May 072016

Tales Of An Insomniac – Who Quit Sleep to take Pictures of Lightning

As the weather gods continue to show their tantrums and keep on taking the mercury high, just to show their mood swings they decided to shower Guru Gram earlier known as Gurgaon with some thunder, lightning, and showers.

Not that I was looking ahead to the thunder, showers, and lightning but I was awakened from the deep sleep by a loud noise. No, the noise was not of thunders, but a thundering Wife Jee, who said, “I think it is raining and lightning outside”

How to Photograph Lightning

Thunder Showers and Lightning

Now in such situations when Wife Jee wakes me up in the middle of the night and tells me about rain and lightning outside, one is bound to wonder what is the big deal, it rains all the time.

 “ I think it is raining and lightning outside,” she repeated

“Yes, honey I heard you first time itself”, I said trying to be as attentive as possible when you are awakened by a shrilling voice in the middle of the night.

“So go to kid’s room, switch off the AC otherwise they will catch a cold”.

With this, she was back to her sleeping beauty avatar.

So dear reader, I went to the kids room switched off the AC, covered them with a blanket. Went to the balcony, slipped and almost landed on the cactus pot. Put the cactus pot towards the wall so that it does not get too drenched (cacti like it a bit on the dry side, and more cacti die of overwintering than keeping them dry).

But I miss the point, dear reader, the point is that It was raining with thunders showers and lightning in the middle of night and here I was now wide awake in the middle of the night wondering what to do?

 I think before we go further you may want to read my post

It Was A Dark & Stormy Night

How to Photograph Lightning

You don’t know where Lightning will strike and that makes it challenging

Just as I was wondering what to do on this dark and stormy night a lightning struck somewhere in the distance and our complete apartment complex shimmered like a sequined bride.

With this bolt of lightning a 10,000 Watt idea came to my mind (remember those Donald Duck comics, when he gets an idea a bulb illuminates in the text cloud?). Well, something similar happened to yours truly and I got ready to click some pictures of lightning on this dark and stormy night.

How to Photograph Lightning

A Streak of Lightning may last just for a fraction of second so you need to be ready

Now clicking lightning has a few specific steps that one must follow. First, let me list the equipment needed

  1. A safe spot to keep your camera and for you to stand. I would not recommend standing in open for the lightning may strike you or camera. So please keep SAFETY FIRST in mind.
  2. A DSLR or other camera with which you can control shutter speed manually.
  3. A sturdy Tripod so that your camera does not shake
  4. A shelter where you keep your camera so that it is not in the direct rain but can click the frame outside. In my case, it was our balcony canopy that provided good protection from the rain and still gave a good view of the buildings around. ( This is kind of repeat of point one to double emphasize on safety first )
How to Photograph Lightning (5)

A Lightning Bolt

Challenges of Clicking Lightning Photographs in night

The biggest challenge to photograph lightning is that there is no formal announcement beforehand.

“ dear desi Traveler, tomorrow, at 2 am in the night, we will be sending some lightning and thunderstorm your way, keep your camera ready focused on 23 degrees west from your bedroom window”

Ah, life would have been so easy and a piece of cake to click lightning photographs. But no sir, no such luck, no announcements are made about the coming lightning time or location. If you are lucky like me you will be woken out of your slumber in the middle of the night and given a chance to photograph lightning pictures.

Anyways so once I was on the balcony, I set up the camera my Nikon D 7000 with my kit lens 18-105 VR , on a tripod.

Here are the settings I used

  1. Manual Focus
  2. Manual Mode – where I decided the shutter speed and aperture
  3. The camera was in remote release lock and I clicked all the pictures using the Nikon wireless remote. This makes sure that there is no camera shake on pressing the shutter button. If you do not have remote you can put your camera in delayed release, and set the shutter to trigger after 2 or more second delay.

Once the camera was set I composed the picture and waited for lightning to strike. Now this is where I learned the biggest lesson about photographing lightning pictures.  A bolt of lightning will maximum remain for a fraction of a second and can appear anywhere on the horizon and before you can do anything it will be gone, leaving you totally befuddled.

