Storms are probably my favourite subject to shoot, especially lightning shots. I love the thrill of chasing them and the fact that the picture you get can’t really be copied or replicated. As photographers we all take ideas from others and try and replicate the ideas putting our own twist on what we see. Some people get really annoyed with this but I think its just part and parcel of the industry. For me, if someone wants to replicate a shot that I’ve taken then I think I must be doing something right, its not like I’m going around pretending to be the best photographer out there! That all said, getting that shot that cannot be replicated is quite cool but the bigger bit for me is the enjoyment of being out there witnessing it all.
We don’t get that many storms here in the UK so when a storm does brew up it’s a safe bet that I’ll try and get out there and see some of it, even if it means a long drive around the south of England! I’ll have a plan of where I’m going to go, what sort of pictures I will want to capture and what gear I will need…….. this usually all goes tits up though once I get in and amongst it for two main reasons. Number 1 – No matter how good you think you are you can’t predict the path of the storms (if the Metoffice can’t then I’m sure as hell I won’t be able to!) and number 2 – Once I get in and amongst it with the camera set, I’m eyes to the sky trying to take it in first hand. Its when I get back to the car, tired and usually dripping wet that I think, oh yeah, I was going to do some video as well wasn’t I!
This all said I do have some luck with the storms. This weekend just gone was a good example. Storms were being predicted and thankfully they managed to make it across the cold English Channel from France and continue long into the night. Quite surprising for this early in the year and after only a short period of warm weather (hopefully that’s not it for the summer heat for this year!) If you want to know a bit about how they materialise etc then this little clip from the BBC sums it up quite well https://www.bbc.co.uk/weather/features/28841751?ns_mchannel=social&ns_campaign=bbc_weather&ns_source=twitter&ns_linkname=news_central
The initial track showed the two storm lines tracking North/North East from France. I opted for the western one with what I thought would be the best chance of intercepting, probably into Devon, north of Exeter. Saturday afternoon traffic would mean a good 2 hours drive to get there so I set off. An hour or so into my journey I was chatting to a good friend and they were saying the storm was spreading out and also tracking further east. A quick turn to the south and I was soon down at West Bay near Bridport and watching the storm barrelling in. It was then that I had to think of composition and locations. A quick dash up the coast road towards Weymouth found me looking down over Chesil beach. Not a great composition but things were changing quickly so I quickly setup looking forward to see if the ‘MIOPS’ lightning trigger would work. Thankfully for me it did capturing a few shots that I would never have got manually. Sadly for me the rain came down and the storm pushed over the hill. With limited phone signal it was difficult to get a grip on the path of it and whether it was fizzling out or intensifying. After finally getting some good signal (joys of deepest darkest Dorset!) I realised it was going further north and not doing much.
Not deterred I checked the apps again to see more potential coming in from the channel again and other messages to me suggesting this from friends. The path of these looked to be between Weymouth and the Isle of White so middle ground of Swanage (home town) was set. On the way back into town a local fishing boat skipper messaged me to say ‘it was going off! And he was around 5 miles off Swanage’ He wasn’t far wrong. As I got to Peveril Point the sky was being lit up frequently with flashes of lightning. A quick setup in the dark and the following unfolded.
Best of all the rain was still not on us until the storm was just a mile or so away. After the rain started to fall it was time to retreat to one of the beach shelters. At the base of Victoria avenue is one and also the ‘Banjo Pier’ – a nice bit of foreground interest for the shots (shame about the tacky bins the council put there though!)
This was then base for the rest of the night, just me there to start with so a quick bit of Instagram live shooting (with plenty of me swearing) before being joined by a few other togs with the same idea. We were blessed with a fantastic storm that funnelled up past us and over the Isle of White before carrying on into the home counties.
Lets hope this is the start of a great summer for thunder storms, sorry if you don’t like them! 😉
The Kit – I’ve had a lot of questions on what kit I use and also what apps I use. The following is what was in the bags
· Main camera – Nikon D850 (really impressed with this!)
· Lenses – Nikon 20mm f1.8 and Nikon 24-70 f2.8
· Gopro 5
· Remote release
· MIOPS smart trigger www.miops.com (first time used and certainly seems to work)
· Manfrotto 055 tripod
You don’t need these specific items but what you will really need is a tripod, a camera that you can do long exposures with and a fairly wide lens. With this combo you have a chance.
Capturing lightning at night is easier than the day as you can set your camera for 20 – 30 second exposures and hope the lightning strikes between those times. Daytime lightning really needs a lightning sensor/trigger or flippin fast reactions! As for F stops and other settings will really depend on your kit and distance from the lightning. Most of the shots I shot were at around f4 – f8 with an iso of around 400 – 800. Also useful to know where your infinite focus point is on the lens – mark it so you can see it easily, helps in the dark!
APPS I use lots of apps for tracking and usually will have looked at various sites on the desktop before heading out. Following are a few of them
Lastly, don’t forget a waterproof coat and don’t get too close to the storms!
All of the images are available as prints, canvases etc. Drop me a line if you'd like one of these shots hanging on your wall.
Thanks and stay safe out there.