HOW TO PHOTOGRAPH LIGHTNING AT NIGHT – UDO KIESLICH
Two weekends ago I went to Madikwe Game Reserve on the Botswana border in the hope of capturing many amazing wildlife photographs… It´s quite incredible how the reserve has expanded since I was last there – it now totals 75000 hectares which makes it the second largest game reserve in South Africa!
As luck would have it they were experiencing a drought in the part of the reserve that we were staying in, which meant that most of the herbivores had migrated to greener parts of the reserve. This unfortunately provided for pretty sparse game viewing but it was still wonderful to be out in nature. I still have to go through the few animal pics that I did take, but will upload them soon.
On the Friday evening while eating dinner outside we were taunted with the promise of rain when we heard the deep rumbling of thunder in the distance. This eventually developed into a full blown thunder storm on the horizon, while it remained bone dry around our camp. As quick as a flash (excuse the pun..) I raced inside to arm myself with camera and tripod.
My first step was to find a suitable centre of interest around which the lightning strikes could build up. As you can see that came in the form of an interesting tree behind which the threatening thunder clouds were massing.
Your starting point for this type of shot is to be in full manual mode, where you control both the aperture and shutter speed. Start by selecting an aperture for the desired depth of field. In general an aperture of f11 to f14 works well as this gives a clearly defined lightning strike. If the aperture is set too wide (eg f4 or f5.6) then the lightning will be very bright, resulting in a loss of definition. Next set the shutter speed to “bulb” mode, which means that you control how long the shutter remains open, by keeping the shutter release button depressed. Don´t try this without a cable release or a remote otherwise you´ll get camera shake.
At night you can leave the shutter open for ages before the image becomes overexposed, unless there is additional ambient light in the scene. This was the case with these photographs as there was a tungsten flood light illuminating a water hole in front of the camp (you can see this orange light on the ground in front of the tree).
This meant that I could not leave the shutter open for longer than 3 minutes, which was plenty time to capture a few lightning strikes. Next you need to do a little guess work as to when you think the next lightning strike is due. When you think a strike is due open the shutter and keep it open until you see lightning in the sky. If you want more lightning in the photograph then simply keep the shutter open for longer until the next lightning strike appears. In this way you can layer different strikes in the same image… Easy…
Remember to have the “long exposure noise reduction” turned on to help reduce noise if the shutter has to stay open for a long period. If you enjoy outdoor photography then why not consider joining us on the Outdoor Photography course?