How to Capture a Lighting Bolt

October 28, 2012

Want to know the secret on how to catch a bolt of lighting? Well, it's not much of a secret. It's more of luck. You can increase your luck armed with knowing what settings your camera needs to be at. Also, being at the right time at the right place plays a big role.


First off, having your camera setting to Manual mode is important. Generally, it is dark when you are attempting to capture a lighting bolt. Don't let the camera decide your exposure for you. It will think that the scene is under-exposed and will try to compensate. This would leave you with an over-exposed photo when the lighting appears.


Since it's dark, set the lens to manual focus. This will prevent the lens from hunting around the scene to focus. Use any bright object in the scene to focus. If you shoot with a wide angle lens, most of the scene will be in focus with an aperture higher than f/4.0.


Try to keep a low ISO. Normally, keeping the ISO it below 400 will give you a sharp photo. Any higher than that will produce a noisy photo. As for the shutter speed, the camera should be set to longer than 1 second of exposure. A long exposure will increase your chance to capture a lighting bolt. Of course with long exposure, a tripod is necessary. Careful with too long of an exposure. If the shutter speed is too slow, the lighting bolts will be too dim when you capture it. It is recommended to use a cable release remote to avoid any movement of the camera.


Out of the three main settings: ISO, shutter speed, and aperture, once the aperture is set, play around with the ISO and shutter speed to get the right exposure. If the lighting bolts are close by, under-expose the scene a bit. Once the lighting bolt shows up, it will illuminate the scene like a large studio flash.


The photo above was taken on the 27th of October 2012 in Kuwait. The setting was taken at f/4.0, 2 sec. exposure at ISO 200. A Canon 8-15mm fish-eye lens was used racked out to 14mm. The camera was under-exposed a bit, but when the lighting bolt appeared, the scene lite up.