How to photograph lightning with your iPhone

By , Sep 7, 2013

iPhone Photography Series

Lightning photography is all about timing. If you’re shooting a DSLR you can use all sorts of tricks like super long exposures and lightning triggers. With our mobile phones, we have to be a bit more creative. I thought I would share a few quick tips to improve your chances of photographing nature that happens in a fraction of a second.

In this iPhone photography lesson, I’ll show you several techniques about how to photograph lightning with your iPhone…

Lightning

Quick Release

The easiest way to improve your chances to catch a lightning bolt is to make sure you are ready to release the shutter quickly. Remember way back to our earliest lesson, the iPhone camera actually shoots the photo when you release the shutter button, not when you press it. That being said, make sure you finger is on the trigger, then pull it off when you see the flash.

Turn HDR On

If you remember back to another early lesson, you know that when HDR is enabled, your iPhone is going to take a bunch of images and blend the exposures. Taking a bunch of images with one click is a great way to tilt the odds in your favor. Just make sure you have ‘Save Original Image’ set to ‘On’ in your camera settings.

Lock Your Exposure and Focus

You don’t want your iPhone making any decisions when you take the photo, that will slow it down, so make sure you lock your exposure and focus before hand.

Watch The Scene, Not The Screen

You’ll be tempted to watch the screen as you wait for the next flash, but it’s better to watch the scene in the distance with your own eyes. That way you can see entire scene and anticipate the next bolt. When you see the flash, just release the shutter.

Crop, Don’t Zoom

With lightning you have to play it safe, and be far from the storm. Because you are far away, you’ll probably want to zoom in a bit to get a better composition. Don’t! You never know where that next bolt is going to come from so try to get as much landscape as you can in the shot. Then, after you have captured the bolt, corp your composition in post production.

Be Safe

Lightning is no joke and needs to be respected. Don’t take any chances. If you have any questions about lightning safety, make sure you read this.

By now, you know what to do. If you happen to have a get that great shot of a lightning bolt, tag your photos with #iDBLightning so we call see them. Storm season is almost over here in Colorado, but I’ll try to get some so feel free to follow me in Instagram (@JustinBalog) as I chase a few storms.

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  • DevXav

    Thank you very much for the hints! Will try them for sure!

  • Ricky

    Nice tips but i dont think i will be seeing any lightning for the next few months hahaha

  • Willie

    Would be good if you have those burst shot apps!

  • Max Kas

    I thought this article was just going to say “take a video” ;)

    • Steelahlive

      hehe – That’s what I thought too – and my method as well.

  • Mark Thmas

    The best way I have found to capture lightening is to video record a few minutes (hopefully in that time you will capture some). After you’re done filming it you can scrub through and screen shit your lightening capture. Hope this helps!

    • Mark Thmas

      I just posted a couple photos on my instagram and twitter account, @zKINGb

    • Der Faust

      i have never grammer nazied…..but……you misspelled “shot”….. ….but if i were you i would leave it :)…..hilarious…. i have made that typo more than once :X….. carry on :)

      • Mark Thmas

        Lol maybe I should learn to proof read…

      • Jonathan

        Yes, yes you should.

  • QuarterSwede

    Using the camera button in the video app is the easiest way. It’ll give you the best low light performance with less noise as well. Sometimes I just take a short video and take a screenshot of the bolt. It’ll be lower res but it’s a guaranteed way to get the shot.

    • ✪ aidan harris ✪

      I have an app called “Fast Camera” which is amazing for things like this. You can change many options for example take photos in full resolution or take photos faster but in VGA resolution. You literally just open the app though and it immediately starts taking photos…

  • Matt

    The best way bar none is an app called Fast Camera…I got some sick lightning shots on my G+ page using just that app

  • ✪ aidan harris ✪

    “The easiest way to improve your chances to catch a lightning bolt is to make sure you are ready to release the shutter quickly.”

    No problems there on iOS 7. I can’t be the only person to notice this but I do not know what it is that Apple has done to the camera app but it is now insanely fast at taking photos.

    • Zero

      You’re not the only one, I have also notice that too

    • mehrab

      Also grabbing up the camera from the lock screen is like instantaneously WICKED fast on my 4s,5,mini and whatever ios 7 devicelol

    • Jonathan

      Good.

  • Alejandro Maximo Marez

    Great tips.

  • Wesley Wilkerson

    iLightningCam is the by far best app to capture lightning

  • Giorgis Tsiligiorgis

    where can i find the wallpaper from the first image?

  • Jonathan

    I took this with an app called iLightningcam. This is my best shot. I’ve taken several ones similar, but this is the best.
    (tagging on Instagram)

  • mav3rick

    Very good points for a photog. These can apply in other harsh circumstances when taking a photo is not so easy.

  • At

    Great tips, it’s funny I’m reading this. Not too long ago I stood outside trying to catch a bolt for 45 min until
    Finall catching a little baby bolt lol.