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How I Photograph Lightning in Florida

What's up everyone! In today's blog post I wanted to share how I go about photographing lightning in Florida. Chasing storms and photographing lightning is a ton of fun. In fact it is one of my favorite times to shoot landscapes! It can be very challenging, but also very rewarding!


Huge lightning over farms in St Augustine Florida.
HUGE Bolt over Farms (Can you see the barn in the background?)

I do not use a lightning trigger or any other special technical gear, but I will occasionally use an ND (Neutral Density) Filter to get a slower shutter speed if the light is too bright out still. Honestly you do not need any special gear as long as your camera has a built in intervalometer or you pick up an external trigger (Interval timer for time-lapse photography). If your camera does not have an intervalometer built in, you can pick one up for a fairly low cost. It's also not a bad idea to get a remote trigger that is also an intervalometer. I think I paid under $20 for the one I have. Just make sure you get the model that is made for your camera. I use the built in version in my camera (Sony A7iii with Updated Firmware) just because it's easier and less gear to mess with, but the external trigger works great too and you will need it if you want to do exposures over 30 seconds.


What do you HAVE TO HAVE to shoot lightning?


A camera you can use in manual mode.

An intervalometer, either built in to camera or an external trigger ($20).

A Tripod.


Nice to have: ND Filters to slow your shutter speed while it is still bright outside, otherwise you will have to wait until late sunset into blue hour and then night to shoot. When I started chasing lightning I did not use any filters and still usually don't. The above and below were taken during late sunset and blue hour. So don't think you have to have any special gear to get shots!


Same farm as above, but different storm. Every storm is a new canvas!

How do you photograph lightning?


In Florida, in the summer, we usually have storms rolling across the state every single afternoon. It's an amazing time to shoot landscape photography if you can put up with the heat and humidity! So how do I go about targeting lightning?


I start with the My Radar app to track any storm cells moving through my area. I usually head out about an hour before sunrise and try to get into position in front of a storm front. As soon as sunset starts you can usually get your shutter speed down to about 2 or more seconds if you shooting around f16.


I usually start with my settings around f16, ISO 100 and shutter speed of 2 seconds. Then as the sunset goes down I can pretty quickly increase my shutter to 4, 8 or seconds. Eventually at full night time you end up around the f4, ISO 100 and 30 second shutter.


Depending on how close to the bolts you are, other ambient light and/or multiple strikes occurring with your shutter being open, you will need to adjust your settings to achieve a proper exposure. I usually keep my shutter to 30 seconds max so I can avoid using bulb mode. If you need more light next step would be to drop your arpeture as low as possible. Then as a last result to get a proper exposure - increase your ISO. Luckily modern cameras capture a great dynamic range and also handle shadow information very well. So you h ave some flexibility, but always shoot for a proper exposure. For lightning I like to shoot at -1 exposure as a general rule to make sure I don't blow out my highlights for lightning bolts. That said I have blown out plenty even at -2 exposure - it all depends on how close and how many bolts there are.



Lightning storm over corn fields in Florida.
My first lightning photo, after 2 weeks of chasing storms.

Recap:


Camera with manual mode, Ability to shoot time lapse and a Tripod

Set shutter to at least 2 seconds to start, then increase shutter time as light allows.

Run time-lapse while the storm passes by or through.

Check to see if you captured any bolts, re-adjust shutter time and repeat! It really is that easy and the hardest parts are 1. Getting into position without being in danger or getting soaked and 2. Balancing the exposure depending on how far away you are from the storm and bolts.


If you have any questions please don't hesitate to reach out and good luck getting the shot!! Paul Farace

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