How to take photos of lightning during the day

Method of capturing the image of lightning in a storm cloud during the day.

During the summer months storms are very common, many of them discharge numerous lightning that are a great spectacle.

When the storm clouds approach, it is a sign that we have to prepare if we want to take lightning photographs.

The best time to photograph them is at night but sometimes these storms happen during the day, how to photograph them?

During the night, it is easy to spot a storm and take pictures of the impressive lightning that appears. The darkness of the night gives the possibility of playing with long exposures in the photo camera and holding for several seconds taking the photo until the lightning appears and is captured. Although this technique requires taking a lot of photos during the storm, it is very easy to get good lightning results. But during the day everything is different since we cannot extend the exposure time so much and we have much less chance of capturing an image of the lightning. And this leaves us an open window for experimentation:

How much can I lower the exposure on the camera?

The first thing we can try is to lower the ISO to its nominal minimum. With this, you will make your camera “less sensitive to light” and that may not be enough to obtain an image of the lightning.

Then we can close the diaphragm as much as possible. But, doing this, we are going to have two problems: the first is the same as in the previous paragraph and that is that we can limit the entry of light so much that the lightning is not strong enough to give us an image, and second, exceeding an f value we begin to lose image definition quickly due to diffraction.

For these reasons, lowering the ISO and closing the diaphragm a lot will not give us a good result most of the time.

And what about filters?

By using neutral density ND filters, we can reduce the amount of light that enters. An ND400 filter has a 9-stop light reduction. We can extend the exposure for longer and thus be able to capture the lightning.

If the ND filter doesn’t let in too much light, then we won’t get a good image. On the other hand, if the ND filter lets in too much light, then we won’t be able to extend the exposure for the necessary time. The amount of light during the day forces us to change the ND filter.

No filter will allow us to reproduce the same conditions that occur during the night and it will be useless to try to use the same technique that we would use then.

Burst shooting of photos at calculated intervals?

Most current digital cameras can shoot bursts of pictures quite fast (5-10 photos per second) for several seconds without any inconvenience. We can measure the time between lightning and shoot a continuous burst for as long as the internal memory of the camera can hold us to try to capture the lightning that should appear during that interval.

The disadvantage of this method is that the intervals vary a lot. The frequency between lightning bolts depends on many factors, and this entails a very high cost of shots that can be translated into a premature exhaustion of the camera’s shutter without having obtained the photo that we wanted.

What do we have left?

Well, we still have the option to make video. Video is comprised of between 25 and 29.97 “frames per second” (framerate in Hz). Setting it to the maximum resolution that the camera allows us, we can record, for example, at 4K and obtain an image resolution of 3840 × 2160 px, which is enough to print images and publish online.

In addition, it respects the camera’s shutter and the natural lighting conditions of the moment. If we can configure the camera at framerate of 60 or 120 Hz we can also have a sequence of how the lightning spreads in the cloud, which is very curious.