I almost missed the storm... I was cleaning out my fridge in preparation for turning over this vacation rental unit today. I thought I grabbed my D700 and the 70-200VR because when I first saw it the storm was distant and the shot looked like it would be quite tight.
But... I had my D700 on my 500/4, where usually I have the D300 on that lens. That put me with the D300 and 70-200 but by the time I realized that I needed to just shoot. On my ~17th frame I got a very nice single bolt at 100mm DX but I obviously needed to re-gear because the strikes were becoming less predictable and getting closer. On my 18th frame I swapped in the 24-70. This shot was about my 27th frame, about 17 minutes into the shooting sequence.
In other words I was totally behind the curve the entire shoot because I made a bad decision with the lens and had the wrong body, and generally wasn't mentally ready to do this. So there was some luck involved
The exposures started at 13s and progressed to 25s (should have just made it 30) as it darkened, the storm moving through during late dusk. I thought about using the intervalometer but decided against it because I wanted to be able to review the shots as they occurred.
There is a certain pattern to these evening storms. They move fast and there is usually about a 15 minute optimum window, at most. The best shots are on the approach and only when the lightning occurs on the leading edge. Otherwise the lightning tends to get obscured if it is buried back in the cell.
I've also tried to shoot the trailing edge after it passes overhead, and in that case I move to my patio and shoot over the ocean. I've never gotten good shots on the ocean (trailing) side.
Thanks for the kind comments and the reminder I need to do some more work on the image.
My post processing, using CaptureNX2, included a significant tightening of the black point in a layer mask that included only the sky.
Everything below the horizon was exactly as shot and was a prefect exposure in the context of what I was trying to do. The problem was the bolt was too bright .
The tightening of the black point resulted in a severe contrast stretch and effectively a reduction in "exposure" of the sky. I think that triangle is due to the fact that the lightning was acting like a huge flash gun that didn't quite cover the scene. The same effect, to a slightly lesser extent in the lower right corner of the sky. It is not obvious in the out of camera image but the contrast stretch brought it out.
I need to figure out how to get rid of that dark patch, or tone it down a bit, without otherwise screwing up the image. I made a quick stab at it last night but decided to just post it as is and deal with it when I have more time.
Here is the out of camera image rendered from the embedded JPG using PhotoMechanic.
I love this shot! Your composition is spot on in my opinion. I really like the minimal foreground and tall sky. I also think the exposure is perfect on my monitor. I wouldn't lighten it at all. The moody overall feel makes the lightning all the more spectacular.
Forget about the missed opportunities, it only takes one and this is awesome! I've been chasing lightning for the last week here in Florida, but every storm has been blanketed in very heavy clouds and all I get is silhouettes. Suffice it to say, everything has ended up on the "cutting room floor". In contrast, this photo is absolutely spectacular. Great job!
Anyone here had canvas prints done? I'm thinking about a 12x18 canvas (probably using Winkflash unless someone has a better idea). I've never done commercial canvas prints and I'm concerned that the fine detail of the branching lightning might be lost in the rough texture of the canvas?
I think I solved by lower left vignette problem but I worked it up on my rather poor laptop. When I get a chance to see it on my calibrated monitor I'll post it. I just softened the vignette to make it look more natural and better match the lower right corner of the horizon.
IN the meantime I made the mistake of starting to play with alternate crops . So I'm up to my arm pits in various crops.
Thanks for the comment Richard. The exposure was 25s. The exposure does not effect the lightning, only the ambient.
If I had had time to set up my outboard intervalometer I might have done so to get longer exposures, which would just reduce the number of frames. A 60s exposure would probably be more convenient. If I had done that, though, I might have risked overexposing parts of the scene. That is the the tough part of shooting lightning- the amount of added exposure from the bolt is very un-predictable and here was quite strong. That was a big part of the "luck" I mentioned- this strike worked well with the exposure I was using, which prior to the shot I thought was underexposed.
When I saw this shot I reduced exposure one stop because a quick look at the preview screen suggested the sky immediately around the bolt was so bright it might have washed out the bolt- A problem I've had in the past.
The bolt significantly brightened the entire scene. I did a rough calculation that suggested the equivalent guide number of the lightning flash was about 20,000 at ISO 200 . Much better than my SB-800's . (Could be much higher though).
Be sure to plan your exit strategy well in advance. You'll want to shoot until the storm passes over you but then you and your gear will get quite wet if you are out in the open. You might want to find some reasonably protected balcony, either your hotel room or some other accessible public place.
Of course, if the cell is distant and isolated it can be done but it's not always obvious that you have that sort of luck.
I decided not to do a stretched canvas of the full image because I would have lost about 1.5" of the bottom of the scene, which I didn't want. I thought about doing one of the crops (I like #2 best too) but decided that the 12x18 might be quite a stretch for such a small crop. I did a preliminary uprez but didn't like the results and wanted to order something today for scheduling reasons. I settled on a 12x18 Giclee poster with a black frame. I might revisit the crops for something like a 10x13 or thereabouts- something a little easier on a tight crop.
This is the image I'm printing. I touched up the lower landscape a bit and softened the lower left corner of the horizon.
Thanks for posting your excellent shot and for all the comments on lightning photography. The only canvas print I have had made so far looked great in terms of detail but was very oversaturated. This was of a shot that I also got printed on glossy paper so the oversaturation was obvious.
> "I usually try to catch some lightning when I'm at the beach in early June."
LOL! Although I love the very bright summer nights of the north, capturing lightning bolts in the summer is very difficult. You simply couldn't have taken that shot here. What I mean is a 25-second exposure. I tried that last summer, at the end of July. But the cumulative light output from the sky over a 30-second exposure far exceeded the brightness of lightning bolts, which were not at all visible in my photos. When I reduced the exposure time to 5 seconds, the bolts could be distinguished against the sky.
Although you may not be able to reproduce this exact image, which was shot in complete darkness, you can do something that is very difficult for me to do.
I have always believed that the best time to shoot lightning is not in complete darkness but in "deep twilight" when there is enough ambient light to get a different and perhaps better balanced exposure. That is real tough around here because that window lasts only 15 minutes or so, where for you it lasts all night .
Catching a good bolt in that short window can be quite problematic, especially since lightning cannot be scheduled .
This image worked, in full darkness, only because of the sheer power of the strike. In most cases when I have shot lightning from the same vantage point, the general ambient lighting of the foreground is too dark. This image was a stroke of luck and I was fortunate to capture it. It looks more like an image I would expect to shoot inside that brief but magical window.
Thanks to the several members with recent kind words. I guess this image is an "oldie but goodie" now . And I do have a trial 12x18 hanging on the wall of my beach place where I shot it! At some point I want to do a 20x30 and I agree that an even larger image might be interesting.