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Learning A Few Things About Long Exposure During My First Attempt To Capture Lightnings

I complained several times on my blog that the start of the summer in Germany was rather autumn-like, not because I dislike autumn, I am in fact a big fan of this kind of climate, but it’s not really the best weather for photography which is why I was unhappy with it.

But then a few days ago the weather changed, it became tolerable warm. Now all of a sudden, the weather changed from autumn-like over tolerable warm to hot and humid. There is a heat wave in Germany right now, it’s maddening hot and humid since two days.

It’s not good weather for photography either. There are two options, staying at home with closed windows in the hope that the humid air can not enter the rooms, or driving to the beach to stay in the water for the whole day, I couldn’t convince anyone, they all feel sick.

It was no rocket science to guess that there would be a storm in the evening, the air did reveal it already. Staying at home and eating nothing else than cold salads, I convinced myself to prepare my tripod and camera for the case that I would be right, and I was.

Before we got the storm, I asked Google what it takes to shoot great photos of lightning. I adjusted all the settings on my camera and hoped to have beginner luck, but that didn’t happen. So, I can not show you anything special, but I learned a few things on that way.

This is also why I write this post, it’s often easier to remind things if you do not only read but also write the things down, it helps me to memorize what I learned. The following photo was taken when the heaven was completely dark, completely black to be more exact.

my first long exposure photo

This is basically my very first long exposure photo. I never did something like that. While I am sad that I didn’t capture a thunderbolt, I am also pretty much impressed about the long exposure technique. I noticed right away what it meant. With the long exposure I did let so much light in that I was able to take a bright photo of a completely black night sky.

I wish I had captured a thunderbolt, but I do now at least see that I could apply this technique situations when it’s too dark, if I want to blur water or make light trails visible or capturing motion and time. I saw these images, but I start to understand how it’s done.

Reading was not enough to understand long exposure, I had to adjust the settings to actually see and hear what the camera and mirror would do in this case. That is how I experienced the “Aha!” effect today, although the result is just a bright night sky photo.

Talking about the initial plan again, taking pictures of thunderbolts, the most obvious thing is that this is very dangerous outside with a tripod and camera in the hands, which is why I tried it from at home. It’s less dangerous outside if the storm is very far away.

Now I want to note a few things about long exposure that I have read today and that I learned and want to memorize for the next try, this and this was very helpful, but I also had to read my cameras manual to learn a few things and how to set up my camera.

  • As a long-duration shutter speed is used, using the tripod is essential, otherwise the images would become blurred. A shutter release cable or shutter remote app is needed too.
  • Auto-ISO should be disabled to set the ISO value manually. It’s best to use the lowest ISO value (100) of the camera to get sharp images without noise and to be able to do longer exposure.
  • Camera needs to be set to manual mode to adjust shutter speed and aperture.
  • Shutter speed dial needs to be set to bulb mode, with this mode the mirror of the camera will stay opened as long as the shutter button is pressed, to expose the image for that time. With the shutter release cable or shutter app it’s possible to open the shutter for 30 and even more seconds.
  • Aperture needs to be set somewhere between 4 and 8 according to difference sources, I tried it with 8 and it made the night sky very bright. But depending of the brightness of the thunderbolts and different lenses, it is suggested to experiment between 4 and 8.
  • Focal length does of course depends on how far away the storm is. However, focus mode should be set to manual. Far away street lamps can be used to manually adjust the lens to infinity focus.

Now if there will be another thunderstorm in the future, I can come back to my small summary list to adjust the camera as soon as possible, until I memorized all this. I hope I have more luck next time, I am also not sure yet if my kit lens will do the job, but let’s see.

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7 Comments »

  1. Long exposure technique is very good for night scenes 🙂 Most of my night photos, I use very slow shutter speed. It gives water very good effects like smooth silky flow.

    • I often notice all your great work on Facebook and on your blog Sato, it’s amazing what you do. I want to dive into this too, at the moment I do not have a bag for my tripod, but that is already on my list so that I can make city night shots… or as you said water photos, I love the silky effect too. 🙂 I See so many possibilities.

      I will read a lot and then I will practice, but it’s good to have contact to other experienced people too to get inspired or to learn something new 🙂

  2. I have not done many long exposure shots lately but I learned the skill back in the late 80s when I got my first SLR. Back then it was harder because you had to wait until the film was developed to know if you were doing it right. Also, I have never had one but you can get filters that darken the light so you can take long exposures during the day. That is how you can blur water. I suppose you can also just use the smallest aperture if it is not too bright outside.

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