Capturing Lightening: Q & A with Anthony Luke

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Mother Nature hit Toronto with a spectacular light show on August 24, 2011.  Lucky for us, Vistek staffer & Photographer Extraordinaire, Anthony Luke, was quick enough on the draw to snap a couple of fantastic photos of the event.

We thought we’d take the opportunity to grill him on how, exactly, he captured such a gorgeous-yet-volatile element of nature.
[flagallery gid=1 name=”Anthony Luke”]  

How do you choose a location?
Having a few buildings or tree line in the photograph gives the lightening a sense of scale.

What about safety precautions? Or do you simply shoot from inside?
I shot from my studio window so safety was not an issue. Stay away from trees and open fields. Shoot from underneath an overhang or from inside a car

Any advice for gear protection if shooting outside?
For outdoor shooting I would recommend a  Kata rain cover.

How do you go about framing this kind of shot?
Framing is pretty straight forward: lots of sky in the shot, but interesting foreground is important.

How do you know where to focus manually for something that is sporadic like lightening?
Shoot wide angle to increase the chances of capturing a strike or two. Crop later if you like. I would recommend pre-focusing on the building(s) which the lightening is striking (or likely too.) But with wide angle at f11 you have a pretty big sweet spot for depth-of-field.

Are there specific aperture, shutter speed or ISO settings you can use as a go-to or starting point?
I try and keep the ISO reasonably low to keep noise to a minimum. ISO 320 works well for me on a 5D MkII. I use a 15 second exposure at around f10 or f11

Tripod or no?
I use a tripod but free hand is cool too for streaking lights.

Lens: fixed focal or zoom? Wide angle?
For my images I used a Canon 24-70/2.8L at around 24mm. Wide angle is usually best

Do you use a remote?
I used a remote to trigger the camera to keep camera shake to a minimum.

How many shots does it normally take to get one super one? Or does it really depend on the storm and frequency of lightening strikes?
Patience is key. The long exposures allow you to catch the strikes – sometimes more than one strike in a single capture!
Keep firing the camera while the storm is at it’s peak and you will eventually get a few great images.
Include a tower or tall structure in the photo so that the chances of photographing a lightening strike is greater

What sort of (if any)post processing do you employ?
I do a little post to intensify the image in Lightroom.  I clean up the noise, boost the contrast and adjust the levels a bit.  I have a few presets that I like to use as well.  I play around with colour temperature slider in Lightroom a little as well, depending on the image.

And other tips you can suggest?
Keep Shooting!

Check out Anthony’s blog & website to see what inspires him — and how!