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Photography QnA: Taking Pictures of Lightning and Fireworks

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Category: All About Photography : Photographing Specific Subjects : Taking Pictures of Lightning and Fireworks

Discuss taking pictures of lightning and figure out how to take quality pictures of fireworks in this Q&A. For more information check out this article: 4th of July Photos: A Celebration of Light and Color!

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Photography Question 

member since: 11/6/2007
  1 .  How to Shoot Fireworks?
I have a Nikon D300 - a great camera but my amateur skills are not great. I want to take pictures of some fireworks for the 4th of July. How would I do so? Slow shutter speed, ISO, aperture, etc.? I won't be working with a tripod, since I will be on a boat. Thanks.

6/29/2008 11:40:25 PM

Pete H
BetterPhoto Member

member since: 8/9/2005
If you have no choice but to hand hold, try ISO 3200 w/noise reduction on. No slower than 1/60th wide open. The image (IF) it comes out, will take a few moments to process due to noise reduction on. This is normal.

6/30/2008 12:29:08 PM

Bob Cammarata
BetterPhoto Member

member since: 7/17/2003
  Select matrix metering and aperture-priority on your D300 and shoot wide open at an ISO high enough to allow for whatever comfortable handholding speed that yields the results you seek.
This "comfortable speed" will vary by each individual. There are techniques for handholding that can allow for much lower than recommended shutter speeds ... such as leaning against something solid or sitting on the ground and propping your elbows on your knees.
Your shutter speed and lens settings will of course vary, dependent upon your distance from "ground zero" (i.e., how much black sky is included within the same frame as the bursts) and also what lens focal length you plan to use. Typical displays are long enough to allow for adjustments to be made at the scene. You can view the results as you go and adjust as necessary.
You definitely want to avoid long exposures at a high ISO (which you cannot do anyway without firm support), if you want to retain the color in the bursts.
My tests with a wide-angle lens a few hundred yards from ground zero have suggested that at 100 ISO, with a mid-range aperture setting of f-8, the colors will blow out and turn yellow or white on exposures longer than four seconds.
If my math is correct, you should be able to shoot at ISO 1600 at 1/4 second (with the same lens at that aperture setting at the same distance) and get similar results.
If you have a lens that opens to f-4, you can get to 1/15 second at ISO 1600 and retain the color of the bursts without overexposing.
Some may feel that their "comfort zone" for hand-holding falls within that range (or even slower) but personally, I'd opt for the tripod and select a much lower ISO and shoot 1 to 3 second exposures to get better quality.

6/30/2008 4:02:31 PM

David E. Bunkofske
BetterPhoto Member

member since: 3/2/2007
  Andray, I have shot a lot of fireworks and find that you do not have to have a long shutter speed. Fireworks are very bright. I can hand hold at ISO 1600 F5.6 easy with 125 sec. On the final Round when they send up many at the same time ISO 100 at 125 sec F 5.6 will work. Have a GREAT 4th of July

7/1/2008 6:53:35 AM

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Photography Question 
Vadim Boriskevich

member since: 8/26/2004
  2 .  Fireworks, Backlighting, Sharpness
Hi everyone,
My arsenal includes a Nikon D80, Nikkor 50mm f/1.4 D AF, Quantaray 55-200 mm F4-5.6, Nikon SB-600. I have three questions:
1. How do I shoot a fireworks so that the image comes out perfectly?
2. How do I shoot a backlit subject to get a good and correct exposure? What are the settings and flash exposure?
3. How do I get a sharp picture, when shooting a group of people (4-8), so that everyone is sharp in the picture?
Thank you.

6/25/2008 9:17:21 AM

Jon Close
BetterPhoto Member

member since: 5/18/2000
  1. No flash, shoot in Manual exposure so that the camera isn't setting an extra-long shutter speed. ISO 100 or 200, and set aperture for f/8 or f/11. Maybe set focus manually since AF may fail in the darkness. A shutter speed of about 1/60 will give a good freeze of the individual sparks, but longer shutter speeds, even bulb (use a tripod and remote release) are better to get the streaking on the way up and blossoming of the firework.
2. Spot meter on the subject so that the meter ignores the bright background. Or use the flash - balanced fill flash is automatic for the D80 with the SB-600 set for i-TTL BL
3. There can only be a single focus distance, people nearer or farther will be progressively less in focus. So set f/8 to get enough depth of field (Av or M mode, matrix metering).

