Friday, July 24, 2009

Duck and Cover

This is my first attempt at this type of picture. I've always loved those cool pictures of lightning. Colorado Springs has a lot of lightning, but it's usually not visible to a large extent, at least near where I live.

Last weekend when I went to Albuquerque I ran into an amazing sunset. I wanted to get to the hotel a descent hour and passed the photo-op by. I reckoned that I'd have a good chance the next evening. Armed with some suggestions from my cousin Leslie, my mom and I took off for a spot up near the Volcanoes. I setup my tripod and took a few test shots. I was good to go! Only the weather didn't cooperate. I started seeing lightning from an approaching storm. In the back of my mind, I keep thinking of how lightning and a metal tripod would interact. I pulled out a list of alternative spots that Leslie suggested. With my eye on the evolving sunset, I drove around and tried a few. Sadly, none of the spots offered the view I was looking for.

By the time the sunset was history I had no photos worth keeping. However, the lightning from the storm was putting a quite a show. We started brainstorming on where to find a good vantage point with which to capture this show. I used to live in Albuquerque, but left almost 20yrs ago. I remembered a “make-out” spot of old and guessed that it would be a good vantage point. We had to drive all the way across town to reach it. We followed a couple of dead ends, but finally found it. It turns out that it is a decent spot, not great, but OK. It’s also still a “make-out” spot. It was a bit strange being there with my mom (not to mention a camera – what a perv, right?).

I took around 30 shots, each 2-3 minutes of exposure. This final photo is a stack of 5 photos that actually captured lightning (while still being sharp). I mentioned in the Storm I post of the difficulty of using a gorilla pod to attach to a car window. Because this is not a steady arrangement for the camera, the camera shifted position between some of the shots making it a challenge to align the photos for the stack in post production.

For those interested in trying the same sort of shot, here’s what I did:
  • Used the shortest focal length I have (17mm) to capture as much of the sky as possible
  • Put the camera in manual mode and used a fairly small aperture (f/11).  You need good DOF and a long enough shutter to randomly capture lightning bolts, but not too long as to get a lot of noise.
  • Focused at the approximate hyperfocal distance
  • Used a cable release to minimize vibrations when taking the shot
  • Stack the photos (fairly complicated procedure that I'm not sure I could explain)
  • After stacking the photos, cropped out the uninteresting upper section of the sky

This composition has room for a lot of improvement, but I’m happy with this first attempt.

Be sure to visit Sky Watch Friday for more views of the sky.

18 comments:

James said...

Fantastic picture. I've never been able to capture lightning in a picture.
Great job!

Sylvia K said...

That is a totally awesome shot! Fantastic and dramatic with gorgeous colors and the lightening! Wow! Ya done good, Russ!
Have a great weekend.
Sylvia

Gaelyn said...

Russ, this is awesome. Hard enough to get a good shot of lightning, plus all the driving around for the right location. Must have been funny to be at the old make-out place with your Mom. And the layering is very well done.

Bryan said...

Awesome. I've always wanted to try this. The bolts vary in brightness more than I thought they would.

Photo Cache said...

Totally awesome. When I get a good camera I would try this.

Unseen Rajasthan said...

Beautiful shot !! This is fantastic..I loved this post..Unseen Rajasthan

Linda said...

Great capture, well done.

Tricia said...

Awesome Awesome shot! You captured an excellent photo

Have a great weekend

Chris said...

Fantastic Russ, your explanation was way over my head but I don't care as long as you keep posting photos like that. I laughed at the thought of you and your Mum with a camera at the "makeout" spot

Marka said...

The result looks very good to me. Photographing lighting is not something I've attempted as of yet, and I'll keep your suggestions in mind when I do.

Linnea W said...

What a great story about how you captured this amazing scene! Glad you didn't get "struck"!

Nicole said...

That's amazing.
A shot you can say "WOW" without feeling bad :)

And yeah, metal tripod and lightning out in the open might end up not so good :)

Barbara said...

This is an absolutely great capture. It has a great Wow factor. Enjoy your weekend. Barbara

J Bar said...

Awesome.
Sydney - City and Suburbs

Steve B said...

I've been wanting to do this kind of shot for years! We just do not have the correct conditions here in the east to pull off a quality shot like this. Outstanding!

VALKYRIEN said...

I am so impressed! First it is a awesome photo - but i know too well it is a difficult task to take photos of lightning! Brilliant! And thank you for good info!

Russ said...

Thanks all! I highly recommend doing something like this as its a lot of fun!!

joshi daniel said...

that's excellent and i still don't have a lightning image!