For two years now, I am trying to capture every thunderstrom that crosses my way, and recently it worked! But it was a long, hard way, and much luck is needed to get great shoots. Here are some basics to try in every thunderstorm situation.
The most important part is, that really EVERYBODY around you knows about your passion. They will always keep you updated when they see a thunderstorm. Sometimes you just miss it because you’re going to bed early or you are watching the wrong window. This is at least what helped me for my first big shoot: I was already asleep, when my niece ran into the room, crying “Get up, get up! We are sitting at the beach and there’s a great thunderstorm over the sea!”. Within a minute I got my Lubitel and ran behind her to the beach bar.
First rule: LET EVERYBODY KNOW ABOUT YOUR PASSION
The first time I tried it, I was a real beginner… I already knew that I should hold the shutter open for a very long time, but tried it during the day. The films were completly burned! I wasted about two or three great slide films that way, so here’s the basic second rule: ONLY TRY IT AT NIGHT
Sometimes people ask me how I got that lucky to capture exactly that second when the lightning came. That’s not magic, just remember the third rule: AS YOU SHOOT AT NIGHT, YOU CAN LEAVE THE SHUTTER OPEN FOR A LONG TIME
A long time means for me about 10 to 15 minutes, depending on how much lightnings you want on the picture. When the clouds get really bright during the thunderstorm, maybe use a shorter exposure time. Experiment a bit. When you keep it too short the pictures can get too dark. Fourth rule: TRY DIFFERENT EXPOSURE TIMES
You can not do it with every camera, for example the LC-A+ won’t work that easy because it has very short exposure times. I’d recommand the Diana F+, Diana Mini, or Lubitel. Don’t forget a cable release when possible! Rule five: USE A CAMERA WHICH HAS A BULB (B) SETTING
I only have very few pictures which are underexposed, because lighntnings are really bright. Only with ISO 50 film and the aperture 4,5 I got one that was too dark. Rule six: USE A VERY SMALL APERTURE
Simple but also effective, is the cutting of the picture. When the thunderstorm is far away, it’s just covering a small part of your picture. Especially when you use medium format film you can cut it and still have a picture as big as a 35mm film. Rule seven: CHOOSE YOUR BEST SIZE BY CUTTING THE PICTURE
Here are some examples from my tries that were not successful. Sometimes, taking pictures in front of the window may seem boring, but you should try it anyway.
Don’t forget to watch the wheather forecast to be well prepared! Never leave your tripod and cable release at home when a thunderstorm is forcasted. Maybe you know some good websites that inform about thunderstorms around. I’d be happy if you post them in the comments! For example this is a nice one for the center of europe: ==www.blids.de=="//www.blids.de (Germany, Suisse, Austriche, Netherlands, Great Britain)
Again, all the rules together:
1. LET EVERYBODY KNOW ABOUT YOUR PASSION
2. ONLY TRY IT AT NIGHT
3. AS YOU SHOOT AT NIGHT, YOU CAN LEAVE THE SHUTTER OPEN FOR A LONG TIME
4. TRY DIFFERENT EXPOSURE TIMES
5. USE A CAMERA WHICH HAS A BULB (B) SETTING
6. USE A VERY SMALL APERTURE
7. CHOOSE YOUR BEST SIZE BY CUTTING THE PICTURE
And last but not least:
FORGET ABOUT ALL RULES!