Monday, 2 September 2013

Photography: Lightning Photography

When lightning strikes
Taken with Canon EOS 7D with Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 AT-X 116 Pro DX
Image from Locky's English Playground
Friday morning, 30th Aug, 2013, 3:42am, I woke up by thunderous roars and flashes outside my windows. Took two really loud thunders to bring me back from dreamland. "It was my chance!!!" I told myself. I slided open my wardrobe and took out ... neither a lion nor a witch, but a black traveller's case where my comrades reside. The three-legged shouted and yelled, "I wanna go with ya! Take me bro! I wanna fight!" But his voice was so weak that I couldn't hear a single word... (Hey! Contradictions here!)

I unzipped the case and immediately my Canon 7D hopped into my left hand, the Tokina barrel on my right and ZAPPP!!!! They MERGED and transformed into the ultimate wide-angle city lightning hunter -- the Canon EOS 7D with Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 AT-X 116 Pro DX!!!!

Taken with Canon EOS 7D with Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 AT-X 116 Pro DX
Image from Locky's English Playground
Within a few dials, the camera was ready to shoot! I stood on the window bay and rested my Canon on the window frame and snap Snap SNAP!! (Well, not so quick, it actually took one every 30 seconds) I shot down bolts after bolts! There were no bullets of raindrops, it was perfect! My windows were clean, everything was just meant to happen! But it happened so fast... there was no time for thinking. In just 8 minutes, the hunt was over, the bolts shied away and retreated to the farther East.

Here's my gear and settings:
  • Canon EOS 7D with Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 AT-X 116 Pro DX.
  • Manual Focus
  • focus at ∞ 
  • at 11mm
  • ISO 200
  • f/14
  • 30 secs long exposure or longer
  • ND 2 filter
  • No flash

Luck & Light
To be honest, the most important thing about lightning photography is L-U-C-K, and tonnes of them. I've actually had 5 other occasions which I got absolutely nothing from my windows! It was really frustrating! When lightning doesn't strike in my direction, all I get are just photos of a really bright sky. In cities like Hong Kong, light pollution is real serious, if the lightning bolts don't arrive in the darkest hours, the stray lights will be too bright and affecting the overall clarity of the photo. An ND filter can help, but some actually makes your photos more blur so it is crucial to strike for a balance.

Blurred foreground but sharp lightning bolts
Image from Locky's English Playground
To Tripod Or Not To Tripod?
If I had the time, I would love to have a tripod with me, then every photo will be crystal clear, but no one can be sure when the storm will arrive, so if the clouds are moving fast, it means you will have less time to take your photos. If you don't have an assistant, then you might want to consider shooting without your tripod and rely on other forms of image stabilization, for my case, my window frame.

PhotoShop To The Rescue
If the photo is blur but too good to throw away, you will need to make use of software like Photoshop to manipulate. For example, if you look at the photo above, the foreground buildings are blur deal to camera shakes but the background lightning bolts are clear, in order to keep this photo I decided to tune the contrast in the foreground to turn all buildings black, then crop out the unnecessary to draw viewer's focus back to the lightning bolts. Add a little saturation and the result is the second photo of this post.

Animated GIF using Photoshop CS6
Image from Locky's English Playground
As for the first photo of this post, I guess you can now tell that is a combination of several photos using Layer Masks and Content Aware, but if you have a tripod, you can set the exposure time to 3 or even 4 minutes, covering the lens with a black card / cloth (as mentioned in Photography: ND Filters & Photography) between major lightnings, and you can still take an actual photo with several lightning bolts in it.
twas a dark and stormy night
Image and caption from photographyblogger
If you are a Nikon fan, you may be interested in the following video as well for some listening practice

For other photos taken by me, please visit Locky's EP @ DigitalRev and as always, there are many more posts on Locky's English Playground Photography page.


shy away from sb /sth -- to avoid someone or something.
retreat -- (vb) [I often + adv/prep] to go away from a place or person in order to escape from fighting or danger:

Locky's EP @ DigitalRev

Photography @ Locky's English Playground

Photography: ND Filters & Photography @ Locky's English Playground

Living & Photography: China-made Cheap But Not Tacky ND Filters From Taobao @  Locky's English Playground

24 Beautiful Lightning Pictures @ Photography Blogger

How to take pictures of lightning with a DSLR (nikon d300) @ YouTube