Photographing Lightning Storms

eiffel tower lightning strike
Photographing lightning is part skill, part dumb luck. - by M. G. Loppé

One of the greatest challenges in photography that’s also the most fun when it works out is catching pictures of lightning.

The challenge is getting a snapshot of something moving 140,000 miles per hour and generating temperatures upwards of 54,000 degrees Fahrenheit. Once you solve those two problems, it’s a breeze.

There are 16 million lightning storms in the world every year, so with a little patience and pre-planning, you’ll get your chance.

Some basic safety rules, which are mostly common sense. You want to get pictures of the lightning, not get up close and personal with it. That means being careful when working in open areas and elevated vantage points. Aluminum tripods make great conducting rods and you don’t want to become the path of least resistance. I was covering a series of devastating storms in western Tennessee, getting some great lightning shots, when I noticed my tripod started tingling with static electricity. That was my clue that it was time to go.

Another basic precaution is a rain sleeve for your camera. A tripod that’s light enough to just grab and run is another advantage. A cheap plastic tripod is better for lightning photography than high end aluminum or carbon graphite.

For camera settings I leave AWB on and turn auto-focus off. Auto-focus has a hard time in poorly lit scenes and rain drops can fool some of them into shifting back and forth looking for a focal point. Just turn it off.

You’ll want to use your camera’s “B” or Bulb setting and I’d recommend a remote release  instead of trying to hold the shutter release button with your hand.

I generally start with ISO 400 at f/5.6 and make adjustments based on what shows up on the LCD screen.

If you’re working in the dark, the process is simple. Point the camera, set the focus to infinity, open the shutter and wait until you get a couple good bolts in the right area.

If there’s enough light for a long exposure, you won’t need to use the bulb setting, just let the camera handle the exposure and notice how the best lightning flashes seem to be able to sense when the shutter is closed. I’m kidding, it’s all the luck of the draw.

Just be careful, stay aware of your surroundings and when you can’t count three between the flash and the thunder, get under shelter.

The Trend Toward Real Time Photography

wedding photos
Brides waiting three weeks for photos is a relic of the past - by Joxemai

Justin Ng is a photographer with over 130,000 people on his Facebook page, numbers that would make some Fortune 500 companies blush with envy. What’s funny is that Justin didn’t even start out life as a photographer, he started out as a Windows developer and PHP programmer.

Now he’s getting between 50 and 60 inquiries a month to shoot weddings.

But Justin managed to hit on a trend in wedding and event photography that has been building for some time; the trend toward real-time display of event images, as the event is happening.

Justin Ng developed a smart phone app that guests and those unable to attend the ceremony can download and watch the wedding photos pop up in real time. There’s even a feature that allows guests to download high resolution copies of the images they like.

The trend is not a surprise and anyone in wedding and event photography should be educating themselves about the technical realities of how such a setup might work. While you may not be able to develop your own smart phone app, you could still use an assistant with a laptop and wifi connection to do almost the same thing.

Other options may include gadgets like Eye-Fi’s wireless SDHC cards. There are also attachments for your camera that will transmit files wirelessly. The tech pieces are out there and the market will belong to those adaptable enough to figure out how to use them.

The trend is making itself known in subtle ways. One feature many brides are opting for are monitors at the reception that play slideshows of the wedding photos. Other services, such as having a CD or DVD with wedding images ready for guests by the time they leave, are gaining popularity.

Social media options are also gaining popularity. Having at least a few of the wedding photos up on Facebook and other social media sites the same day, is almost an expectation with many tech savvy couples today.

All of these real-time inroads will put pressure on everyone in wedding and event photography to step up their tech game, both in terms of real time photos and turn-around times for image processing. The days of waiting three months for wedding photos are a footnote in history, even waiting three weeks is out of the question for many brides. Many are calling about their photos in three days and are annoyed they have to wait that long!

Regardless, the time to start exploring your technology options is today. Waiting until the services are pre-bundled and available commercially could well be too late.

Getting Started In Stock Photography

stock photography photo
People are popular subjects for stock photography

You won’t find many people motoring around the Intercoastal Waterway on an 80 foot motor yacht named Stock Photography, unless they happen to own the company. But, while you may not be able to spring for that 2010 80’ Azimut Cruiser on what you make from stock photography, if you can shoot at a level above most other photographers you can, over time, build a nice side income from microstock images.

Like many things in life, microstock photography is a business and you need to approach it like one if you expect to make any money. Pulling out a handful of your favorite images and sending them in is almost a guarantee of being rejected. Sending family photos with harsh, front light shadows, no matter how goofy your family may look, will almost certainly be similarly rejected. In fact, your photos can be magical and still get rejected, so don’t get depressed. Time is your ally.

Job one will visiting microstock sites and spend a lot of time reading the guidelines for submissions. All will provide exhaustive detail about what they do and do not want. Some will have specific guidelines within individual categories, a few will make suggestions about specific needs.

