Joseph Matthews Lightning Photography site logo
Gallery Images How to photograph lightning About Joseph Matthews

  How to photograph lightning
Working with digital

Lightning, South Georgia summer
Lightning over a south Georgia farm
Nikon CoolPix 950

©2001 Joseph Matthews

It is possible to capture lightning with a digital camera. It even has a couple of advantages. Film cost to zero assuming you have enough memory cards and rechargeable batteries. Also you know on site if you are doing it right or not.

Your digital camera will need to have certain capabilities which may exclude a lot of the cheaper models. If you are not sure what your camera can do, get the manual. The worst thing about digitals is the very long delay between when release the shutter and it actually takes a picture. Some also won't take time exposures, limiting the open shutter time to just several seconds. Read the manual. Extensive testing will be needed.

Preprogram your settings if your camera allows. My Nikon 950 can and it helps the set up time quite a bit.
  • You will need to be able to lock the focus to infinity, usually shown by a little mountain symbol or some such thing.
  • You will need to be able to adjust your exposure. Digital acts a lot like slide film, it hates to be overexposed. Cut the exposure back by a stop or so.
  • Can you set the ƒ stop? If so, try for something in the middle of the range like ƒ8. Does that aperature give you an exposure time of at least 1/30th or a second or slower? Try to find a combination that balances longer exposures and moderate stops.
  • Set the cameras battery saver function (auto off or sleep mode) to as long a period as practical.
  • Get a batter booster pack or keep spare batteries. I like the metal hydrides. You will eat through batteries quickly leaving the camera on.
  • Once you are on the tripod and the shot composed, turn off the view screen. This will save batteries. You should have some indicator lights that show you what the camera is doing. If you can turn audible alarms on, that might help.
  • Capture at as high a resolution as practical. The file save times on the larger files may be a problem, but so it not having enough digital data to make a really nice print. Raw files give you the most options later.
  • If your camera runs a sharpening routine on the files, turn it off. It's better to do that in post processing when you can see the results on a big screen. It also may shorten the file save time.
  • You will have to determine if the white balance needs to be used or not. Auto will probably be OK, but if your shots are too blue or color shifted, you may need to manual set it. You will need to test as the small view screen on the camera may not show the color well enough.
  • If there is an electronic remote release made for your camera it may be worth the investment. Some may create problems if you try to shoot while the camera is in the middle of another operation like file saving. Information on this level of camera use is often available online in discussion groups that deal with specific camera models. Google has a good digital resource list here.
I did this shot just to see what it would take to produce daytime lightning with the digital camera. As good as the Nikon CoolPix 950 is, it still does not take as sharp of a photo as my 35mm equipment. So for now, I still prefer film. But I will be switching to digital as soon as the budget allows for the purchase of a pro grade camera.

< Previous Next >

Home | Gallery | How to photograph lightning | Safety | Bio |

©2002 ParkSites, All Rights Reserved
Please feel free to contact us for commercial use of these photographs.
Site designed and produced by ParkSites