Photographing Lightning – Image Post

I live on the southern tip of Vancouver Island on the west coast of Canada. We have a very pleasant climate that offers mild temperatures with rain in the winter and the odd snow day. In the summer we usually get extended periods of nice warm temperatures, blue skies and a nice breeze off the ocean. When the skies opened up last Friday with lightning, thunder, high winds and torrential rains I had to grab my camera. The rain was periodic, but the lightning and thunder lasted for several hours…this is NOT the way it works around here, but I thought the odds were good that I would get some good shots. My first thought was to use a super fast shutter speed up around 1/1000 of a second or faster to freeze the lighting mid strike, but to actually get a clear image using this technique would require shooting many frames of nothing on burst mode and hope for the best.  Here is the result…

No Lightning!

As you can clearly see there is some interesting lighting, but no lightning! Another approach is to go the opposite way and use a long shutter speed on a tripod or steady surface, but this requires a fairly dark sky or the end result is an overexposed image of blackness with a light streak. The storm was in the evening, but the skies where too light to use a long shutter speed so here’s my last resort strategy for capturing lightning…

Using my Nikon D7000 in movie mode I shot 20 minutes of video on HD1080p. The end result was a great deal of shaky camera movement, a lot of thunder noise and a couple of moments of large lightning strikes. Using Final Cut Pro (video editing software) I found the frames of lightning and converted them to still images. I then imported those images into Aperture 3 and played with the colour and lighting adjustments. Here is the best result…

Lightning Strike- Image from video

The image is not breathtaking but it is a rare sight for around here.

Some other tips for shooting lightning would be to be sure and shoot from the horizon up, but also to include something other than sky to establish perspective. Also, use manual focus and set it for the approximate location of the most frequent strikes and if you use a tripod and take several shots without changing the angle, consider stacking multiple images to brighten up your light show.

Here are a couple other images from that evening…



13 thoughts on “Photographing Lightning – Image Post

  1. I think the images are quite beautiful (it’s better than something I probably would have been able to get, so props to you)! And I bet being able to carry a memory of things that are rare in your part of the world make the pictures something special.

  2. Wow! So beautiful! You are very blessed to be able to live there. It is majestic. I don’t think I would have ever thought of taking a still image from a video. Very clever!

  3. These are lovely images. I shoot with a Nikon D90 and haven’t utilized the video function much. I never even thought about pulling stills off of it. Thanks for inspiring me to try something new.

    • Going from video to a still image is never going to capture the vibrancy of a pure still image, but if there is a frame of video you want to preserve as a still, it works in a pinch…sometimes there is no other way.

    • I just played around a little with the exposure, saturation and vibrancy options of the still image in Aperture to increase the intensity of the lightning bolt. Going from a video to a still image always decreases the clarity of the image, but it can be a useful trick.

  4. Great images! Great commentary. I’ve used Aperture once and found it very complex. When we went on our honeymoon, we took pictures from video and it did decrease the clarity, of course, it was San Francisco and it was foggy, so I suppose that could also be the culprit. 🙂

  5. Hard to imagine that capturing lightning would be a rarity. We often have powerful lightning without a drop of rain. Several nights ago there were reportedly several hundred strikes in a less than half an hour. The joys of the South!

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