View Full Version : Lightning....critique please

11-Aug-2014, 17:19
I finally got a storm to cooperate this year. Being a n00b at LF I am looking for suggestions to make this better.
This was taken with a Nikkor 5.6/180 about a 50 sec. exposure with 100TMX. D-76 at 9 minutes.
I am pleased that I got an image. The focus is ummm ok. No movement except rise on the front.
Here it the thing. I don't get much opportunity control the light. That is the storms choosing. Some flashes are bright blotting out all or they could be completely within the cloud defining the structure but not very bright. A tough situation. Is there a better way to handle this?

While the lighter areas here are soft with smooth gradient, there is little separation between the light clouds and the small bolt. As noted it is not consistent. The cloud in front is fairly muddy but I would suspect that it is because of it being lit from the ground by the city lights.
I am not sure what to do to make this better. Suggestions?

Thanks in advance

11-Aug-2014, 17:22
Ah sorry this is the right one.

12-Aug-2014, 06:46
Well, I'd personally be quite happy with a result like this under the circumstances you describe. Like you said; the storm determines what you're going to get and as it's a weather phenomenon, it's inherently unpredictable...

The only thing I can image that would make a substantial difference is to choose a different time of day, with more light from the sun to balance the lightning. E.g. at dusk, you can expose for the clouds and the scenery so you get sufficient detail in the overall image, and then hope that the lightning shows up in time to do its highlight thingy. Obviously, you could do the same in near-dark, but that would result in exposures so long that you risk capturing more lightning strikes than you bargained for, overexposing parts of the image.

But all considered, I'd say this is already a quite nice result!

12-Aug-2014, 07:25
Thanks koraks. Yes, I am please with the result, except for the storm itself. But I feel there is more I could do.

Different time of day is not really an option. In reality, unless it is close lightning is not that overly bright. Any direct sun is out of the question. The internal cloud structures do not start showing till almost total darkness. I have noticed this with digital. I have tried a balance of speed, f, and shutter to no avail. There is simply not enough difference between the lightning lit cloud and ambient light. The cloud must be nearly invisible before the structures start showing. Of course the storm must cooperate.

With the digital I have always tried to use lows ISO settings for quality. Long exposures force me to use a noise reduction of equal shutter time. So a 3 second shot takes a minimum of 6 seconds. Otherwise grain becomes an issue. So for that reason I try to keep the ISO low resulting most often in a wide open lens. Sometimes that is not enough. Long exposures seem to be more sensitive to light on digital too, so I cannot leave the shutter open for 50 seconds like these. Three to four is the max. Clamping down the aperture is also not an option as it needs all light to capture the lightning.

What I am getting at is whether TMY would be a better film selection? What could I expect from that?

Is there any filtering technique that might help? The city lights are sodium vapor which is that crappy orange/brown color yet the lightning can be any color from blue to brown. In digital I have a hard time getting a color balance I am happy with. If I start shooting in early evening I continuously adjust the color balance starting with daylight upping in temperature till the city lights take over then back down to somewhere around 3800 K. I don't have that problem with the B&W but I am wondering if filters will help better define the cloud structure and change the muddiness.

Thanks for the response.

12-Aug-2014, 07:46
Can you find an open place without city lights or trees? I'd prefer digital for lightning, but different people like different methods.

12-Aug-2014, 08:12
Hi jp.
There are many places where I could avoid the lights but time is often the limiting factor. This particular storm completely shut down within minutes after I got the second shot. That has been the pattern this year, rapid and complete shutdown. Driving 10 minutes or more is not feasible unless it is a sustained system which is very rare.

I started this off and on since the late 1970's, starting with 35mm and progressing to color and MF. I first started digital with a Nikon D300 several years ago, progress to a D700, which has done the bulk of the work, and now the D800e. But through it all I find that the film gives a more pleasing smoothness from light to dark. I was hoping the 4x5 would knock the socks off the digital.

13-Aug-2014, 07:11
Hey Marty,

Missed this thread till today. I like it but personally I would crop it to maybe 1:2 ratio to start. It helps emphasize the trees and clouds echoing each other:


I saw a lightning strike the other day that literally seemed to hang in the air for over a second. It hit, and then kind of pulsed several times. It was literally long enough to have "reacted" to it with human perception. Anyway, my point though is this: I've seen lightning strike "triggers" for DSLRs. I wonder if that's adaptable to a 4x5?

Myself, I don't bother trying to grab lightning because the only place I know of to shoot it how I want to shoot it - with a large open expanse of land, looking for a big strikes to the ground - is a 50-foot tower in the swamplands that would probably be really dangerous to be at in a lightning storm, and also 1/2 a mile from parking, so not the place to be in a sudden downpour w/ camera gear!

In your specific situation, what about some flashes and/or flashlights to light the shadow areas by hand?

13-Aug-2014, 07:42
Interesting comment about the trees and not the first time I have heard that comment. The trees are about 100 yards away so artificial light in not feasible. I agree with you about the crop I just wanted to post the raw image. Lately I have been using 2.5 ratio but for this shot I think you are correct. As for the triggering, I am happy with that. I don't mind the 50 second exposure. In fact, it makes shooting easier. I don't have to keep such close track of the storm. I count to measure the time between bolts. The down time would be only when changing holders and resetting, far less that double the exposure time of the digital. But all this would depend on the storm.

In this shot I am standing right next to a very large pine trees in my yard. This was struck by lightning a couple months ago. It is the fifth pine claimed by the weather this year. The bark is split from top to bottom. The house is about 30 yards behind me. I don't venture too far from the house when I can hear thunder and never when I can see the down stroke from the base of the cloud. Flashes originating behind me make me very nervous.

Thanks Bryan! :cool:

13-Aug-2014, 09:44
I was thinking that the trees might be too far away. Honestly it doesn't bother me anyway. Gotta have shadows anyway.

Back where I grew up, my parents had a two story house and I was in the front bedroom overlooking the neighborhood on a hill. I used to be able to watch the storm clouds roll in and lightning all day in the summer from that vantage point, because the neighborhood was new and all the tall trees had been clear-cut when the houses were built. I always think how perfect that vantage point would be for storm photos!

13-Aug-2014, 10:41
I find myself distancing my position away from the trees. Most of these storms are far enough that I cannot hear the thunder thus they are not towering over my head. I find myself positioning the camera because of the trees.

I grew up in Fayetteville, Arkansas. One of the town's claim to fame was that it was on seven hills, just like Rome. When I captured my first lightning bolt I was on Sequoia Mt. on Skyline Drive. The street name is applicable. It has views of over 270 degrees lacking only the the S SW. Over the years I took many photos of sunsets, storms, lightning. It was a great place to walk too. The last time I went back I noticed that the trees on Shadow Ridge (another applicable name) had grown up enough to get in the shots from Skyline. Things change.

Steve M Hostetter
13-Aug-2014, 12:17
I like the crop Corran did,, it makes a world of difference ! I really like it but nothing really says lightning to me so I kind of got lost in the title.

13-Aug-2014, 12:35
Thanks Steve. Yes, Bryan's crop is good. And, yes this is not normally what I get. This and most storms this year are not producing. As this is the first shots with LF I was wondering how to make them better.