If you live or ever have been to Colorado’s Front Range and near Pikes Peak in the summer time, then you know there are frequent afternoon/evening thunderstorms! I captured this lightning image from a couple of weekends ago while viewing from a window at my home. I gave it a name, “Thor’s Dance.”
The image you see did not happen in a single instance. This image is actually a blend of several images. In this case, six images were used. Most very dramatic lightning images with multiple strikes you may have seen in social media have been created this way.
I always shoot in RAW format, so I first pulled these images into Adobe Camera Raw, adjusted for tone, and then opened these as layers into Photoshop. After I decided on my base layer, the other layers above were switched to the blending mode of “Lighten”to only let the brightest parts of those images show. I then used layer masks on each of the Lighten layers to mask out bright areas that I did not want in the final image (the image looked very blotchy and weird in the clouds if I didn’t do this step).
The other image is of the gear set-up I used to get the images. The rectangular shaped object on top of the camera is a lightning trigger. This trigger is very useful in that it only fires the shutter release when it detects a lightning flash. Without this device, then you may be lucky to capture a lightning bolt by manually pressing the shutter, or putting the camera’s shutter to automatic and it will capture hundreds of images where most will be throw-always. The lightning trigger is easier on your camera and gives you more successful lighting shots!
I captured the images in the afternoon so it was still fairly bright. I needed to keep a slow enough shutter speed to capture the lightning strikes. In this case, about a half a second is what I needed to capture the lightning strikes, but not over expose too much. To achieve that shutter speed, I needed to use a neutral density (ND) filter to stop down the exposure – square thing on the front of the lens. Here, I used a ND-8 filter (8 stops). A tripod is a must to maintain a sharp image at this speed.
This isn’t just a set-up and go do something else until the storm passes. As the storm passed over, the light was getting dimmer, so I had to frequently check my exposure and adjust the ISO to maintain my desired shutter speed and aperture.
The camera and lens I used is a Nikon D850 with a Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8. The base and ball-head you see in the image was not used for the lightning strikes and is only shown here to show the gear setup.
You don’t need a camera like mine to get great lightning shots. Most DSLR or mirror-less cameras that have a hot-shoe and/or a remote trigger plug-in port and a lens with filter thread will work, too