Lightning is always a great photographic subject, one that can be frustrating. And this record-hot year has provided little chance to shoot summer thunderstorms around Pratt, where I live. So when a cool front finally moved through yesterday and blew up a lightning storm, I went hunting for good video. Starting at dusk, I got some decent streak lightning – nothing spectacular – before those small storm cells raced away.
And then radar showed a big cell approaching from the northwest at around 11:00 p.m. I hoped for some good cloud-to-cloud forked lightning, but that really didn’t happen. Heading northeast of town to a dark sky area where few farmstead electric lights interfered, I turned on the video camera and was disappointed at how poorly it rendered what I could see.
The sky was quite beautiful, with a full moon and stars to the west, and big, billowing thunderheads illuminated by moonlight against the eastern darkness. Near-constant lightning within the clouds lit them internally here and there, but as clear as it looked to the naked eye, the video camera just couldn’t capture things as I’d hoped. So I got what I got, edited it down to a few mundane video clips, and then headed back to get a still camera to take to Pratt County Lake near midnight.
I knew the D300 Nikon with an 18-70mm zoom could be set to better represent the moonlit clouds on still frames. So I put the camera on a tripod and set it manually for a 30-second exposure at f/4, using only 400 ISO to reduce digital noise and grain. A test shot confirmed the accuracy of this combination. The long exposure gathered enough light, and the resulting shots were more like it, maintaining the “feel” of darkness while preserving the light show.
Unfortunately, the storm had moved steadily away and opportunities were waning. So I shot a dozen frames, playing with the exposure a little here and there. And then I headed in to call it a night, a little more in touch with the Kansas outdoors, with some nice photos to remember the trip.