So here is my solution to photograph lightning without knowing where it will strike next.

  1. Compose your shot
  2. Set the camera to manual focus and focus on a distant object preferably a light
  3. Keep the ISO to minimum possible for your camera, in most cases it will be 100. The reason you want to keep low ISO is to avoid noise at higher ISO.
  4. Keep an aperture that will give you a decent depth of field, I am normally happy around 8-12.
  5. Set the shutter speed to the maximum allowed on your camera in normal mode, or you can go to bulb mode. In my case, I just clicked the images at a shutter speed of 30 seconds. ( most images in day you click at 1/500 of second. )

Before we proceed further you can practice the secret mantra to get better photographs of Lightning

” Khadak Singh kay Khadaknay say Khadaktee hain  Khidkiyan 


Kadak Singh Kay Kadaknay Say, Kadaktee hain Bijliyan”

खड़क सिंह के खड़कने
से खडकती हैं खिड़कियां
कड़क सिंह के कड़कने से
कड़कती हैं बिजलियाँ

The more you repeat this mantra while photographing lightning the better will be your pictures.

Now for technical mumbo jumbo about How to photograph lightning:

Lightning Photography Settings

You man ask: Why extremely long shutter speed to photograph lightning when it lasts just for a fraction of second :  As you do not know when the lightning will strike , you simply click with a shutter speed of 30 seconds and hope that lightning will strike during this period. If it does great, if it does not, nothing to worry click again. After each shot, you can check how the image is looking and if it is too dark or bright you can adjust the shutter speed and aperture accordingly.

Why the images appear so bright even though they are clicked in the middle of the night?

  1. I clicked the images in Gurgaon or Guru Gram, and the buildings had some lights on, so to a 30-second exposure, the images become bright.
  2. When the lightning strikes, the whole complex shimmered in light glowing it for a fraction of second, this light is captured by the open shutter leading to a bright image. But a longer shutter speed ensures, that in some of your shots you will be able to photograph lightning, as it may happen in a fraction.
  3. To summarise, lightning photography settings need to accommodate long exposure, for that you need a tripod. So typically you will keep Shutter speed of 15 seconds to 30 or even longer if you can set your camera in bulb mode. Keep the aperture value around 5.6 -8, ISO between 100-300, focal length as per your wide angle lens I was mostly at 18 mm on cropped sensor.

Now the question you may have is why the images are purplish in color?

I too was puzzled and wondered what is wrong with the sensor and colors of the lightning photograph, so I did a little bit of research on the internet and found this article that answers some of the questions about the color of lightning.  A purplish tinge is normal in night photographs with lightning and it depends on many factors like temperature, ambient light, white balance of camera etc. For my part, I keep white balance always in auto and shoot in RAW, for capturing maximum data and flexibility in post processing.

About author and photographer: Prasad Np aka desi Traveler is an insomniac, who quit his sleep to photograph lightning. He hopes you will share this post on your social network on FacebookLinkedIntwitter, and Google+  This will motivate him to take better photographs of lightning next time he has a bout of insomnia concurrent with a lightning strike. 


🙂 🙂 🙂


  13 Responses to “How To Photograph Lightning”

Comments (13)
  1. The truth is, no settings – aperture or shutter speed changes will help you. You get great photos (just like you have) if you chant the mantra right 😉

  2. wonderful tips. and good timing, just saw a lightning out there. 😛
    Thanks for sharing, Prasad. 🙂

  3. I wonder what the neighbours had to say when they saw a man setting up his tripod stand, aiming and shooting at 2 am?

  4. Thanks Prasad, for sharing with us these helpful tricks of photography.

  5. Thanks for sharing such useful info … i have saved the setting in my Notes 🙂

    Now I have to wait for rains and Llightinings in Bangalore

  6. Some really great tips here, I’ve never captured lightning (yet).

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