The aurora borealis over Mount Hood at Trillium Lake August 2015. This was an incredible night. The skies were great and the lodge only had one invasive light that I was able to brush out of the photo easily.
I’ve been asked a lot about seeing the aurora here in Oregon after seeing one of these photos. I explain that although you can see them with the naked eye, the camera absorbs more light than you eyes are able to. Therefore, these photos don’t represent accurately how you’re able to see the lights. So don’t be disappointed if you go in search of the aurora and you can’t see it. If it’s forecasted to be displayed that night take a test shot or two just in case.
It was this night when I met two young women that were there enjoying the stars with one of the women asking me questions about photographing at night. I had yet to start to take any photos and gave her a quick two minute night photography tutorial. We got her all setup with her camera and tripod, took the first shot and looked at the preview screen. The image showed the northern lights as they were just starting to flare up. The woman practically freaked out when she saw the photo. I had to explain to her what was going on. She was amazed.
Once I was done with the two ladies there I went to get a few photos of my own, this being one.
Photographing Lightning – With Spring and early Summer comes transitional weather that will cause some amazing photography opportunities. Everything from blue skies with majestic thunderheads, rainbows and lightning. It is photographing lightning that I’m asked about how to capture the most.
A lightning bolt typically lasts about 10 to 50 microseconds (0.000050 sec). That’s a lot faster than your ability to react to it so we will need to discuss methods and conditions that must be understood prior to going out into the field to get that awesome photo of a bolt of lightning, but I must preface the information with a warning about safety.
Standing in the rain with a lightning rod in your hand
Of course when we’re trying to get our lighting photo we’re venturing out into a storm. Be prepared for the weather. Dress appropriately, of course, but also remember that you are standing out in the storm with a tripod and a camera. One can’t help but be reminded of the fellows who are struck by lightning on the 18th hole as they celebrate a great putt with a golf club in their hand.
When the storm is surrounding you, go inside. Do not stand in the middle of a thundering tempest and think that you’ll come away with something more than a quick trip to the hospital, if you’re lucky, to treat you for the effects of a 100 million volt electrical shock. Your best photos of lighting will be when the storm is in the distance.
You will want to use a camera that you are able to control manually. Many cameras will allow you to switch to Manual Mode to allow you to control your shutter speed, the duration of the exposure. You will also want to use a tripod to establish a platform for you to put your camera on. It’s easier than trying to hold your camera while you’re working and a necessity for a longer exposure photograph.
Additional gear which will improve your chances of success are a 10 stop Neutral Density Filter (ND filter). And another piece of gear that can be handy is a Lightning Trigger. I will cover the use of both of these pieces in the text of this article.
Daytime or Nighttime
When photographing lighting there are two basic conditions that will require different methods to be successful. Daytime with a lot of light and darkness with little or no light.
It’s easier to capture a lightning strike during the night than during the day. At night time it’s easy to set your camera to make a long exposure, sometimes as long as 30 seconds. Because the light is dim or even completely dark your photo won’t be exposed unless there’s a lightning strike during your exposure. I set my camera up on the tripod and point it in the direction of the storm, set my exposure to 30 seconds and click the shutter and wait for a lightning strike while hoping that it will happen in the direction that I have the camera pointed. If, once you’ve captured some lightning, your photo is too bright make your exposure a little shorter or stop down your aperture (smaller hole, bigger number) and try again. The lightning becomes it’s own flash bulb.
Daytime is a bit more challenging. It’s much more difficult to set your camera up to make a long exposure when there’s so much light that you will need to use a Neutral Density (ND) filter. An ND filter is like sunglasses for your camera. It blocks light allowing you to extend (make longer) your shutter speed which will allow you to photograph the scene using the same method as at night. Make your exposure as long as possible, click the shutter cross your fingers and wait.
High Tech Toys
Of course there’s always the easy way. Technology is your friend when it come to photographing lighting. Many people are just hobbyists and don’t want to spend a lot of money on a toy that they would rarely use, but there is that option.
A lightning trigger is the solution. A lightning trigger can react to the flash of the lightning and click the shutter in time to capture an image. The mechanism mounts to the hot shoe flash connection on top of your camera.
Although handy a lightning trigger is certainly not required to capture lighting.
Have Fun – Be Safe
The most important part of capturing lightning in a photograph for me is the experience. I love being outside and watching sever weather. To be able to make a beautiful and dramatic photo is a bonus.
I can’t stress enough the safety aspect of doing this. Please be safe and don’t put yourself in any dangerous situation to try to make any kind of photograph. There will always be more opportunities in the future.
Give these methods a try. Good luck and as always, have fun with your photography.
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Could you feel comfortable in a cabin in the woods like this?
This is just one of the rustic early 20th Century cabins that are situated in the forest around Mount Hood. This particular cabin is in the little town of Rhododendron.
Located in the Mt Hood National Forest you are guaranteed that you won’t have a condo built next door. A long term lease comes with the contract when one purchases a Forest Service Cabin.
This particular cabin was built in 1936 and was most likely board and batten construction. It still has the original stone fireplace thought to have been constructed by a local stoneworker George Pinner. Through the years an addition was built to the back which contains the kitchen, bathroom and a bedroom which increases the livability of this vintage cabin. The way that it’s configured now it has a master bedroom and two lofts with beds.
The cabin is positioned above a year ’round creek the sound of which can be heard throughout the cabin. It has a deck, part of which is covered, that allows one to enjoy the view in any weather. It’s accessible in the Winter and is within a short distance to the small town of Rhododendron and the village’s store and restaurants, yet still removed from evidence of the hustle and bustle of the real world.
The cabin is also within a short walk to amazing hiking trails that take you deep within the Mt Hood Wilderness Area. It’s also a short drive “up the hill” on Highway 26 to the ski resorts in the Winter or the high alpine hiking trails on Mount Hood.
In this busy world I’m sure that I could feel comfortable in a cabin in the woods like this.
Anyone that’s looking to purchase a vacation cabin in or around the Mt Hood National Forest contact my friend Blythe Creek.
Contact me for your real estate photography needs.
Well it’s shaping up to be a great year for wildflowers on Mount Hood. The flowers are about gone at the lowest elevations but they’re moving their way up the side of the mountain. We had a great year for snow and a wet and cool Summer so far, generally speaking. The flowers seem to be taking advantage of the conditions.
I started this year in the Columbia River Gorge photographing Rowena Crest and Dalles Mountain Ranch on the Washington side of the river. I photographed balsamroot and lupine there. In time the dogwood and rhododendrons in the forests became my game and my primary pursuit, as well as the bear grass. This year’s bear grass bloom was a fraction of last year’s amazing bloom. It was incredible last season but a bit disappointing this year and understandably so considering it’s irregular bloom cycle. Now that the rhododendrons are about finished my next wildflower pursuit are macros of the little flowers that tend to be a bit more singular in their dispersion. These are the ones that I enjoy photographing close up. At this time the lower meadows are blooming and in time the upper alpine meadows will be covered with flowers as well.
Here are a few photos that I have made so far this season. Most are close up shots, I love macro photography, but I plan on getting up to those upper meadows soon for some nice photos of Mount Hood so I hope to have more landscapes with nice flowers in the foreground. We’ll see how that goes.
I have plans for a wildflower workshop next Summer. I hope to be able to use it as a venue to show my macro photography techniques. Stay tuned for news about that when I post next year’s schedule. Look for it soon.