Photographing Lightning

Lightning strikes over Tampines in Singapore.

It was a dark and stormy night. Frequent bolts of lightning lit up the night sky followed by the rumble of thunder. I never really captured lightning with my camera so I decided to give it a try and quickly set up my camera on the tripod and pointed it out of the window.

The trick about shooting lightning is not to wait for a bolt and then release the shutter. That would be a guaranteed miss unless you have superhero-type reflexes. Of course, there are commercially-available lightning triggers available which triggers your camera shutter on a flash of lightning but at > US$300, they are quite expensive.

It is kind of hard to predict when the lightning will strike, so the best way is to take lots of shots. Since it’s at night, it’ll require a longish exposure which should increase the chance of capturing it. But I didn’t really want to stand by the camera and take many shots, so following this article on Petapixel, I used the camera’s intervalometer to do the job for me.

Instead of the 20-30s which the author recommended as a starting point, I decided to go with 10s @ f/11, ISO 100 as I didn’t want the foreground to be overexposed. I then set the camera to take a shot every 10s and left it to do its thing.

About 1 hour, 15 minutes later, I ended up with 226 shots. Reverse-scrolling through the shots initially made me disappointed as all I had was a black skies. Eventually I saw the lightning strikes captured in the images and grinned with joy. However, out of 226 shots, only about 6 had the lightning strike, and only 3 captured it nicely. The following and the opening photo are the successful ones.

Lightning strike at Tampines
Lightning strike over Tampines

Just for fun, I also tried compositing the three images into one. Pity the bolts of lightning are more or less at the same location. It’d have been much nicer if they are more spread out.

3-shot composite of the lightning strikes over at Tampines.

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