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Thread: Lightning on LF - How?

  1. #1

    Join Date
    Jun 2015
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    Lightning on LF - How?

    I live in Tampa Bay, Florida, the lightening capital of the world, so I feel obligated to get some lightening shots, and I really want to. I was also surprised there aren't any :F images of lightening that I can find here on the forum.

    About a week ago, we had a nice active storm cell that was stationery to my east. I set up the LF (Calumet CC401) with my 90mm, and some Kodak Super-XX in the backyard. I accounted for reciprocity failure, and came up with (I think), and 10 minute exposure time, or thereabouts (metered off the clouds which were relatively light). I did this 3 times. The image below is the only one that had a lightening bolt in it. Meanwhile, during the exposures, I saw quite a few flashes and bolts in the area I was aiming. My backyard exposed pretty well, but the sky is really just an area of lightness.

    Take 2. Last night, we had a bunch of active cells moving along the coast (I'm <3 miles from the Gulf of Mexico), so I set up again. This time, before any exposures, I sat there for a few minutes with my spot meter trying to get an exposure reading of 'lightening'. My thinking was that the first try resulted in the clouds being lit up so many times by cloud-to-cloud lightening, that it washed them out. With an exposure for the actual lightening, I hoped I would get a shorter exposure time (turned out to 5 seconds, reciprocity failure moved it to about 60 seconds at f/8. So far I've developed 4 of the 8 shots, and the results are essentially a black image with some brighter outlining of clouds. The negs are still drying, but that's all I can see so far.

    So how does one go about capturing lightening? I've done it on digital, but with the reciprocity failure, I'm having difficulty figuring out where to go. Lightening itself is very bright, and really doesn't require the long exposure times, but at the same time, trying to hit the shutter just as a bolt is appearing is pretty close to impossible. Not to mention needing to swap out holder after each try. Or, would you just keep making multiple exposures, hoping that at some point you'll catch a bolt or two?

    Here is the 'best' from my first try. Ignore the dust/dirt, as well as the crop (photomerge left a blank area). You can see the bolt in the lower right between the trees.

    Click image for larger version. 

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  2. #2
    Jim Jones's Avatar
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    Aug 2006
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    Chillicothe Missouri USA
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    Re: Lightening on LF - How?

    Reciprocity factor can be ignored in the time exposures often needed for photographing lightning. The exposure of the lightning strike is almost instantaneous, and determining the exposure of the sky is difficult enough without allowing for reciprocity failure. The length of the exposure is limited by the steady brightness of the sky, the effect of lightning strikes outside of the picture area, and the capture of one or more photogenic lightning strikes. Dark skies are desirable. I set the f/number to the square root of the ISO number for distant lightning, and stop down a little more for nearby strikes. In my rural dark sky location, exposures can be quite long. I can leave the shutter open rather than trying to trip it at the onset of a strike. Getting closer to the storm helps, although safety is important. I often shoot from under power lines, and let them absorb any close strikes.

  3. #3
    I live in Connecticut now.
    Join Date
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    Re: Lightening on LF - How?

    Quote Originally Posted by Jim Jones View Post
    Reciprocity factor can be ignored in the time exposures often needed for photographing lightning. The exposure of the lightning strike is almost instantaneous, and determining the exposure of the sky is difficult enough without allowing for reciprocity failure. The length of the exposure is limited by the steady brightness of the sky, the effect of lightning strikes outside of the picture area, and the capture of one or more photogenic lightning strikes. Dark skies are desirable. I set the f/number to the square root of the ISO number for distant lightning, and stop down a little more for nearby strikes. In my rural dark sky location, exposures can be quite long. I can leave the shutter open rather than trying to trip it at the onset of a strike. Getting closer to the storm helps, although safety is important. I often shoot from under power lines, and let them absorb any close strikes.
    Can you explain how you arrived at the square root of the ISO/ASA? Interesting, so 100 speed film is f/10 and 400 is f/20? Or am I missing something?

    Thanks Jim!

    For the OP I think LF is perfect for lightning with mechanical long exposures Vs battery failure, but wind and rain make most shy away from potential damage to their precious babies I assume.

  4. #4

    Join Date
    Jul 2016
    Location
    Clearwater, FL
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    5

    Re: Lightning on LF - How?

    I live in Tampa (Clearwater) and shot lightning all the time. The two spots I have the best success with, is the shelters at Safety Harbor Marina and the Surf Style parking garage on Clearwater Beach. In both instances I'm protected and so is the camera by the overhead structures.

    I'll preface this by saying that the below only works for images shot after sunset. Daylight photos are almost impossible without a lightning trigger and that would be hard to rig for a LF shutter. I use the low ISO films in the range of 100~200 ISO, 30 to 60 second shutter speeds and f/11 to f/16. I set the focus at infinity. Exposing for the sky will washout the lightning strike. If you want close objects in the foreground exposed, use a LED flashlight on the objects for 15 to 30 seconds.

    Another common mistake is using to narrow an angle of view. Telephoto lenses may only capture one or two strikes in a hour. The wider the angle of view, the more likely you are to capture a strike or two during the exposure time. I get my best results with lenses in the 75mm to 135mm range on 4x5. Much wider and the lightning strikes are too small. Any longer focal length and I miss many of the strikes.

    Keep meticulous notes and once you get the exposure right, just repeat every time thereafter. It's really just a formula and onc you figure it out, the results are repeatable for almost every storm.

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