How to capture a lightning scene
Anthony McKee describes how he tackled the challenge of photographing lightning storms, looking at what worked and what didn't, and then talks to a 'storm chaser' about his photography.
Sunrises and sunsets are without doubt two of the world’s most popular photographic subjects, yet they’re relatively easy to capture. Aside from the fact that the sun rises and sets every day as a matter of course, most of them also tend to linger in the sky for several minutes. Even if your reaction times aren’t quick, chances you’ll get some good photographs as long as you get up early enough or stay around long enough. What happens, though, when you want to shoot a sunset with a lightning bolt, and you don’t want to just fake it in Photoshop? By chance I got explore this possibility last December while driving from Perth to Melbourne.
I’m always on the lookout for good photos, but on this journey cool conditions and light rain conspired to keep me in the comfort of the car. However, by the time I got to Ceduna, on the central South Australian coast, the weather was beginning to get interesting. The town was without power because of a thunderstorm earlier in the day, and two hours later as I was crossing the Eyre Peninsula I encountered another storm. I pulled out my camera, but rain, a flat grey sky and some uncooperative foreground subjects (a mob of cockatoos) hampered my photo making.
Driving at around 110 kilometres an hour makes it easy to pass in and out of weather fronts, and by late afternoon as I approached Port Augusta at the head of Spencer Gulf, the sun was shining brightly on the Flinders Ranges and the temperature had jumped dramatically to a balmy 35 degrees. It looked like it was going to be an easy drive through to Adelaide. But then, as I was passing by the small coastal town of Port Pirie, I noticed yet another storm front approaching from a westerly direction.
This front was enormous, covering the whole horizon, with a curtain-like curl of cloud beneath it, giving it the appearance of a mussel, sucking its way across the barren landscape. I put my camera on a tripod and started making constant 4-second exposures (at f/16, 100 ISO and using a polariser) in the hope of catching some lightning, but after 10 minutes with no success I retreated to the shelter of car at about the same time that driving winds and rain began to envelope it...
ALSO IN THIS ISSUE: Mastering the technicalities of shooting portraits; How graduated ND filters can boost your outdoor images; Shooting Turkey; Shooting wildlife in zoos; Good Gear Guide; Locations - Shoalhaven Coast, NSW; Samsung NEX7
This story was first published in the Australian Photography April 2012 issue of Australian Photography > April 2012.