Lightning Photography

February 04, 2015  •  1 Comment

There are many different ways you can capture lightning with a camera. It is very rewarding when you get it right. It is also very dangerous, lightning has the potential to kill you !

I will explain how I do it, which is a method, not the method  :)

Equipment :

  • Tripod, the sturdier the better, there will very likely be gusty strong winds. I have used a wheely bin and a travel pillow successfully :)

  • Camera, a dslr that you are familiar with, I currently use a canon 5dii
    You don't want to struggle with camera settings when mother nature is putting on a show

  • Lens, a standard zoom, or wide angle will do, I use 16-35 & 24-70 mm lenses which is wide on a full frame camera (5d & 5dii) The wider, the closer you need to physically get to the lighting, or you can capture a wide field and not be that close to it. *Did I mention lightning kills people? We have a very high resistivity when it comes to conducting electricity, generating massive heat when we form part of an electrical circuit

  • Remote shutter release that is lockable

Remote shutter releaseshows a bright orange bit, indicating that it is locked in the activated position (the remote in this pic is not going to activate any shutter release, it should be connected to a camera)


Preparation :

  • Set up in a safe location, if there is such a place when getting close to lightning. You might need to get out of the area in a hurry when its dark, lightning all over the place, raining, wind etc.

  • Connect the remote shutter release to camera, camera to tripod, the normal stuff...



Camera settings :

  • manual mode
  • raw for image quality , very useful later to recover blown whites, change wb etc, or shoot raw+jpg to have the raw files available later
  • Continuous drive mode
  • white balance 4000 -6000K
  • iso100 - 400
  • f/5.6 - 10
  • 10 - 20s

This is what the top of my camera looked like. AWB=K, 20s, f10, raw, iso100, and continuous shooting


How to :

  • use viewfinder to compose and focus
  • switch focus to manual, or
  • Separate focus and light metering functions of the shutter release ......wait, what ? This is a setting in the Custom Functions menu that allows me to set the back button focus, thus enabling the AF-On button, close to my thumb. My index finger is still at the shutter release to do the light metering + shutter release. No need to switch lens to manual when setup like this, as the remote only activates the shutter, and not the focus. My cameras are all setup like this for all my photography.
  • activate shutter release, when exposure is done, inspect pic and make adjustments where required, repeat this until happy with settings, exposure, composition etc.
  • activate shutter release, and lock in activated position.
  • camera will continue to take photo's one after another, until battery runs out, or memory card fill up, or you stop it
  • you will most likely adjust your composition to include a more lightning active area, during the session.


Post Processing :

  • transfer images from camera to pc for processing
  • process raw files with Photoshop
  • adjust white balance
  • recover blown highlights
  • adjust anything you want to
  • save as jpg, done

to process all the raw files

input and output folders, tick Open first image to apply settings file type and quality

Camera Raw opens up To ensure no adjustments, process all at defaults, and select As Shot & Default. Open Image. All images will now be processed as shot, and at defaults

Or you can make adjustments, when done, Open Image. All images will now be processed and the adjustments made will be applied to all images



Stacking :

  • download free stacking program from
  • open files to stack
  • stack, save

Select files to stack

Click "Startrails" button to stack

Save stack


Thanks Casper!
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