Camera set-up for photographing lightning

Lightning Set-ups

I often get asked how I do my lightning pictures so I thought that I would take the time to show my current set-up. I have it tweaked so that it works really well. With this set-up I can shoot a storm and follow it across southern Alberta without a problem.

  • I run two cameras at a time usually set on different areas of the sky – sometimes even with different ISO, Shutter speed and aperture to get different effects
  • Camera settings (ISO, Shutter Speed and Aperture) will vary with the lightning
  • I like this set-up over using the tripod as it is safer and I am able to move to follow the storm easily with minimal packing
  • I also have a second vehicle for shooting from, if I am doing lightning from this unit I find a good spot and shoot the storm as it passed, it is designed to get to an area and shoot not to follow. It is a 4×4 truck and it has a camper on the back, with this I can go in the back and shoot with all the comforts of home, and more!
Canon 40D with wired remote shutter release. Works great without rain, or light rain. (For heavy rain I use the next set-up or a tripod set up under the tail gate for distant lightning). Lens usually is either a 17 – 85 or a 10 – 20 – depends on what the other camera has on.
Lightning 3
The thing I like about this vehicle is that the seat folds down and the laptop has its own table.
Lightning 2
Canon 40D with laptop and Canon capture software. Camera is on the dash so in heavy rains at night I can run the wipers to keep the window clear and I am inside in the dryness. Capture software can be set to timer mode to fire repeatedly.

Forgot to add – Shut the vehicle off when shooting, pictures will be sharper!

This is the inside of the second vehicle.  On the left past the closet door is a large window (out of this shot) that I shoot from.  I have done a number of animal pictures this way as after a few minutes the animals don’t even notice you. With photographing lightning or storms it is GREAT as I can be inside and have everything I need and more!

JPEG or RAW, what is the answer?

One of the questions that always comes up when I am teaching is “Do I use JPEG or RAW for shooting images in”? There is sooooo much information out there and most of it is either slightly off or very misleading.

Here is a quick rundown of the differences, If you have any additional questions feel free to ask!

So to start what is the difference between JPEG & RAW?

There are two big differences between shooting JPEG or RAW images, the first is that when you shoot your image and save it in JPEG it slightly compresses the image and you loose some of the data.  Is it a lot?  NO!  If you are only doing prints up to say 24×36 today’s cameras are so high in MP (megapixels) that it is not needed to shoot RAW for this reason unless you are going very large or you are really cropping the image.  I have many pictures on the wall at the Lethbridge studio that I can show you that were shot in JPEG and they look amazing.  The second difference (the biggest one that effects pictures today) is that when you shoot JPEG the camera applies an algorithm to the image before saving (contrast, saturation, white balance, sharpness, etc), where as with RAW it does not do this.  If you are not able to get your image correctly exposed or properly in focus shooting in RAW may help you save that image when processed on your computer. If the image is saved in JPEG you are able to correct the image but not as much as if it was saved in RAW. The biggest drawback is that with RAW you need to correct your images to make them look their best and this can be a lot of work if you have a lot of images to correct. One final difference between JPEG or RAW is that RAW takes up a lot more space when stored, but with today’s relatively inexpensive high capacity storage mediums this should not be a huge issue.

One great thing about today’s cameras is that you can select either JPEG or RAW or RAW & JPEG, so you can cover all your basis if you need to when shooting to allow you to select later which image to use. The only problem with shooting in JPEG & RAW is that it will use up a lot of storage space so make sure you have big enough cards or multiple cards with you.

So with the above information what should you be shooting in JPEG or RAW?

If you are shooting everyday family images and don’t want to spend a lot of time processing your images then stay with JPEG, will save you storage space and processing time, yes some images may be beyond saving but you will save time.

If you have a chance to take a once in a lifetime picture then I suggest that you either shoot it in JPEG & RAW or just RAW, sure you will need to edit it more but if there is no chance to reshoot it may be worth it.

**Remember that you can change the format you are shooting in from picture to picture if you want so you do not have to shoot in only one setting.

Crocus #2 2017
Crocus #2 2017


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Updated 2017

So you want quality…..

You can get quality in Lethbridge, it is not that hard!

I had a chance the other day to talk to a friend that I keep running into around Lethbridge and southern Alberta and we got talking about buying quality parts and items.  Some how our conversation turned to customers and on-line or discount retailers.  He was mentioning that he had reached his boiling point when it came to customers that ordered items on-line or went to a discount retailer and when they had problems would come to him for a solution.  His solution was that he now charges $75.00 for information.  If a person bought the item from him the information is no charge, but from any place else it is automatically $75.00.  He was saying the other day that a customer came in with a problem from a new part they had ordered on-line, asked if he could help and he said it was $75.00.  The customer hit the roof and stormed out.  Three days later in came the customer and paid the $75.00 as it was going to cost a lot more to ship the part back and get another one.  Problem was simple the part bought on-line was generic and needed an adapter to make it work, the parts that he sold were wired of a higher quality and correctly in the first place. Funny thing was that when all was said and done the customer (without taking into account the $75.00) only saved $10.00 on the part, with the $75.00 they actually paid $65.00 more than shopping local.

