Article ID : 00009482 / Last Modified : 01/30/2014

How to take pictures of lightning.

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WARNING: There is a risk of personal injury. Lightning strikes can be extremely dangerous. For your safety, always take pictures at a safe distance and do not stand near objects like radio antennas, power lines, tall trees, standing water, or metal objects (flag poles, light poles, fences, etc.) that can attract lightning. Avoid high ground.

Taking pictures of lightning not only requires being in the right place at the right time, it also requires using a tripod, an appropriate lens, and configuring your camera settings properly. You should use a wide-angle lens and very slow shutter speeds. Since slow shutter speeds are required, the camera should be mounted on a tripod for stabilization to prevent motion blur.

This photo was taken at F4.5 with a 10 second shutter speed at ISO 200.

Follow the steps below to set up your camera for taking lightning pictures.

  1. Mount a wide-angle lens to the camera body.
  2. Mount the camera on a tripod.
  3. Set the mode dial of the camera to the Manual (M) mode.
  4. Set the focus switch on the camera to Manual Focus (MF).
  5. Adjust the focus to infinity.
  6. Set the ISO to a low setting - ISO 100 or ISO 200 is usually sufficient.
  7. Set the lens aperture to a small setting - generally, F8 or F9 is acceptable.
  8. Set the shutter speed to a slow setting - try speeds between 15 and 30 seconds.

IMPORTANT: Lightning is photographed best in dark surroundings at night, or in the twilight and early morning hours. The long shutter speeds required to photograph lightning can cause the picture to be overexposed if there is too much light.

After setting up your camera as detailed above, you will need to wait for some lightning. Since it is difficult to anticipate when there will be a lightning strike, point the camera in the direction where you expect lightning to occur and press the shutter button. If lightning strikes during the long exposure time, it will be captured by the lens and recorded.