During my travels last week, I stumbled upon this amazing shot. It was bitter cold and I noticed there were rainbow colors refracting through the clouds, so I pulled my truck over and started snapping pics. This was the best shot I took. It’s important to note that this picture has not been modified in any way. No Photoshop or any other editing program. My camera also had no filter on it. This is exactly the way the sky looked that day. Maybe it had something to do with the cold temperatures, but in any case, I was thrilled and in awe to be able to capture the image before it disappeared.
This image from 2011 typifies why I call these posts ‘Photo op’s’. I was driving home from work and saw this happening in front of me. I whipped my car to the side of the road, grabbed my camera, and started shooting. I’ve been very pleased with this picture ever since.
One thing I try to practice in my photography is be prepared for any opportunity. I always have my camera with me. Even if I have to use the camera on my phone (which I’ve been doing a lot lately on my Instagram) I make sure that I have a camera with me at all times. A large percentage of the pictures I take are because I had a camera with me to use when I saw something interesting.
There are several times that I have been unprepared for something special to happen and I didn’t get the picture of it. But that is another post.
Lightning is one of my favorite photo subjects. For this particular photo, we go back seven years. I was driving home late in the evening and lightning was flashing around like fireworks. It started out as cloud-to-cloud lightning, which just flashed. Once I started seeing the forks, then I stopped. I happened to have my tripod with me and pulled off the road to get a series of quite decent pictures.
This presents a good photograph motto, coined from the Boy Scouts, ‘Be prepared’. I used to have a tripod stowed away in the car for just such an occasion. On this night, it paid off.
I’ve been asked before how I take such pictures, so I’ll give a quick description here.
To take a good lightning pic you need to have a tripod. As a last resort you could use a stable structure, fencepost, wall, something that won’t move, and set the camera on top of that. Whatever you use, the camera should be absolutely still.
Darkness is your friend in these cases as the darker it is the longer you can set your shutter speed. The longer your shutter speed the more chance you have of capturing a lightning bolt.
Make sure you set your camera to manual focus and focus on infinity. Some cameras have a focus ring that can go beyond infinity, you’ll have to try to get the sharpest focus you can through trial and error.
Set your ISO low, 100-400 should be good. You don’t want it too bright or the bolt will wash out.
Set your shutter speed anywhere from 10 seconds to 30 seconds. If the storm is throwing out a lot of bolts very quickly you may want to stay on the 10 side so that you get more individual shots with lightning in them.
If it starts to rain, try to take as much cover as you can while still maintaining your shot. An open garage is perfect. It gives you some protection from the rain but still allows for some movement to aim your shot.
Aiming your shot is pure guesswork. Sorry, I wish I had a more scientific method, but I just aim where the last bolt hit and start shooting.
Carry a plastic bag in your camera bag at all times. A gallon sized freezer bag is perfect. They’re thicker, providing more protection. If the rain is getting your camera wet, dry it off with a small towel (another important item to have in your camera case) and put the bag over it, then rip a small hole in the bag, just big enough for the end of the lens to fit through. Put the bag over the camera, poke the lens out through the bag and there you go, instant waterproofing. There are pre-made camera covers, but I’ve found this method to be perfectly acceptable up to a point.
And we come to the last bit of advice. Get the hell out of there. If the last bolt hit so close that you don’t have to count between lightning and thunder, it’s time to leave. These are only pictures and not worth risking your life for. If you’re being pelted with rain so hard that you have to dry the lens off every few seconds, it’s time to go. Safety first. There will always be another storm. Strangely enough, I’ve found that my best pictures are taken right before the rain arrives and after it passes.
That’s my basic guide. I’m sure I’ve missed something. I’m also sure that other photographers could give more in-depth descriptions. This is just a beginners guide. Just don’t forget to experiment with all of these settings. Make it your own. Use what works for you.
And most of all, have fun.
Any comments are welcome. Do you have some advice to pass along that I missed, feel free to post it in the comments section, have a great story about one of your photo experiences, I’d love to hear it.
I took this picture over two years ago on a whim. Believe it or not, I took it with my cell phone. At the time I had a phone with a 20-megapixel camera in it. When I first downloaded this picture I just saw clouds. But the longer I looked at it, the more it looked like an old steam engine, pulling a train along behind it. The angled clouds at the left of the picture look like the cowcatcher, the rounded part just above that looks like the front of the engine’s boiler, there even appears to be small smokestacks on top. For the record, I didn’t edit this picture at all.
I know this is all subjective, but hey, I’m a writer and a photographer. I use my imagination all the time. And the funny thing is, I can’t unsee the train now. No matter how much I try to look at it and say ‘It’s just clouds’, I always see the train.
I’ve only recently begun blogging semi-regularly. So far it’s been interesting finding some of the awesome posts out there, even though I know I’ve only scratched the surface.
The problem lies with my own posts. So far I’ve been posting reviews, excerpts from my book, and a few (hopefully funny) rant posts. The problem is that my blog is called ‘mikesimages’ and to date, I have only posted one of my images (and that turned out to be a dismal failure).
It’s time to turn that around. For years I’ve posted my pictures on Facebook and my friends all said how much they enjoyed them, so I’ll start by sharing them here. I hope you enjoy them as well.
I took this picture years ago, at a lake near my house. I was very lucky with the timing of it. I had just driven through at twilight and was treated to this magnificent sight. The camera I used then was only a small 4 megapixel point and shoot. This picture remains one of my favorites to this day.
If you’d like to see more of my photos, here’s my website.
I hope you enjoyed today’s picture. Have a great day.