Monday, January 16, 2012

Lightning Photography

How to photograph lightning?

What an astronomer do during the winter? Photographing lightnings of course. Lightning's photography was once a difficult task which is much eased these days due to digital photography. In order to photograph lightnings, You have to put the camera in a protected area from the rain and aim it into they sky where the lightnings are. Of course a lightning exact position is known only after the lightning occurred, so it is recommended to use a wide lens (as wide as possible) which will cover a larger area of the sky. The area covered by the camera shall include the minimum artificial light.  Most digital camera are suitable for lightning photography. Mount the camera on a steady tripod, set the camera for long exposures, 10-30 seconds, and hope that a lightning will happen during that period and area of the sky. Make sure that the aperture and ISO values of the camera are adjusted so the photo will not be too white from any artificial light such as cars streetlamps or even the sky-glow.
If your camera supports this feature, you can use the BULB setup in which the camera shutter is closed only when you release it. To use this option you must use a release cable or remote control since you do not want to touch the camera and vibrate it while it is shooting the photo.
Using such a cable will give you the option to sit indoors in the warmth of your house while the camera is working outside for you. Just make sure that the camera is protected from rain  and put a protection filter on the lens as well.
Before the digital photography era, you could use the same technique (many long exposure) or buy a specail light detector which triggered the camera when it detects sudden light. It was harder, inconvenient and with greater cost.

Another option is to take a video movie for a long time. After that, you can edit the video, cut the parts that has no lightnings, and even extract single frames from the video. When doing so you can see how the lightning evolve, frame after frame. We recommend to try both methods simultaneously with two cameras! Good lightning storms are not very common and may occur once or twice a year.

Also be ready for many disappointments. You will see many lightning but by the time you setup the equipment it will stop, or get far away making just light patches in the sky without details. Your timing may be incorrect. the camera might catch only the end of the lightning, etc. Nevertheless once in a while a terrific photo will come out! share it with us.