6/25/2008 11:35:27 AM

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Photography Question 
Apriyile D. Vidales

member since: 12/17/2007
  3 .  Colors Dull, and Background Not Bright
  colors dull and background not bright.
colors dull and background not bright.
© Apriyile D. Vidales
Nikon D50 Digital ...
Hi: Thanks to all who helped. I did go and change my White Balance and it's better than the one before. But a new problem has arisen. Why are the colors in the photo two 1000 watt. continuous lights. Should I have them turned to the max for optimum brightness?
For John Siskin: You are absolutely right when you say, "I can do a lot of practice and work with books,or take a class." I now realize that I indeed need to take a class! Thank you for wording it in a way that really hits home!

12/21/2007 9:32:46 PM

  Hi Apriyile,
You might want to try increasing the saturation on these shots. I shoot in Raw, and you can increase the saturation, warm the color, and increase the contrast on almost every shot. The image you make with your camera is a beginning, but the camera is designed to get as much information as possible. It is up to the photographer how to make the Raw information into a picture. Richard Lynch has several excellent Photoshop classes here at BetterPhoto. It is also important to remember to have a good time. Ill look for you in my classes. Thanks!

12/22/2007 12:19:28 PM

Part of what you are experiencing here is compression in your exposure. There are some ways to enhance images in Photoshop, as John says: using saturation controls, but also enhancing exposure with good techniques in post processing, like levels corrections, color balancing, contrast enhancement, etc. My courses can give you some great methods for working out the kinks on the back end. I took a couple of minutes to show you where this might go ... and admittedly there is plenty more that could be done. This was done using techniques from my course: Photoshop 101: The Photoshop Essentials Primer
However, as John may want to emphasize, another part of the issue seems to be in lighting and exposure ... which would be things to discover and explore in his classes. For example, the lighting seems to be too centered on the face, and while that is not always a bad thing, there may be better ways to have handled the lighting in this shot. I think he can help you out!

12/22/2007 5:38:29 PM

Pete H
BetterPhoto Member

member since: 8/9/2005
  Hello Apriyile,

While the information is accurate from John and Richard; please allow me to add the following.

Photoshop is indeed a wonder tool and invaluable to photographers.

That being said, please do not expect ANY post processing software to cure all ills. While you can cover a multitude of sins with post processing, don't think of it as a crutch or life raft.

All good photography begins with essentials prior to post processing. Understanding light, shadows, exposure, color balance, focus, depth of field etc, are prerequistes to a good image.

Composition plays a major role in how we perceive the finished product. One could get the exposure and color bang on and yet have a poorly composed shot that causes us to often believe the color, contrast off.
In other words, do all you can to get the best possible shot from the camera.

You did not mention what camera you are using. Some cameras simply will not give you the desired result due to poor lens performance, sensor performance etc...

Unsure of your current understanding of photography, I might say you have chosen the hard path of portraiture.
If you are just starting out, you might try still life first.
Good portraiture is not easy to master.

I'm not saying you should entirely avoid it..what I am saying is that shooting scenery, or still life will quicken your understanding in the nature of light and shadow.

More specifically concerning your example photo.

You need a backdrop light.
Open your aperture a little more..portraits are more appealing with a softer look.

White balance: Use manual white balance.
Preset white balance settings are unable to account for stray color unless you have unusually high control over your lights.

When all else fails, get a good book and start with "cook book" setups. These will get you on the right track, but don't get handcuffed by them.
Experiment, take notes on your setups and draw diagrams of your setups.

Above all..shoot-shoot-shoot and then analyze-analyze-analyze.

all the best,


12/23/2007 5:53:09 PM

Christopher A. Walrath
BetterPhoto Member

member since: 4/25/2006
  Hi, Apriyile. A basic understanding of light might help here as well. There are three basic colors in photography, Red, Green and Blue. These are the primary colors. There also complimentary colors. It is best to imagine a clock. Starting at red and moving toward green. At 12:00 is a primary color: Red. At 2:00 is a complimentary color: Yellow. At 4:00 is a primary color: Green. At 6:00 is a complimentary color: Cyan (bluish green). At 8:00 is a primary color: Blue. At 10:00 is a complimentary color: magenta. And back to red at 12:00.