Every stock photo for commercial use that has an identifiable person will require a model release. If you do not have a model release, the company may still offer the image for editorial uses, but you’re still farther ahead getting a release. Some agencies don’t just want any release, they want their release. Make sure you know the requirements.

Some agencies will offer exclusive arrangements, some do not. There are advantages both ways, so do your research before accepting one.

You have the camera and the skill, now here are a few suggestions for good places to start in microstock photography.


iStockPhoto was one of the first microstock agencies and is still considered one of the more lucrative. Not surprisingly, it’s also the one more likely to reject a first submission. They also require new submitters to take a test to insure they understand the submission guidelines.


ShutterStock is popular and a steady earner because of their subscription model for customers. Customers will frequently download more images than they really need and earnings for photographers tend to pile up faster.


DreamsTime is popular with photographers because of their generous commission schedule, which can run from 50 to 80 percent for contributors. To get approved you can submit up to 10 photos.


Fotlia is a relative newcomer to the microstock business but is building a solid reputation with both photographers and commercial customers. They do have a reputation of being a low-cost provider, so this may not be your biggest earner.

Studio Lighting Series – Basic Five Point Lighting

The basic five point lighting setup adds two kickers at 45 degree angles to the subject

This is another installment of a long series of articles shot and composed with the help of professional photographer Karl Leopold at in Melbourne Beach, Florida. Karl is one of the top photographers in the area and president of the Atlantic Professional Photographers Association and graciously opened his studio up to us and lent his expertise for this series.

So far in this series we’ve covered basic three point lighting, lighting ratios, and lighting styles. Today it’s time to look at a basic five point lighting setup.

Just to review the equipment we used in this series:

The camera was a Canon 7D with a 28-135mm zoom set at my best approximation to 85mm.

We used 1/125th of a second throughout and either f/11 with a dark background or f/13 with the light background.

Our key is an Alien Bees 800 in a Fomex rectangular softbox.

Our fill is an identical Alien Bees 800 in an Octodome.

Our hair light is an Ultra 1800.

the kickers
These are the kickers set to light the white background

This time we’re going to two Alien Bees 400’s in homemade softboxes with diffusion gratings as “kickers”. We’ll have the kickers set out of frame at 45 degree angles to the subject with the power set at -2 stops from the fill, roughly the same as the hair light. The kickers and hair light were set in slave mode, only the key and fill were on PocketWizard radio triggers.

We’ll use the kickers two different ways: One to help separate the subject from the background by providing some extra back light around the shoulders. The other way we’ll use them is we turn the kickers around, away from the subject, to blow out a white background.

In the two photos the difference the kickers make is readily apparent. The hair really pops with uniform highlights and the back shoulder achieves better separation from the background. We also got a little blow back from the white jacket, which shows up in the light areas of the background pattern. It’s a subtle but significant difference. I like the photo with the kickers much better.

before and after
The kickers make a big difference separating the subject from the background

Finally we turned the kickers around and used them to blow out a white background. In the last picture it’s obvious we could have bumped the power even more, there’s still some gray in the background. Next time I’d go +2 full stops on the kickers and raise them up a little higher to really swat the background and prevent the gradient effect that’s still visible. We also lost the hair highlights, but they would have been largely lost on white background anyway.

five point lighting
This was taken with the kickers turned toward the background

Giving Back Through Photography

photograph of poor family
You can use photography to help others and draw attention to the plight of the less fortunate

There are many opportunities for photographers to get involved helping others. It’s a great way to gain experience, add to your portfolio, and give back at the same time.

You’ll find there are a lot of ways to lend your artistic expertise to charities and aid your fellow man.  And a few of them will fund worthy projects with grants and awards.

Here are just a few ways you can help.


Started by celebrity photographer Jeremy Cowart, Help-Portrait is a community of photographers using their photography skills to help people in their local area by making professional portraits available those who wouldn’t normally couldn’t afford such services.

Help-Portraits can be a tool to help job hunters, the homeless, or drawing attention to the plight of the needy. It’s your chance to do something you love for the benefit of others less fortunate.

Collective Lens

Collective Lens is a 501(c)3 organization that promotes social change through visual awareness. They let the photographer pick the cause and anyone can upload photos.

At Collective Lens you’ll find photo essays on poverty, disease, famine and other weighty issues.

Photo Philanthropy

Photo Philanthropy takes a slightly different tact by lining up photographers with worthy causes and non-profit entities working for social change.

This organizations sponsors the PhotoPhilanthropy Activist Award every year that provides a platform for photo essays, and also awards cash prizes to non-profits and photographers throughout the year.

Blue Earth

Promotes conservation photography to deliver striking images of endangered animals and environments.

Blue Earth accepts proposals and funds the projects most in line with their mission statement. With the deadline for submission coming up in January, 2012, this would a good time think about a proposal if you have an idea.