• Wis Outdoor Explorer

Better Weather Photos

Capturing that Perfect Lightning Shot can be very Rewarding as a Photographer

One of my favorite things to photograph are storms. I love the challenge of capturing that perfect lighting strike or setting up a time lapse and seeing how the clouds move as a storm front move through. There is a certain rewarding aspect to being able to capture nature when it’s at it’s most power. I’ve been fortunate enough to capture some pretty amazing shots of lightning. I get asked all the time about how I do it and what equipment I’m using. In leu of the recent storms that went through our state. I thought this would be a great time to share some of the things that I do and use to capture storm images.


Let’s start with what I’m using. My main camera is a Nikon D7200 DSLR. I used to use a bridge camera, which meant it looked like a DSLR but you couldn’t change lenses and you were limited on your settings. I did have some luck shooting storms with the bridge camera but I was ready to get more serious about my photography and went with the D7200. It’s a great camera for the price at lets me do everything I want to do when it comes to storm capturing. The manual settings are the biggest reasons to move into a DSLR and when you shoot storms, you’ll be using manual mode for best results.

I’ve gone with the Tamron 18mm-400mm 3.5-6.2 lens. I picked up this lens for a number of reasons. The first being that it’s really a sharp lens. I know there are faster lenses out there but for my price range this lens does everything I want. I hardly ever take it off my camera. It gives me great range from its widest point to it’s most zoomed in. I like this lens for storm photography because it allows me to choose the area, I want to capture quickly without changes lenses. If I want to capture a wide shot, its just a simple adjustment. If I want to focus on a certain area, it allows me to do that quickly. The only flaw I see with this lens is the focus is very touchy and when shooting at night, it can sometimes be a challenge to know if you’re in focus.

By using my Tamron Lens and MIOP camera Trigger, I'm able to capture better lightning shots more frequently.

The other piece of equipment I count on is the MIOP camera trigger. It’s lightning setting has been so valuable when it comes to shooting storms. It uses a sensor to detect lighting and remotely activates the shutter. It’s not perfect, but it does take a lot of the guess work out of when to push that shutter button. I’m not saying you can’t do it manually and in some instances I do. For example, when the storms are farther out, the trigger is not as accurate in knowing when to activate. So, I find myself manually pushing the shutter button to try and capture that perfect shot.

I also like to use a few Gopros set to time-lapse or video, depending on the time of day. These cameras are great in their waterproof housings. I let them record as the storm comes into view and passes over me. Seeing that wall of rain coming is always something that I marvel at.

A few of the smaller things I make sure I have are; sturdy tripods, lens clothes and rain gear for myself and the camera. I like to keep my set-ups simple and easy to move. You don’t want to have to pack up a ton of gear a storm is barreling down on you. So, keep your set-up easy to move.

Sometimes wider shot makes for a more dramatic scene.

Do Some Research

Now that you have an idea of what I’m using the next step is do some research about the area you are going. I’m pretty fortunate to live in an area in Central Wisconsin where we’ve had some pretty decent storms roll through. I don’t do a lot of traveling or storm chasing. I know my area pretty well and how the storms move through my area. For most that’s not always the case. Know where you can find shelter if you need it and know how you’re going to get out of a sometimes-dangerous situation. That’s where your smart phone with a good weather app really comes in handy. I like to use the AccuWeather App on my android device. It gives me accurate time of when the storm will reach the area I’m in and the radar, I’ve found, is pretty accurate as well. There are many good weather apps out there, so find one that you like and trust and learn all it’s features. Know how to read a radar will but you in the best position to capture that perfect shot. But before you head out, pay attention to the forecast during the week.

Camera Settings

You know where you’re going to shoot from, you have all equipment set up and you’re ready to start snapping some pics. Perhaps the most asked question I get is, “What are your camera settings?” The first thing I always say is shoot in manual mode. If you’re not familiar with your cameras manual mode, you need to start getting familiar with it. In fact, you need to be very familiar with your camera in general. At times you’ll be working in the dark and knowing your camera inside and out is going to be very important and time saving.

There are a couple of ways you can approach camera settings. The first is to experiment on your own and find one that works for the situation your in. The other is to see what others are doing and tweak your settings from there. I’m going to give you a few of the setting that I use when trying to capture lightning.

Knowing how to use your camera settings will help you take great images.

- Focus – I use manual focus and keep my focus on the infinity setting. You want as much of the area your shooting in to be in focus and I’ve found when I leave it on autofocus my results aren’t as good. I’ve also discovered that when the Tamron lens, I turn off the anti-vibration setting. For some reason this setting has a tough time dealing with the storm shooting and I’ll get out of focus images because of it. The point is you’ll want as much in focus as possible for the best image possible.

- Aperture – Your camera’s aperture or lens opening is very important. It not only tells the camera how much light to let in, but it’s very important when it comes to focus. The higher the aperture (F8-F11) means greater depth of field and more of the background will be in focus. I like to stick between F8 and F11. I find this has been great for lighting in that it keeps my images sharp and still can handle most of the bright flashes of lighting without being too over exposed.

- Shutter Speed – This one probably varies the most. I’ve shot a shutter speed of 2 seconds the the way to 15 seconds. It all depends on the type of storm and amount of lightning. You’ll have to remember that the longer the shutter stays open, the more light is coming it and higher chance of over exposure. I start with a 1.5 second shutter and adjust from there. I’ve found that most light has a bit of a follow up after the first bolt so the little bit longer the shutter stays open, the more spectacular the image.

- ISO Level – The general rule of thumb is to keep your ISO level as low as you can. The lower the level, the more clear your images will be. When you start getting into the 1000 ISO levels and above, you may start to notice a bit of graininess to your images. Each camera is different and some handle higher ISO’s better than others. Just try to keep it as low as possible and only adjust it if you need to.

Time to Capture

You’re ready to start to capture. I’m going to tell you that capturing lighting takes a lot of luck. You need to be lucky enough to have your camera pointed in the right direction, have the correct setting and even then you still might miss that perfect shot. Be patient, have fun.

Always be safe when shooting storms.

Be Safe

The most important tip I can give you is be safe. Don’t put yourself in harms way for a camera shot. It’s not worth it. Always be aware of what’s going on around you. Pay attention to how the storm is moving. Have a plan to keep yourself safe. If you can shoot from a deck, house or car do it. Don’t take chances. Storms are very unpredictable and you don’t want to put yourself into a bad situation. If you have a camera trigger and can walk away from your camera and safety capture images, do it. I’ve done that many times.

Shooting storms can be challenging and very rewarding. Just be prepared and enjoy the show that mother nature is putting on for you as one of Wisconsin’s Outdoor Explorers.

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