This works for color effects on computer software as will as for color correction filters. If you reduce red, you emphasize cyan (blues and greens). Note you do not increase it solely by adjust the red. Conversely if you increase red, you emphasize the red and do not reduce the blues and greens, only 'override' them with red hue. If you go to 4 and 10 o'clock, If you increase green (4:00) you deemphasize reds and blues by overriding them with green. Now, if you have a bluish tone in your subject you want to reduce, you can either reduce the blue which might flatten the look some, increase the yellow which might really overdo it or find a happy medium by slightly reducing the blue and upping the yellow.

You are photographing, recording light. A basic understanding of the very thing you are working with would go a LONG WAY to helping you make better images EVERYtime you pick up your camera.

Happy shooting and Merry Christmas.

12/24/2007 12:15:46 PM

Rich Collins
BetterPhoto Member

member since: 6/24/2005
  Lots of very good advice here Apriyile.

But look at the photo again. The light is softened more than you are comfortable with. You might want to start out with a given look in your mind. Then try differing setups.

Your D50 Nikon is certainly capable of producing excellent images. Don't know about the lens, as you didn't mention.

But your 2-1000 watt lights are enough IF you have them less diffused than I am guessing you had them in this shot. If you are using soft boxes as modifiers, especially if you are using secondary diffusing panels, barn doors or grates. Any & all modifying elements will turn down the power, in a sense. Try every combination you can change when it comes to lighting a subject. Turn the lights at angles to achieve strong light in one directions while complimentary light from another. Add reflective panels or natural light from an open door or a window, or reflective panels. Bump up the strength if you don't see what you like. Put both light together with opposing reflective panels from the opposite side. Move lights closer, change the angles, raise or lower the source of lights.

You can always add a hotshoe flash on your camera shooting up so as to not cause red eye or too strong a catch light, to set off another balanced overhead for a hair light if you don't have a snoot.

The key is just keep mixing it up until that look you are hoping for, is getting closer.

I'm sure we'd all enjoy an update as you achieve better results. Great question.

12/26/2007 4:45:02 PM

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Photography Question 
Charley Andrisano

member since: 1/7/2004
  4 .  How to Photograph Fireworks
I have Canon 20D, and want to photograph fireworks on the 4th of July. What lens can you recommend, and what would be the best f.stop, and shutter speed for this type of photography? Also, is ISO 100 ok, or should I use 200, or 400 ISO?< Many thanks,.

6/23/2006 8:07:21 PM

Justin G.
BetterPhoto Member

member since: 7/13/2004
  Well, Charley, since fireworks are photogaphed at night, that means you're going to have the camera on a tripod. So with that in mind, it's only logical to use the SLOWEST possible ISO you can use. Except with digital I would not use ISO 50 considering you lose a stop in the highlights, and it's a very contrasty situation anyway. OK, so ... tripod, ISO 100. Use pretty much any lens you have, depending on the perspective you want. The apertures I used last year were f/5.6 and f/8. Put the camera on (B)ulb and hold the shutter open with your cable release for about 5-10 seconds, and then review once it pops up on the LCD. These are just starting points, though, you can open up more, or stop down more, depending on how much time you want to hold the shutter open.

6/23/2006 10:19:59 PM

Pete H
BetterPhoto Member

member since: 8/9/2005
  Hello Charley;
Ahh, yes, we approach that time of year again. :)

Shooting fireworks is easy in idea, and generally difficult in practice.
Problem #1: The smoke from successive fireworks obscures the next shot somewhat...not much you can do here.
#2: Digital cameras for visual use are not all that great shooting "black" as "noise" is ever present.
A little post processing can usually blacken the sky to a more normal look...and some selective gaussian blur to hide the "noise."
I've shot fireworks for years and actually I'm a little bored of doing it. Not too many angles or vantage points for us. (LOL)...soooooo; I think I'll try for a more thematic approach to the 4th this year; looking for (other) things that capture the essence of Independence Day. :)
All the best.

