When it comes to artistic muses, lightning – with its white hot bursts of power and fog, with its soft, almost ethereal quality, are often found at the top of most photographers’ lists. While capturing these two natural phenomenons can be tricky, they’re not impossible. Here are simple steps and techniques you can use to capture both, faster than Mother Nature can say, “Cheese!”
Lightening – Dramatic, Powerful and Just a Wee Bit Dangerous
A gorgeously captured shot of lightning as it streaks across the sky is downright dramatic. And as we all know, the power behind lightning is a force to be reckoned with, and therefore it goes without saying (but we’ll say it anyway), that standing outside in the midst of a lightning storm can be dangerous. So, before we tell you how to capture the lightning, here are some safety tips to help prevent the lightning from capturing YOU instead:
- Photograph at a safe distance from the action
- Do not stand directly in the rain, under a tree, etc.
Now that we’ve got that settled, let’s move on to the how-to portion. First things first: you’ll need a tripod and a shutter release cable or wireless shutter release. Both are absolutely necessary as they will prevent any and all vibrations from thunder, wind, rain or your shaky hands from blurring the “money” shot.
Next, switch your camera mode to “Bulb” or the “B” setting. This allows your camera’s shutter to remain open for as long as you hold down the shutter button. You’ll also want to use f/8 as a good starting point. (This can be adjusted later, if need be.) Once you’re settings are dialed in, compose your shot by aiming your camera toward the area where the lightning has been most active.
When the see the first lightning strike, press and hold your shutter release cable button down. Then, when you see the second lightning strike, pause for a half-second, then release the shutter….voila! That should do it! Granted, it may take you a few times more to get your timing down exactly right, so don’t get frustrated. Just keep trying and you’ll get it eventually. (The shot that is. Not the actual bolt of lightning itself. Ahem.)
Fog – Misty, Intriguing and Despised by Light Meters Everywhere
A gentle rolling fog can add an element of mystery, enchantment and perhaps even a touch of “spooky” to your shots – if you can capture it! So what’s a frustrated photographer to do?
Begin by aiming directly at the fog itself while holding the shutter button halfway down. Next, you’ll need to adjust your camera’s Compensation Control (you can find this just behind the shutter button) and increase the exposure by one stop. (You’ll do this by holding down the Compensation Control button while simultaneously turning the Command Dial – the black dial on the back of your camera) until you see the “+1” in your viewfinder.) By doing this, you’re basically telling your camera, “You’re wrong, fog is good and we’re gonna do things my way!” When you’re finished capturing the “misty mornin’ fog”, don’t forget to return your exposure compensation setting back to zero; otherwise the rest of your shots will be overexposed by one stop all day long. (And trust me – that’s pretty frustrating, too.)
And there you have it, folks. Two of nature’s most elusive muses, captured right before your very eyes. Experiment with these two techniques and watch how fast you ramp up the cool factor during your next outdoor shoot!