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How to Catch A Lightning Bolt.
Before saying anything else about taking pictures and videos of lightning I want to point out the three absolutely essential things to never ever, without question, without fail, ever forget:
1. Lightning can kill you.
2. Lightning can kill you.
3. Lightning can KILL you.
Lightning is only so predictable and it can easily kill you if not hyper careful. It is just that simple. If you even think about taking pictures or videos of lightning you are taking your own life in your own hands. There can be incredible (nearly unfathomable) amounts of energy in lightning and it is absolutely not to be underestimated.
I get carried away being cautious when taking pictures or video of lightning and I strongly suggest anybody and everybody else do the same. I take no responsibility whatsoever for mistakes other people make. If you take any action of any kind as a result of reading information, that is strictly for information and entertainment purposes only, on this web site or related material you are taking full and complete responsibility for those actions.
I cannot stress that enough. Lighting is extremely dangerous – period. Even taking extreme precautions will lessen the danger dramatically but will never remove it completely. So never forget that caution etc. must be there each and every time without exception, period.
Taking pictures and video from inside a car is somewhat safe but still dangerous for example. Cars have rubber touching the ground so lightning rarely hits them (no path to ground) but it does unquestionably still hit cars. The times I have read about and the videos I have seen showed the people were still safe because they were uninjured but I have also read it is best to not assume being in a car makes you completely safe and many think you can still potentially be killed that way.
There are a few main things to keep in mind I would say and being in a car is one of them. Being inside a house and taking video out of an open window is by far my preferred method (although not recommended – most literature I have read says to stay away from windows) but I also take quite a bit of video in a fairly well protected porch area (again, not recommended) or in my car. Being out in the open is to be avoided without exception. Even if the storm is miles away lightning can strike. (Are you starting to get the picture yet that none of this is recommended?)
If you are at a comfortable distance from the main strikes it helps take the load off and at a certain distance, even though it may be farther away than you think, there is literally no chance of a strike. If you are nervous at all or unwilling to take personal responsibility I would recommend (I didn’t say that) staying well out beyond the edge of the storm (keeping in mind that may mean miles) where there is little or no chance of strike. You can still get some great pictures and videos from there actually.
I will be talking now and then about how to catch a lightning bolt but it is mainly to show what I have done and what has worked for me. What you do is up to you. I am not trying to tell anybody what to do but rather just inform them what worked for me.
I would actually recommend you don’t even try to go out and take pictures or videos of lightning at all. But for me it is a chance I am willing to take. I have to doubt I am alone there.
For me, when it comes to taking pictures or videos of lightning, it all started when I was fishing at a lake we call Cooney Lake locally. I believe it is technically Cooney Reservoir.
I was getting a little bored with fishing when I noticed a thunderstorm in the distance. I decided there was a great background and I had nothing to lose so I would try to take twenty or thirty pictures of the storm in hopes of catching at least one or two lightning bolts.
That is one of the nice things about digital cameras. You don’t waste film if the picture doesn’t turn out. You can just delete it. Being able to take thirty pictures and not care all that much if they didn’t turn out was kind of nice after years of being used to not being able to do that without spending more money on film and processing.
Anyway, I had my own little procedure going where I was looking through the viewfinder to frame the picture etc. then I would depress the first stage of the two stage shutter button and then as soon as I saw lightning I would hit the second stage of the button and then look at the LCD real quick to see if I had managed to catch a lightning bolt.
At the time I didn’t see any so I kept taking pictures. I ended up taking around forty pictures and went home thinking I hadn’t gotten lucky enough to catch a lightning bolt.
But when I transferred the pictures to my computer and looked through them I found that one of my first tries was the picture at the top of this page. It is still one of, if not the, best picture of lightning I have taken.
I am obviously a little different from most because I don’t take pictures of lightning the way other people do. Most people who take pictures of lightning put their camera on a tripod and take long exposures to catch the lightning bolts on the exposure.
I still plan on taking some pictures that way but I haven’t gotten around to it.
I use the two stage button feature the way I do for a couple reasons but essentially I make it so the camera and myself are as close to ready as I can be when the lightning strikes.
I wish I could say I am just being super quick at that point but what I am really taking advantage of is the fact that the lighting will often be there for what seems like a good second or two. However long it is it is often long enough to catch a picture of lightning because I have quite a few now and it does work for me.
It takes some getting used to pushing the button enough to hit the first stage without engaging the second stage but it isn’t hard. I mainly started doing it to take out the delay when you just hit both stages of the button from the time you hit the button to the time the shutter opens.
But I quickly realized on my camera at least that also helped in other ways because it would make it so the camera would stop doing some of the automatic stuff like light readings to determine shutter speed etc.
On that camera it also helped that it had a viewfinder and an LCD screen and you could use either. Using the viewfinder helps dramatically when it comes to battery life.
After taking that first picture of lightning (plus having it be a good one in my opinion) I was hooked. I started trying to take pictures of lightning during most thunderstorms and after a while and a better digital camera I started taking videos as well.
It has essentially become one of my hobbies and this web site is basically just an extension of the hobby. It is a place for me to put the pictures and videos so I can share them and see what other people think.
I am also hoping visitors will find things of value here and come back and maybe even visit one of my other websites. My most similar other site is called MontanaInHD.com and I highly recommend checking it out, especially if you are looking for photography/videography tips and tricks, directions to great areas for things like hiking, backpacking, fishing and rock hunting, pictures and videos mainly of the back country of Montana and much much more.
If you have any tips or tricks for catching a lightning bolt please pass them along and I will post them here. You can email me any time at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Catch a Lightning Bolt today!
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