An electric goodbye

An electric goodbye

Click the image to see the timelapse (new window)


It’s time of thunderstorms!!

While half of the world is trying to capture and collect Pokemons, I’m in an electric mood and I try to collect rays and lightning. Where I live electric storms are very rare, with only a few happening every year, and most of them during daytime, so the excess of light doesn’t allow to take good pictures of them. But I like electricity, lightning, and low light photography, so when the right conditions happen I like to be there, trying to collect a new specimen for my museum of “rays that existed for less than a second but were captured for not being forgotten ever” (of course, assuming ever as “as long as my hosting service exists and is online”; any other ever interpretation is just being too optimistic).

A couple of days ago I caught one good storm (ok, not really good, just above average, but I’ve been waiting for them so long that now all of them seem nice to me), so I set the camera and started to take pictures. Capturing lightning is a matter of luck (good luck, just in case you had the doubt). You put your camera on the tripod in the same way you put a fishing rod, and just sit and wait, hoping that the shutter will be open when the ray strikes. As Murphy’s law states: most of the rays will appear just in the recycling moment while the shutter is closed between two pictures. But if you take enough frames, sooner or later you will get a couple of pictures with a ray on it. As you can guess, this also yields a lot of boring pictures where nothing is happening, and will end deleted. But I thought: If the pictures are already taken, and the raw processing can be automatized, why not giving them some use before deleting them. And this is how this time lapse was born, just joining all the sequence together. Nothing impressive, but it’s a “free” side-result of my main goal, which is a good picture of a ray.

Picture taken manually with my mobile phone while the main camera was working. It is possible.

The trick for this kind of pictures is to have a remote controller (better if it is not wireless), so you can trigger the shutter manually. Most of the remotes have a lock position, which is equivalent to be pressing the shutter button all the time. In this position when the camera finishes a picture writes it to the card and automatically starts a new one, so all that is left for the photographer is to sit down, relax, and watch the forces of nature do their noisy job. Of course, if you don’t have a remote (I don’t know why, they are as cheap as useful), you will have to activate the camera manually for every picture. In any case, what it is a very bad idea is to have the camera idle until the moment you see the ray (or expect it to happen), because almost every time you will miss it (although it can be done; the picture on the right was taken with my mobile phone while the DSLR camera was doing its job, and with a little effort I managed to capture it).

About the parameters for capture lighting, they are simple and hard both at the same time. You need to correctly expose your background, so if it is at night, you can allow a dark background, but if it is at sunset you will need to expose well for it. Once done, you need to use shutter speeds as slow as possible, so you have the sensor exposed as much time as possible, maximizing the probabilities of a ray happening at that moment (usually 6-8 seconds of exposure are good starting values). To achieve slower speeds you can decrease the aperture, what will also make easier to focus on the sky, as the depth of field increases. Although lightning seem very brilliant, they are not really much brighter than daylight, so capturing them at noon, or at dusk but underexposing the picture, will not work. It is not a problem with parameters; it is a problem because there is not much difference in intensities between the ambient light and the ray. On the first case you will capture a ray that blends with the surrounding clouds without any effect, and on the second case you will get a dark picture with a very dim ray on it.

So, if you have the chance, go out and try to capture one ray for yourself. It’s not as difficult as it sounds, and it is very satisfying. Very few actions can be more filling than capturing a strike of electricity on a sheet of paper and hanging it forever on your living room.

And if you like what you have just seen, in a few days I will post a couple of pictures of this session. Stay tuned!


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