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!
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