Editor's Notes: Also check out BetterPhoto's article on the subject: Photographing Fireworks

6/24/2006 4:29:56 AM

Fred S. MacKenzie
BetterPhoto Member

member since: 3/22/2006
  Hello Charley,

I'm not a pro by any means, but more of an interested hobbyist. I have a couple firework shots from last year in my gallery that I shot with film. I recently purchased a 20d but haven't updated my gallery with new pics yet. Anyway, I read alot here about fireworks and generally found out that the common advice is ISO100 at f-8
( bulb / tripod / cable release ) What I discovered was that my pics washed out too much. Luckily I went to another Firework display later and shot ISO100 at f-11 and I think the pics turned out much better. So, that is where I'm starting this year with my 20d. Start here ( 100/f-11 ) and just check your work. if it doesn't look right, adjust your aperture. Use the first couple to adjust the aperture and focus. Open the shutter just after you hear the shell go off
( launch ) and close the shutter when the firework burns out. Oh yeah, don't zoom too much. Leave enough room to crop because your shots won't be perfectly centered. The fireworks will all be close but certainly not in the exact same spot everytime. Zoom back, sit back with cable in hand and enjoy the show.

6/28/2006 12:28:13 AM

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Photography Question 
Charlene Bayerle
BetterPhoto Member

member since: 1/9/2003
  5 .  Photographing Fireworks
Does anyone know the best way to capture fire works? (Digital camera) Any advice would really be helpful. ... tripod, flash, etc. Thanks!

6/12/2005 5:16:44 AM

Andrew Laverghetta
BetterPhoto Member

member since: 9/13/2004
  The results from this will probably be better from a film camera, but you can definitly do it with digitals as well - SLRs in particular. I see you're using a digital SLR? I think the best thing to do would be to use a remote and a tripod. You will want to set the shutter speed to 'bulb' for self-timed exposures (however long you hold the button down). The remote is so you don't shake the camera when pushing the shutter button that's on the camera. You may want to experiment with different ISOs and different f/values, but your shutter speed can be around 8 seconds or more or less. Try out some long exposures with your digital camera at night to see how it handles the noise levels. When I took some pictures of fireworks with my film camera, I used the wired remote and the camera on a tripod. I think I used f/4 with ISO 400 film and I held the remote shutter down until I had seen enough fireworks in the approximate field of view that I wanted. Hope this helps!

6/12/2005 8:52:18 AM

Bob Cammarata
BetterPhoto Member

member since: 7/17/2003
  Try to get there early and secure a great position without any trees or sky clutter ... as close as possible to ground zero. (The top of a hill is ideal.)
A bulb setting with a tripod is a must. You can avoid using a mechanical or wired release by "masking" the lens when you depress and release the shutter. Hold a black card (or anything dark) in front of the lens, press the shutter, and while holding it down, remove the card and start counting off seconds. After the burst, cover the lens opening with the card and release the shutter.
With a sturdy tripod, no camera movement will register using this technique.
If digital is like slide film, an ISO setting of 100 will produce better colors on the longer exposure times. A three- or four-second exposure at ASA 400 might turn those brilliant colors to yellow or white.
I noticed last year that at 100 ASA at f-5.6 or f-8, the shorter exposure times of two to four seconds yielded the most accurate colors. All of the longer exposures of eight seconds or more came out white or yellow.
You can, of course, stop down your lens for those long exposures, but you will be sacrificing a little sharpness and clarity in doing so.

6/12/2005 9:36:39 AM

Charlene Bayerle
BetterPhoto Member

member since: 1/9/2003
  Thanks so much Andrew and Bob ... I forgot to say that I would be on the 26th floor of my friend's condo and the fireworks are right across the way ... by Navy Pier.

6/12/2005 5:41:06 PM

Bob Cammarata
BetterPhoto Member

member since: 7/17/2003
  ... Sounds like a great vantage point! Just remember that if it's windy, your building may "sway" enough to make your shots a little fuzzy. (This happened to me once while trying to photograph the Strip at Las Vegas from a tall building on a windy night.)

