Lightning Photography

Although I already have some good pictures in my portfolio, I wanted to know if there were any special techniques or equipment to make lightning photography a bit safer. This might be a bit like asking if there's any safer way to swallow swords, but I thought I heard about a device that allows you to isolate your camera outside the vehicle.

There's always going to be a risk, but if there's anything out there that helps one to avoid becoming a statistic, I'd be interested to hear about it.
 
What do you shoot with? If you use a 20D, this is your best bet for remote controlling the camera from your car:

Canon LC-5 Wireless Controller Set

Lets you fire the shutter from up to 100 yards away. Pricey as heck though. If you use the digital Rebel, you can use this:

Canon RC-1 remote

Nowhere near the range, but only $25. Note that you HAVE to be in front of the camera to use the RC-1, which kinda makes it hard to use without being in the shot (unless you're using telephoto). You may be able to get kinda outta the way and still use it too -- I dunno, I don't have one. :)

If you're shooting Nikon, then I dunno -- I've never seen a wireless remote for sale for Nikon. There probably is such a thing, though.

If you're using a P&S digital, then you should invest in rubber boots. ;)

There are also some lightning triggers out there -- devices that fire the shutter when it detects a flash of light. Not sure how well these work, but if you google "lightning trigger", you'll probably find a few. here is a review of one of them.
 
I seem to remember seeing a pneumatic cable release some time ago at the local camera store here. They sold it and I have never seen another one. It had a long, clear tube with a large plastic chamber that you squeezed, kind of like a blood pressure instrument.

That's all well and good unless you have a manual camera like me and have to advance the film. My method is wait for a nearby strike to happen, immediately run out, wind the film, open the shutter, and quickly get back in the car :)
 
Originally posted by Dan Robinson
I seem to remember seeing a pneumatic cable release some time ago at the local camera store here. They sold it and I have never seen another one. It had a long, clear tube with a large plastic chamber that you squeezed, kind of like a blood pressure instrument.

That'd work if you have a mechanical plunger type cable release like in a Pentax K-1000 or a Olympus OM-1... most new stuff is electronic and wouldn't take a mechnical plunger.
 
Originally posted by Ryan McGinnis
That'd work if you have a mechanical plunger type cable release like in a Pentax K-1000 or a Olympus OM-1... most new stuff is electronic and wouldn't take a mechnical plunger.

Ahh - that's right...that would be a problem. If you could find a cheap electronic remote, you might be able to crack it open and manually fire the shutter using a mechanical conection that closed a switch pneumatically or with a radio signal. Buy a $20 RC car from Radio Shack, take the steering actuator out of the car and use it to fire the shutter on the electronic release.
 
I will tell you the thing thats gets my goat...I am not sure about the Canon cameras but the Nikon D70 has a remote and it is not much money at all but the thing is the sensor for the remote is in the front of the camera which makes it hard to open and close from the back of the camera if you were in a car or something like that..I guess maybe if you were on the side of the camera it might work but I am for the most part where the camera is located which is under the back door of the Jeep...Works good
 
I shoot with a Canon Rebel XT, and there are two remotes available for it; the credit-card sized remote that works on IR and the wire remote. To work the credit-card remote, you have to be in front of the camera, which I always found to be detrimental to the kind of photography we're doing here. I bought the wired remote, and it works well, but it would also make a nice conductor, too :shock:

Actually, the idea of cannibalizing a cheap RC car is a way cool idea. I could take the wired remote apart, and maybe use a subminiature relay as a switch!

I just don't like the idea of being a target, as I had some rather close calls last year. You know when you feel the charge on your body and the heat on your face that you're way to close. Still though, it's damn beautiful, isn't it?
 
You know when you feel the charge on your body and the heat on your face that you're way to close.

Yike. I've been shooting lightning for 9 years and have not felt that. Heard stories like that from fishermen; they were in imminent danger. Careful y'all -
 
ok first of all i'd like to thank everyone on this site for all the usefull info that led me to my first tornado after about 7 years of chasing. I caught the Beatrice, and Hanover tornados this year. This is my first post so please bear with me, i'm still a noob and I strongly believe that the only stupid question is one not asked. That being said my question is this:....

