Bolt from the blue
What’s the effect? Capturing lightning bolts with your camera can be very rewarding and impressive, but also very dangerous. The last thing you want to do is stand in an open field with your camera mounted on a tripod – the tallest object for lightning to strike. It’s best to be safe inside somewhere like a car or a building. The minute you hear thunder, count every second until you see the lightning. Each second equals about a mile, so if the time between strikes reduces, the storm is approaching. This is better, as the chances are it will still be dry before the storm hits where you are.
If you are shooting from a car, you can use a window-mounted support or a remote trigger and have your camera set up a short distance away from you. There are also many phone apps that let you control the camera for remote shooting. Even though Nikon cameras are well sealed, it’s advisable to cover your gear to keep the rain off your lens.
What’s the time? There are three methods for capturing lightning bolts. The first is to use a 30-second exposure, which is how I shot this image of lightning over Iguazu Falls in Argentina. This is the ‘open the shutter, wait and see method’. If you are lucky the lightning will strike during that period. But Murphy’s Law often takes over here – the best lightning strikes occurred when I was reviewing the images on the display! The second method is the ‘lightning-fast trigger finger’. Open the shutter the second you see the lightning, as the chances are that secondary strikes will soon follow. The third method is more a of sure thing: the ‘hotshoe lightning trigger’. This uses a little device that attaches to your Nikon’s hotshoe and fires the shutter whenever the lightning strikes.
Choose a scene that looks good without lightning so it will look even better with the strikes. Make your initial exposure starting with f/8 for 30 seconds at ISO100. After the first strike, check your shot and make any exposure adjustments accordingly. I ended up reducing the ISO to 64 and used an aperture of f/11 to enable a 30-second exposure for this image.