Joe and Mary Ann McDonald's

Wildlife Photography

December 2008 - January 2009

Tip of the Month

Use an Intervalometer for Lightning Images

Climate change. We hear so much about it, its causes, the problems, and traveling as much as we do, I must say we've seen some radical changes in the weather in areas we've traveled to for years. In Kenya this fall during the short rainy season we saw rain storms and cloud formations like we've never seen before, and on a few afternoons I worried that a tornado might develop in the uncertain skies. Because of this weather, we had plenty of lightning storms, which got me thinking about photographing lightning with the equipment I brought along.

The ultimate device for capturing lightning is a device called a Lightning Trigger, which works similarly to a flash slave unit in that it detects the change of light created by a lightning flash and fires a camera. It also triggers a camera by firing a flash at the Trigger, and I've used that property to fire a camera remotely when I did not have a hard wire connection, or a Pocket Wizard.

My friend Bill Forbes, who makes the PhotoTrap, uses his PhotoTrap to capture lightning as well, and I'll go into greater detail on that in a later Tip.

On this trip, however, I didn't have either, but I did have Canon's Intervalometer cable release. While this attachment functions like a normal cable release, although far more expensively!, it also has programmable features to allow you to shoot frames at intervals that you determine. I brought it to Kenya hoping to do a little QuickTime jpg movie of clouds building up over the Masai Mara from my lodge room mid-day, but this year the weather didn't work out for doing so. However, we had a lot of lightning, and that got me thinking.

If you have an Intervalometer Release, you could use it to have a pretty good chance of catching lightning shots, although you're likely to go through a lot of digital images before you are successful, and you'll still need a bit of luck.With an Intervalometer Release, and especially in conjunction with a Singh-Ray Variable Neutral Density Filter which would allow you to do the longest exposures possible in any given lighting level, you could program the device to fire every second until you turned it off. For example, if I were shooting a storm in late afternoon, the ambient light level around the clouds might be 1/30th at f16 with ISO 100. Closing down to f32 drops my shutter speed by two, to 1/8th. Using a Polarizing Filter could drop the shutter speed two more stops, to 1/2 second. Or, using a Variable Neutral Density Filter dialed down to an 8 stop reduction, my shutter speed could be 30 seconds! If I then programed the Intervalometer to fire one second after the last exposure, in 61 seconds there would only be 1 second when the camera's shutter would not be open, and I'd have some chance, during those two exposures of 30 seconds, to catch lightning. In the course of a storm where I let the camera on for thirty minutes, or an hour, I'd have 60 or 120 frames fired during that period, respectively. During that time the camera would not be open for a total of only 1 or 2 minutes, depending.

Granted, luck could have it that the lightning strikes between frames -- in that one second interval -- but probability suggests otherwise. Obviously, you'll have to browse through a lot of frames to check for lightning, but if it strikes, you'll have a chance at catching it without the tedium of being behind the camera and firing off frames manually. Doing so automatically, you're free to do something else while the camera is working, and hopefully, you'll have some luck.

So, why don't I have a lightning image to accompany this? Because, every time we had a storm we were out, or the storm came from a direction where my window wasn't facing, and I didn't have the time to stay near my camera in case of rain, or theft, if I set up outside my room! Nonetheless, I'm sure this method will work and I'm anxious to get into some storms to try it out!


Our Past Photo Tips of the Month:


RAW Shooters Beware!
DEC - A solution to the Digital Dilemma

Western Digital portable external Hard Drives

CS3 Upgrade

Framing with a Telephoto Against a Desert Sunrise

Adobe Photoshop LIGHTROOM
Workflow and Workload - You Can Keep Ahead
Bring along a Point N Shoot

Backing Up Your Digital Files - you'll need more than you think
Action Wildlife Photography Camera Settings
maximizing depth of field digitally
Capture 1's Most Useful Features
DIGITAL Photographing scenes with extreme exposure values
Effective Cloning in Adobe CS2

Watch Your Backgrounds - The potential of composites or shooting in RAW format
DIGITAL -Shoot for the Future
DIGITAL-Shoot for the Future, Part II
The Helicon Focus Filter Revisited



Explore Every Angle
Smell the Roses

Frankly access your skills before deciding upon a workshop

The Songs of Insects
- a super book on katydids, cicadas, and grasshoppers
A Great Insect Field Guide 
Action Wildlife Photography Camera Settings
The Pond-A Must-See shooting Location in southern Arizona
Don't take in baby wild animals
Seize the Moment!
Take a Workshop First
  Luck, what is it?
At the Pulse of Life by Fritz Polking
Carry-on Luggage for small commuter flights


Three New Products
Two New Ballheads from Acratech
Lens Coat equipment covers
The Ultimate Long Lens Case - McDonald Safari Bag
Positioning your Roll-on Carry-On bag
New Lens Covers for Long Lenses
The Best All-Around Lens
Keep Your Head Up
Save Your Equipment from Crashing!
The L-Bracket, the ultimate camera bumper
Visual Echos Tele-Flash for the 580EX Flash
Testing your Flash's Aim
The Ultimate Flash Bracket
Using TTL flash with Hummingbirds
Specular highlights and the flashing frog

Geared Focusing Rail for Macro Work
Shooting in Inclement Weather
Low level tripod work
Sighting in a very, very long lens
Padding Your WimberleyTripod Head
Using The Wimberley Gimbal head with a camera body

Wimberley 400 and 600mm IS plate
How do we protect our gear from dust, and carry our gear when on safari
How do you shoot the Moon?

If you see it, it's too late -- a lesson in anticipation
Protecting your long lens from SAND, the pleasures of beach photography
Maximum Depth of Field and Hyperfocal Distance - they're not the same thing!
A great depth of field guide
Carry Your Gear!
Custom Function 4-1 for Nikon and Canon shooters
Sigma's 120-300 f2.8 APO zoom telephoto lens


A Car Tip that could Save Your Life
A Great Website for Information - the Singapore Nature Photography Society
Airline Carry-On Luggage -Let your concerns be heard!

Ask Questions Before You Go
Liquids in your Levels - TSA Warnings!

Disconnect -- travel precautions
Photograph America Newsletter
Obey the Rules
Wildlife Portraiture
Drying out boots with newspaper
Removing Cactus Spines

The Ti Chi Stalk
Photographing Critically Endangered Sites
The Sibley Bird Guides



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