I just bought a Traveler dc-8300 8.1 mp dig cam with a tripod( http://www.traveler-service.com/front_content.php?idcat=182 ) It takes great pics but i'm having issues with the night shots, I've tried to film lightning several times on several settings but i always end up with a pure black image. I even tried to use the video capture setting and got the same results.

Will someone please give a noob some tips? Or maybe steer me in a direction that will help me out
 
That being said my question is this:....

I just bought a Traveler dc-8300 8.1 mp dig cam with a tripod( http://www.traveler-service.com/front_content.php?idcat=182 ) It takes great pics but i'm having issues with the night shots, I've tried to film lightning several times on several settings but i always end up with a pure black image. I even tried to use the video capture setting and got the same results.

Will someone please give a noob some tips? Or maybe steer me in a direction that will help me out
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Joe,

From the data page:

Shutter speed 1/2 ~ 1/1500 sec.

I'm pretty sure this is the problem. Most night scenes are fairly dark (doh! :blink: ) and will require longer shutter times to accumulate sufficient light. Set the ISO as high as it will go, and open up the aperture to the max, or near max (numericaly smaller values) value. Then try some twilight pictures, and take note of when the camera starts to "loose it." You might also manage to get enough light from a bright city.

Pictures like this should be doable.

Within these limits, lightning is certainly possible - just 'blaze away' with those 1/2 sec. exposures. At these high ISO/aperture settings, you may have problems with the lightning getting 'blown out.' Stopping down or reducing the CCD sensitivity will fix the problem, but will also darken the overall scene. Try to find a workable balance.


Regarding John's safety question. I'm going to try building a portable field charge meter, a homebrew version of Boltek's System. I don't know how well local sky charge peaks predicts nearby CG strikes, but will experiment. If this can offer a few seconds' notice, that would be enough time to dive into the car (or bend over and kiss my butt goodbye!)

-Greg
 
Hi Joe,

the main problem is the 1/2 sec shutter speed being the longest that the camera has..

you may have to do many, many 1/2 sec exposures before you jst happen to strike a
lightning discharge within that 1/2 sec exposure period.

I find that doing 15-20 sec exposures that are do-able on my digital cam guarantees that
in an active storm I can easily get one zap captured and often maybe 2-3.

a LONG shutter speed setting is ALWAYS one of my main criteria when buying a new camera
Digital cams ( ie CCD imagers) suffer from thermal noise the longer the exposure is done
the amount of noise and exposure length is governed by 2 main factors
1) the quality of the CCD imaging chip 2) the inbuilt processing software in the camera
as time goes by, technology improvements will reduce the amount of noise seen in longer and
longer digital exposures

( in astronomy ... to overcome this problem ... astrophotographers would take many...
often 12 or more shorter exposure images and them combine (stack) them, in software
to produce an overall equivelent of a 10-20 min exposure

on a SLR film camera where most have infinite time in the 'B' setting, unlimited in the old
totally manual cams or only limited by battery life in the newer ones you can then produce
some of those awesome multi strike images that have surfaced over the years.

one of best that comes to mind was over Kitt Peak observatories in AZ where there were more
than 15 strikes recorded in the one long exposure

( as an aside.... my fellow astronomy friend and I used to do exposures of up to 30 minutes
through the telescope of deep space objects)

hope that gives some insight :)

Dave N
Sydney
OZ
 
Information about possible lightning equipment photography

I reviewed a book that has some possible information for those on this thread.

Hacking Digital Cameras
by Chien Cheng and Auri Rahimzadeh

Has information about making/building
triggers
controlling digital camera from afar
Improving your canon digital rebel
extending the lens on canon digital rebel
a car camera mount
flash memory hacks
a headrest camera mount


and much more


if are interested in the full review
send me an email and I will send you my review

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the Nikon D70 has a remote ..... the sensor for the remote is in the front of the camera which makes it hard to open and close from the back of the camera if you were in a car or something like that..
[/b]

Try getting a small mirror and placing it at a 45 degree angle in front of the sensor on the camera (If possible without getting in the way of the lens. This should help at least for a temporary fix.

Also, if it is IR. Get a pair of IR extendors. I have a set at home. You can put one receiver in front of the tv and the transmitter in another room, so you can use the remote from the other room.
 
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