Cameron McGrath's picture

Picturing Lightening/Storms - Help!

Hi all,

New to the site, to the group! Not so new to photography, but, I am new to low light nature shots!

I'm in Italy, it's the Summer, so we get some amazing storms roll across the sky - some of my photos of them turn out great (like the first image - imo of course).

However, good low light photography, particularly of storms, alludes me (see the second image).

As a thumbnail it looks potentially amazing - on closer examination you can see 1) the noise and 2) the blur of fast moving clouds.

Exif of 2nd shot: f/4, 4 second exposure, ISO-100, 0 exposure bias, 55mm Focal.

How do I improve? How would one capture crisp low light photos? Of moving clouds and lightening?

I should add that post-processing obviously went on - my error may have been 'straining' the photo.

(My camera is the old entry level Canon EOS 1100D - I'm hoping the answer isn't my gear!)

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6 Comments

I'm a big fan of clouds and storms and that first shot is pretty! I've only taken a few pics with clouds in a similar situation but perhaps some of my tips may help.

A big issue about clouds is the motion and choosing the right shutter speed. Clouds move at different speeds so a 4s exposure on one cloud may not work on another on a different day. I found taking a shot and zooming in on the preview gives me a general idea whether I'm shooting too quick or not. I just adjust and try again.

You can get rid of some noise by taking a few exposures and stacking them. I personally have success with this at high iso's. I'm surprised you're noticing such noise at 100. You may want to check your camera and see if it has any sort of noise reduction built in. Enabling it will mean longer time to take the image, but it can help for some shots.

Lightning is similar to what you're already doing to an extent. Leaving the shutter open longer allows you to get that split second bolt that you would never get by waiting on it.

By far, the biggest thing you'd need is a tripod. It looks as if you're using one already so that's great! Additionally, you'll want a timer to help eliminate shake. These won't be needed with quick shutter speeds tho. The motion blur on your second shot looks pretty minimal, so that could've just been from you triggering it, or you were a half second too long exposing.

The best way I'd recommend improving is by getting out there and practicing. Keep a check on the weather and don't be afraid to travel. If you're after the storm front, look at the visible radar so you know where the cloud front is. If you're after lighting, check lightning maps and see if it's even producing.

It's a very dedicated process at times to get a good storm/lighting pic. You're on the right path tho! Keep up the work and hopefully within the next month or two you have something you're pleased with!

Cameron McGrath's picture

That a good tip for moving clouds, stopping and checking - stops me setting a continuous shot sequence and waiting ages for the same mistake to happen in all of them!

The Canon 1100D is very (I'd bold that if I could) entry model, no such reductions. I believe the problem with my noise is that I went and edited an exposure with not much information/detail for editing. When I stretched out dark areas I got a fuzz. So, perhaps I should over expose (ETTR) a tad more (?)

I'll for sure keep at it, this is the month of storms here in Italy, so I'll have plenty of opportunity. I'll tweak your advice and post my progress!

It's certainly a good thing to get it right asap in your shot rather than taking a few pics and being disappointed once they're on the computer. It's happened to me way too many times and I still make the same mistake!!

Your 1100d is only a few years older than my entry level canon(700d) so I figured I'd ask about the reduction. If it became most promenent after pulling your darks up, I'd try just shooting at a higher iso. With that second pic, lowering your shutter by half a second and bumping iso to maybe 400 would've probably given you a bit more information to work with. All of this is assuming your lens can't shoot faster than f/4. If it can, bump it down to the lowest number you can. I'm guessing it's the kit lens tho as mine shoots roughly the same.

Just a side note, play with the NR sliders in lightroom as well, see if that'll help with the noise!

Good luck with your venture and I look forward to what you come up with!

Maximilian Sulzer's picture

Here's your biggest issue most probably. Pulling up shadows brings out a lot of noise. You would most probably be better of rising your initial ISO to brighten up the exposure. It doesn't help that the images are very dark as it's easier to see the noise in dark areas.
I'm not familiar with your camera, but i'm sure it can handle ISO400 easily and you end up with a 1 second exposure.

Don't be afraid of ISO!

Also if you're using RAW don't be afraid to apply a reasonable amount of noise reduction.

You said "on close examination" - what do you mean by that? Pixel peeping on 1:1 view? If that's the case then it might be an imaginary problem.

Unless you're planning to print A3 or bigger you won't see the noise on paper.

For lightning the story is a bit different, as it's basically spray and pray. So a slightly longer shutter speed might help (unless there are so many bolts).
At longer shutter speeds you might get movement in the surrounding clouds and sharper edges around the lightning.

This one here was a 30 second exposure and pure luck i caught the lining in the last 5 seconds (spray and pray):

https://fstoppers.com/entry/259000

Cameron McGrath's picture

I think this was the issue, I took a dark exposure and lightened and contrasted the shoot in Lightroom - Thanks for the advice, there's another storm front moving in soon, so I'll get another chance soon!

Shawn Mahan's picture

I am curious to see some other tips. My friend has made some great shots against the skyline with lightning in them. He uses a long exposure but his pics are night. I think that helps keep motion blur at a min because the clouds only get backlit by the lightning. So in daylight cases, I would love to hear how ppl catch those bolts. Seems like you might need faster shutter speeds and some luck?