How to take a magnificent picture of the thunder striking in nature? This is one of the question that you might ask in case there’s a thunderstorm around you.

It’s quite simple actually, but you will have to have a Tripod and DSLR camera set to Manual mode. On that throw some patience and a space that is not prone to thunder strikes.

thunderstorm in tetovo
The final picture after some reworks. Picture taken in Tetovo by me, on a sever thunderstorm

Where to start

First things first. Make sure the battery on your camera is fully charged so it can last for some time. Also, forget the umbrella and find yourself a raincoat. You don’t want to be a lightning rod in the middle of a thunderstorm. It would be ideal if you have an open area with a high roof above you. Mostly because you don’t want your camera wet by the weather. For me, my location was the balcony.

Step 2: Get set

Put your tripod on and make sure it’s as stable as it gets. [NOTE: Some tripods have an option to put weights on them] Set your camera on it and get ready for taking pictures. Keep in mind to take pictures in RAW format (NEF on Nikon) so you can edit it later. Now there are two options for taking these pictures. One is a bit easy the other one is kind of painful process where your finder will go numb.

#1 – The painful option

  • Set the shutter speed to BULB
  • Put the ISO to 100
  • Set the aperture to f.20 to 22 (totally your choice)
  • Put the focus to Manual and set it almost close to infinity

After you have these settings done, press and hold the shutter release. With the shutter speed set to BULB, the shutter stays open as long as you hold the shutter release pressed. If you happen to capture a thunder strike like this, all you have to do is put your finger away and you have a picture. All you have to do is edit it a bit in Lightroom and you are done.

#2 – The easy way

For this step to work for you, your camera has to support time lapse mode (I have a Nikon D5200 so i believe all models that fall in that category should have it). If you have this option you can continue to the setting which are:

  • Shutter speed to “30
  • ISO to 100
  • Aperture to f.20 to 22 (totally your choice)
  • Focus set to Manual and set it almost close to infinity

Next go to the menu on your camera (For this post i’m going with my Nikon), and within the shooting menu find Interval timer shooting. Once inside choose Now, and set the interval. I’ve set the interval to 30 seconds for this picture, and I’ve put around 100 pictures. When you continue on the screen which prompts you with “Start” press ok and it will start taking pictures instantly. You can find the entire settings here.

Now sit and enjoy the storm while you camera does the job for you.

There is only one flaw with this method there is a delay between taking pictures, mostly because the camera processor takes time to process the taken image. This will impact your time when taking pictures and you might miss some thunder strikes.

The wrap

Once you are done, you can play a bit with the picture and how it looks like in Photoshop and Lightroom. The second method produces a large amount of pictures that when put together can give you a nice time lapse like the one below.

thunderstorm time lapse

The final pictures can be seen a bit up on the beginning of this post.