Have you ever wanted to know how to capture stunning images of lightning? Contrary to what you may think, the process is relatively simple provided that you have the correct equipment, a promising location and, of course, a very big electric storm. I took the below set of images a few nights ago as the first electric storm of the summer rolled across the central regions of Londolozi, creating a spectacular contrast of lightning bolts and sheet lightning. I have included a short explanation beneath some of the images which, together, should give you a fairly good indication of how to get these types of shots…
A camera, tripod and intervalometer are the three critical components which allow you to take images of lightning. In this instance I didnt have my tripod with me and so I had to rest the camera on beanbag on the ground. The low angle worked well for this image as I wanted to convey a sense of perspective with the vehicle.
Once I had set my 5D to settings I wanted, I did not change them during the shoot. A low ISO was important as I had a lengthy shutter speed to play with and thus could afford to keep the ISO on 200. Having the ISO so low meant that the image would not be noisy or too blown out with the brightness of the lighting bolts. Lightning storms are powerful, moody and surreal - as such a darker image conveys a better feeling than light ones.
The lightning bolt looks as though it is right behind us, however it was actually a few kilometers away. I had used my wide angle lens at 16mm, to include the vehicle and with a bit of luck the above bolt struck to the left of it giving the image an interesting twist. Wide angle lenses are the way to go when photographing lightning as you can never be quite sure where the next bolt will hit.
By using two different trees and an horizon line, the image automatically has depth to it. When the sheet lighting strikes above, you can place it in the context of the landscape and tbus the sense of scale and perspective comes through once again. If you look closely at this image you will also see a few smaller bolts right at the back of the image, which also add to the depth of field.
These three different strikes did not all happen at once but each independently over the space of 20 seconds. I set the camera to Bulb mode and clicked open the shutter on my intervalometer. The first bolt in the bottom right struck first, then the bolt on the left. 10 seconds later, the sheet lightning bolt ran overhead and lit up the entire sky and foreground. I took a few more like this one, however if the big sheet of lightning does not strike early on, the image runs the risk of being blown out as the shutter would have already taken in too much light.
Look at the difference between this image and the on above. The bolt struck after about 10 seconds and I released the shutter. The effect is that the clouds are much darker, the landscape is not as easy to see and the tone of the whole image becomes menacing. You will see varying degrees of this in the below two images.
Rich Laburn Dark Lightning in the Lowveld
One of the best images of the afternoon simply because of the form, size and intensity of the lightning. I particularly like the composition of this image as it includes the two trees for depth and the road on the left hand side is just another avenue which leads the viewer into the image.
Natural reflections, especially in water, give imagery a completely new dynamic. This last image was taken at Camp Dam, literally as the storm began to come down on us. You can see the movement of the wind on the water and the stark silhouette of the Leadwood tree as its reflection line disappears somewhere into the water. The bolts struck early on and thus when I close the shutter the rest of the image remained black, effectively framing this magical moment.