Photography IS MATH… just basic math. Everything works in relationship to everything else within the body of a camera.
Safety should absolutely be considered. Try to avoid using a METAL tripod. But you should have some type of stand… or stabilizer.
Personally, I try to NOT be under trees, or around a bunch of metal. I prefer being INSIDE something, and on cement, asphalt, or rubber when possible. I love OPEN AIR PARKING GARAGES, if I can get the angles… and up high enough to get over any buildings in the foreground. I’ve also shot from inside vehicles.
Often, with lightning, there is rain. So make sure you have something to cover your camera… and to wipe your lens… and to keep you dry (without metal… i.e., no umbrellas). I’ve used shopping bags and garbage bags if I didn’t have my usual camera rain gear with me. Rubber bands or those ponytail holders work great to hold the covers in place when it’s windy. Professional rain covers are available on line… and frankly, I really like the ‘camera poncho’ type setup WHEN you’re in a position where you don’t have to watch your back.
Remember, to have a faster shutter speed you’ll HAVE TO adjust either a faster ISO OR wider (smaller) aperture number.
It’s back to that pesky EXPOSURE TRIANGLE… vital to the foundation of photography, and more important than the rule of thirds, or golden hour, or any other ‘rule’ in the world of photography. It directly deals with the EXPOSURE… and what your ultimate LIMITATIONS and NEEDS really are.
Contrary to logic, the smaller the aperture number, the wider the opening, the more light comes in… therefore, you have to have either a faster shutter or slower ISO. So, f2.8 is WIDE OPEN (and usually more expensive), and almost all lens will close down to f22 (tiny opening inside the lens, little light allowed in, greater DOF (depth of field), and unless it’s really bright light coming into the lens… you’ll need either a slower shutter speed or higher ISO to compensate for the smaller aperture (larger f-stop number).
Sorta like the ASA rating on film back in the old days, the higher the ISO number the more ‘sensitive’ the camera’s sensor is to light (but the more ‘grainy’ it is, usually). However, having a great ISO range will allow you to shoot at narrower apertures (higher numbers, less light)… or faster shutter speeds (less light). But, with lightning and fireworks, you really want to control your ISO. Your camera will ‘see’ (sense) dark… and will attempt to set the ISO at it’s highest possibility. But you really want it as low as possible.
Remember, you are shooting lightning… MASSIVELY BRIGHT BURSTS OF LIGHT. I try to keep mine at 50 or 100, and seldom ever higher than 400… because I don’t want any graininess. But to start with, on many dSLRs you could leave your ISO in ‘auto’ mode, UNTIL you have the other two (shutter & aperture) figured out (for your setting & circumstances).
So, for shooting lightning… I usually start out at:
LOW ISO (50 or 100) (least light sensitive, least grainy… because I know there will be a massive flash of blinding light. Remember, you can always add a little light to dark things in post, but you can never add detail to ‘blown out’ (too bright white – light).
SLOW shutter speed (15 to 30 seconds), and
NARROW APERTURE (f22) sometimes higher (when I have lens that can do it… I have one that will go to f36, which is like a pin hole in the center of the inside of the lens… which requires a BULB MODE… and usually minutes of ‘shutter time’ to capture what I want).
For lightning, I’m always – 100% of the time, using MANUAL FOCUS. 99.999% of the time the best way to shoot lightning.
Focus: always MANUAL INFINITY – because if it is out of focus at ‘infinity’ – YOU ARE TOO DAMN CLOSE! Plus, if you don’t ‘manual focus’ – your camera will take too long to react & respond to your click of the shutter… and you’ll miss most shots.
Lightning & fireworks are pretty much the same, except you only have to point in one direction for fireworks, you’re usually closer, and you can usually speed up the shutter speed to about 1 to 5 seconds (rather than 15 to 30).
Lightning moves… changing distances, directions, and while ‘approximately’ predictable… it’s not ever, really. In general, when it’s happening, it’s usually in patterns… timed from the sounds of thunderous booms. If you learn to COUNT BETWEEN THE BOOMS, you can get an approximate idea of how far away it is. Sound travels at 1,215 feet per second (in dry still air)… about 1,000 feet per second in average storm (not hurricane or tornado)… therefore, if you counting the time between lightning flash and thunder you can guesstimate the distance from you to the last bolt you saw (that created the sound). A mile is 5,280 feet… so if there was a 5 second delay between the bolt and the thunder, it would be approximately 1 mile away, under normal circumstances.
Another point: If the ‘ambient light’ (city lights, street lights, business signs, etc.) are too bright, you can change your angle of view, OR add an ND filter (neutral density)… usually a +2 or +4, but there have been times I’ve had to ‘stack’ ND filters because I was ‘in the city’ and the surrounding lights were just too bright. A CPL (Circular Polarizer) can also help, but you’ll need to make sure it’s ‘turned correctly’ – so you are enhancing what you want. HOWEVER, using ND’s or a CP might ‘block out’ some bolts if they are too far away. You’ll just have to play with it, and don’t be afraid of looking at the live view once in a while. based on where you are.
If you have any questions, let me know.