Thunderstorms at Night

The monsoon season is here again, and once again I’ve been experimenting with shooting storms at night. One of my previous storm shots  got a Highly Commended in the recent Sony WPO Awards, which was quite a buzz, but I am still experimenting and want to get a higher success ratio in capturing storms at night.  I’ve adopted a different technique in the last few weeks,  to see if I can catch bolts of lightning with any regularity using a faster shutter speed.  I noticed last year that a lot of my shots came out with the area around a lightning bolt burned out, so I have been experimenting with reducing the exposure.  I find that very active storms can be quite predictable, and if it flashes once, it’s probably going to flash again, so I take a series of shots every time I see a flash. I don’t use Burst Mode, I find I prefer to judge what the storm is doing at the time and manually press the shutter as seems appropriate at the time.  It’s quite easy to compose the shots through the viewfinder.

The latest shots are all taken with an smc Pentax-A 50mm f1.4, either wide-open or at f1.8. The great thing about this lens ( in common with my Sigma 24mm f2.8 Super-Wide II ) is that it focuses at infinity on my Pentax  K5 with the focus against the stop, so I don’t have to even think about focusing. Most of these storms were some distance away, up to 80 miles, so the ISO was pretty high, either 1600 or 800 for storms a bit closer. The main problem I have with deliberately under-exposing the shots is that I have to use a lot of fill light to bring back some detail in the clouds; this tends to introduce a fair bit of noise, The nice thing about clouds, though, is they are fluffy, so losing detail is not too much of a problem. I can erase the noise reduction in the brighter bits, to try and keep the well-lit areas sharper. The first three shots were taken over Malaysia two weeks ago.  


This one was a crop of about a quarter of the frame.



Nine seconds after this shot, I caught a bolt of lightning in the same storm, though the lightning was slightly burned out. Both of these shots were ISO 1600, f1.8, 1/30th sec.



 After this shot, I dropped the ISO  to 800, for a storm that was far closer (about 20 miles), hoping for a bit more detail in the lightning, and couldn’t believe my luck when I got this shot. Incredibly, I got two consecutive shots with the same lightning bolts.



This last shot was taken on a fight last week. It was a fairly quiet night, storm-wise, but there were a few around Kolkata (Calcutta), this being the only one close enough to capture. It took a while to get it, as it was quite  far off (about 60 miles).  I could see it happening but had to shoot about 20 images to get this. This one is my favourite of the last two weeks, in spite of being a touch dark. It was shot at ISO 1600, f1.4. 1/30th sec.



 I’ve just ordered a Samyang 85mm f1.4 specifically for shooting storms at night (though I am sure it will double very well as a portrait lens). This should allow me to shoot images that do not need as much cropping. I’m also planning on trying to capture thunderstorms at night in infrared. I’ll keep you posted.


Keep the blue side up!

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