How to Photograph Lightning with iPhone

How to Photograph Lightning with iPhone

Lightning storm over city in purple light
Lightning is a fascinating yet dangerous photography subject.

Lightning is one of the most dangerous yet fascinating features of nature that can create amazing images. But capturing these phenomena could be quite challenging given the fact that they are so fleeting. Have you ever tried capturing lightning at one point in your life? Most probably, you are thinking that capturing lightning using your iPhone is impossible, but in all honesty, it is very much possible. 

Lightning photography is all about how good you are with timing since lightning strikes in a flash. Actually, they too fast that it is impossible for you to simply capture them at the tap of a button. So, how are you going to capture these natural phenomena then? 

This article will walk you through the different steps in lightning photography alongside with some tips and tricks on how you can do it right. 

Lightning Photography Steps

Step 1. Prepare

Weather forecast concept background - variety weather conditions, bright sun and blue sky; dark stormy sky with lightnings; sunset and night
Preparing is very important with lightning photography as you exactly don’t know when the lightning will strike.

Lightning is not something that you should take as a joke. One wrong move or decision and your life could already be on the line. In fact, around 300 people a year get struck by lightning wherein roughly 30 of these cases are fatal. Your safety should not be compromised when taking lightning images. 

The weather is so unpredictable nowadays so the best that you can do here is to keep an eye on the local forecast on your mobile phone. If in case there is a storm, check out the movements of the clouds to have an idea to where the storm is headed. If you really want to take lightning images, then make sure that you stay dry and safe. The likes or praises that you are going to get is probably not as important as your safety or your life. Never ever set up under a tall tree. This is because tall trees are more likely to be struck during a storm. Also, do not go to places that are near power lines, cell phone towers, water, or any other metal object that can easily attract lightning.

Step 2. Get your gears or tools ready

White earphones and modern smartphone fixed on fluid tripod are ready to record video in the park, education and technology, summer outdoor
Having the right tools will help you capture better lightning images.

Basically, what you will need when capturing lightning images is a camera, a tripod, and a wireless shutter release. You can also get a dedicated lightning trigger if you have the budget since this device is expensive but is worth your money if you plan to do a lot of lightning photography or if lightning photography is not just a one-time thing for you. A dedicated lightning trigger automatically trips your camera’s shutter once lightning is detected. 

It is also very important that you have a tripod with you to keep your camera steady. Avoiding camera shake is not easy if you are holding your phone with your bare hands. Remember, even a little movement could destroy the entire scene. Aside from lessening if not totally avoiding camera movement, using a tripod will also help you improve the quality of your images as well. It helps you capture the images you want whatever the angle is and perfectly supports your camera no matter how long it will take you. 

Last but definitely not the least on the basic things that you will need in lightning photography is a wireless shutter release. A wireless shutter release gives extra flexibility and scope to your choices. There are circumstances wherein manually pressing your camera button is not possible or practical. And sometimes, doing so causes your camera to shake or vibrate thus, the quality of your image is compromised. A wireless shutter release is more preferred when taking lightning images to avoid tripping over a cable or to avoid pulling the tripod where your phone is and end up having your phone smashed on the ground. 

Step 3. Configure your iPhone camera

It is impossible for you to take a good lightning photo if your phone’s camera is not configured, meaning everything is set to auto. Your camera does not exactly know what to do when taking lightning images. So, what are the things that you need to configure? Take a look at the following:

  • Flash – Your flash is not totally needed when shooting lightning because, in the very first place, you are shooting a light source already. When you keep your flash open, your camera might be overwhelmed or get confused as to where it should focus. 
  • Shutter Speed – You should set your shutter speed to bulb mode when taking lightning images. More often than not, the bulb mode is displayed as a “B”  in the menu of your camera or on the shutter speed dial. Using the bulb mode increases your chance of capturing a wonderful lightning image since the shutter remains open as long as you are holding the shutter release. 

If you don’t want to use the bulb mode, you could set your shutter speed to 8 seconds which means that your camera will absorb light within 8 seconds. And, when lightning strikes within that 8-second duration, then the lightning will be captured. 

  • ISO – The ISO is the one that determines the brightness of the image so your best option here is to set it to a lower value since your subject is already very bright. Ideally, your ISO should be around 100 or 200 only so that your images will not turn out so bright. Keeping your ISO level low will also reduce long exposure noise issues 
  • Aperture – Considering the fact that your shutter is open for a longer time, it is very important that you go for an aperture that will give you the best exposure within a period of 10 to 15-second shot. This will keep your shutter for a longer time to increase your chance of capturing a stunning lightning image. 
  • It would also help if you use a smaller aperture to make sure that you will get a sharp image from front to back. Ideally, your aperture should be set to f/5.6 or higher. 
  • Timer – Your timer should be set to 3 seconds which means that your camera will start taking images 3 seconds after you have pressed the shutter. Using your camera’s timer is very important to avoid any motion blur and to keep your camera steady before you fire away. 
  • Save RAW Images – Saving raw images of the lightning would be very beneficial to you during the post-processing or editing. This is because RAW images are more preferred when editing in most editing applications. Generally speaking, lightning is so unpredictable. You might get a good image now and a bad image afterward thus, shooting in raw gives you more leniency during the post-processing phase.
  • Focus and Exposure – Your camera’s focus and exposure should be locked to avoid your camera from deciding itself on what it should do or where it should focus. Besides, if your focus is not locked, your camera will be confused about where exactly should it focus. This will also slow down the process and you could miss the phenomena already. 
  • Don’t Zoom, Just Crop – Going somewhere where the lightning strike is very dangerous so your safe choice is to stay away. With your distance, most probably you think that zooming in is your only left choice to have a better image composition. But actually, zooming in is not your choice since you exactly do not have any idea where the next lightning strike is going to happen which makes getting as much landscape as you can your best choice. Then, later on, you could just crop the image. 

Step 4. Start shooting

strong thunderstorm with lightning over the city
When shooting, the most important thing is you enjoy it.

Once the above-mentioned things are ready, it is high time for you to start taking lightning images. Take as many images as you want. Try as many angles as you can. Aim for the best shots but do not be afraid to go wrong as well. Remember, no photographer is perfect. Just give it your best shot then afterward, work on what needs work. 

You have gone this far so do not let the moment escape without getting what you have always wanted. In short, take images to your heart’s content. When shooting, look on the scene and not on the screen for safety purposes. You already have set everything, including to where your screen should be so you do not have anything to worry about. Also, it is very important to be consistent and to have very long patience. Shooting lightning is a waiting game. Do not just give up because you only got one or two good shots. 

Step 5. Post-process your images

Photo edit with mobile phone and smart app. Man adjusting sliders. Image editing, manipulation, improvement or enhancement with smartphone. Adding filter to photograph in social media application.
Post-processing should be done to enhance the images you have taken.

If you are lucky enough if you have truly stunning lightning images with you. But most probably, a lot of the images that you have taken will need some post-processing or editing to look their best. The way you will edit your images all depends on you but ideally, you should rotate your images horizontally to straighten them and cropping the images to have a closer look at the lightning is also recommended. Applying some filters might also be of help 

Wrapping It Up

In all honesty, lightning photography is not the safest and easiest thing to do. Your attention might be divided into a few things but always prioritize your safety. Perhaps, the most important point that you should always remember when taking lightning images is to be patient and be on timing. You might not get the exact image that you want on your first try but you could always try it again next time. Just keep on shooting, enjoy, and be safe!