times result in electronic leakage from one pixel to the next on your camera’s imaging chip, called a CCD. This will show up in the form of pixel blooming or noise, similar to grain on a film negative. The lower the ISO, the less noise, the better quality image you have.
So there you have it! The great thing about digital photography is that you can afford to take 300 shots and delete the 299 that just recorded the sky. And it doesn’t take a pricey camera. All of the shots were taken with a 5 year old Canon A610, my old “point-and-shoot” that has seen a rough a life. If the exposure isn’t what you wanted, try some gentle image enhancing. You should only need to adjust the white balance, brightness, and contrast. Or just use the “Auto-enhance” feature from your favorite image editing program.
It bears repeating one more time – please be safe. It is best to stay miles away from lightning and shoot from behind a closed window. Never take a risk around lightning. Better to miss an opportunity and have another chance, than to be foolhardy and never get another chance.