I was thinking this when a customer came in this past week with a canvas print.  They had mentioned in a course a month ago when I was talking about print quality that they had ordered a canvas print from a company on-line and were so happy that it was $20.00 cheaper than mine, actually mentioned it several times to me and all the students.  Well last week in they came with the canvas to ask me what was wrong.  They got the canvas from the on-line company, had it stretched locally and hung it on the wall.  Now the ink was running, actually looked like a lady with mascara running down her face.  Add to that the fact the surface of the canvas was separating from the backing and she had a big problem. I was so tempted to tell her that there was a $75.00 charge to tell her what was wrong but instead I told her without charge.  To say she was not happy was an understatement.  She then went back to the gallery that stretched it and complained to them and then called the printing company.    The galley told her that it was the printing that was at fault (which it was) and the printing company said that if it was stretched then it was no longer their problem.  All this to save $20.00!

The other thing that that I did not have a heart to tell her was that the color was so far off that it was not even close to being funny.  Her green grass was purple/blue, her water was purple/red and the rest was just a plain mess, and that was before the ink ran in those areas.

Once more (as I have said so many times) if you are looking for a quality print you get what you pay for.  Don’t try to cut corners, it usually does not work!

For more information on printing click here.




Printing digital Images

I am often asked what is the best media to select when printing digital images and I have to say that there is no easy answer for this.  It all depends on the image you are printing.  Some images look better on a matte or semi matte paper and others look amazing on a high gloss metallic.  One thing I always caution is that canvas is not suitable for all images so be careful when ordering a canvas print (or selling to your client).  Canvas should have some contrast in the image to make it pop when printed, and if your image has a lot of fine detail a canvas print may do more harm to the image than using another media.

Some media selections include: matte, semi matte, luster, gloss, metallic, canvas, presentation matte and watercolor.  Each media works better with certain images and can enhance the images being printed.

If you are a photographer in Lethbridge or southern Alberta feel free to come into the studio with your image and I will help to select the best media for your images. If you are not able to make it to my office in Lethbridge then feel free to E-mail your image and I can help you with it by E-mail.

Turn around time for printing digital images: most prints can be done the same day, for canvas please allow at least one week if you would like your print to be laminated. Lamination allows your canvas print to be dusted and even washed if you need to.

For more information on printing digital images check out our web site

Northern Lights – How to get great images

Photographing Northern Lights has a few issues that have to be addressed, first thing is that you need to find out when they are going to happen and if you are going to be able to see them. I use as they put out forecasts a few days in advance so I can plan my shooting ahead of time.  Next thing you need to figure out is if it is going to be clear or not, so I look to Environment Canada for that

Once I figure out if I will have something to shoot then it is to set up the equipment:

Camera – A camera that will shoot at times up to 30 seconds is needed, as well something with a ISO that will go to at least 1600 ISO will help. Also a camera with manual focus will really help – NL’s are not usually bright enough to use autofocus!

Remote Shutter Release – If you have a camera that will take a remote shutter release, especially one that will allow you to lock the shutter open I STRONGLY recommend it.

Tripod – Not needed but sure helps you to get a lot better images

Flashlight – no sense going out to shoot if you cannot see

Safety Gear – If it is -30 make sure that you have the gear to stay warm.  If it is mosquito season take bug spray, and if you are heading out in the middle of nowhere’s take an extra set of car keys.

Setting up the camera – This is best to do during the daylight.  Set your camera lens to Infinity – tape it there if need be, set you ISO to 1600 to start and make sure that the batteries are charged.

Finding a location – Pictures of just the Northern Lights are boring,  look ahead of time for a location that has something in the foreground such as a tree or a building.  This is easier to do during the daylight when you can look for hazards such as holes or fences.

Shooting – Patience is a big help when shooting Northern Lights .  You want it to be dark and Northern Lights do not start at a certain time so you will be waiting, get you gear set-up, camera aimed in the right direction (generally north 🙂 ) and sit back and wait.  Take some music to listen to or a book.   When you get something to shoot then away you go.  For most Northern Lights  I start at 15 seconds @ 1600 ISO at the lowest aperture that my lens will do.  Then I adjust from there, no two nights shooting will be the same and it will change minute by minute for the exposure.  I like to do some shots at faster shutter speeds and some at longer, the look is completely different and lends itself to different effects.

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