6/12/2005 11:37:51 PM

Larry A. Hales
BetterPhoto Member

member since: 9/4/2004
  I shot fireworks for the first time last week. It was especially difficult becuase they were shot off in downtown Portland, OR and the city lights were the backdrop. I used Nikon D70 on a tripod, with a wireless remote. The settings I used were ISO 200, F10, and a shutter speed between 2.5 and 6 seconds. Be aware that smoke will be a factor. Make sure you are out of the smoke path. I shot about 100 shots, about 10-15 came out well.

It was a lot of fun shooting fireworks. I'm looking forward to doing it again on the 4th.


6/14/2005 11:26:20 AM

Steven P. Hambrick
BetterPhoto Member

member since: 2/17/2005
  Dont trust your auto-focus, you may miss some of the best shots wait for your camera to pick a focal point. Pre-focus if you can or use the first couple of fireworks as a test focus.

6/14/2005 1:14:54 PM

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Photography Question 
jacqueline mcabery

member since: 3/5/2004
  6 .  How to Shoot Lightning?
I am wondering how to shoot lightning. What shutter and aperture, but more importantly. how do you know when to click the shutter? We don't get lightning that often where I live, and if we do, not repeatedly in same storm.
Thank you.

11/11/2004 8:38:18 AM

Simone Severo

member since: 7/30/2002
  If you see it, you lost it. To photograph lightning, you need to check the weather and set yourself in a safe place. Put your camera on a tripod, use the hyperfocal distance to set the focus and have great depth of field, and make long exposures. You have to guess.
If you are lucky, taking a series of about 30 or more, you may have one or more lightning strikes in a picture.
I once photographed lightning with a 3-minute exposure at night. During the 3 minutes, the shutter was open, many lightning strikes happened and the film captured.
It is not easy. It is a lot of patience. You need many pictures of some seconds or maybe minutes, and keep trying :)

11/11/2004 11:04:15 AM

Amy Lindsey

member since: 7/5/2004
  I would suggest joining a storm chasing tour. They are somewhat expensive, but well worth every penny. They usually stop after the tornado (if you catch one) and will allow participants to take lightning photos. Many serious amateur photogs take these tours. I've been with my college team numerous times and have had pretty good luck. The trick is to locate yourself either near the "anvil" of the storm (front part) for real cool "anvil crawlers"- they're beautiful and much less dangerous than cloud-to-ground bolts. I suggest you have a good knowledge of various storm structures before you go. BE CAREFUL!!
Amy Lindsey

11/16/2004 6:55:26 AM

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Photography Question 
Nicolas Payne

member since: 8/13/2004
  7 .  Shooting Lightning
Can I capture lightning with a digital camera? I'm a weather fanatic, love tornados, lightning, etc. I want a digital camera because of all the features, but I heard the image quality isn't as good. What would be the best digital camera to get for taking lightning pictures? Also, what's the best film camera to take pictures of lightning with?

8/13/2004 1:08:11 PM

Bob Cammarata
BetterPhoto Member

member since: 7/17/2003
  I would imagine that any camera - digital or film - is capable of capturing lightning strikes ... as long as it has a "bulb" setting for long exposures at night. You can get some great tips on shooting lighting at this link:

8/13/2004 1:54:29 PM


member since: 7/18/2004
I have a Nikon CP5700 and have photographed lightenng. The "bulb" setting is essential. As is the ability to do rapid capture shots. Get a largish memory card (not less than 512M) as you will have lots of duds but a few magic ones.
I attach one from my first attempts at lightening shots. I took about 200 shots with about 20 having forks in them.

8/15/2004 2:05:57 PM

Chantry  Brinlee

member since: 6/21/2004
I'm currently using the Canon EOS Digital Rebel and have captured many shot of lightening. The only real way to do it, (my opinion) is to have the bulb setting or some way to keep you shutter open long enough (30 secs - 2+min) to get the shot. I tend to try several different settings when I'm shooting lightening just to make sure I get at least a few good shots each trip out. It pretty much boils down to two things...luck and being prepared.

12/12/2004 6:51:08 PM

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Photography Question 
Carolina K. Smith

member since: 3/28/2004
  8 .  Upping the EV and Noise
I know that increasing the ISO will increase the noise.

What about increasing the EV?
(I currently shoot w/Nikon CoolPix 8700)

If increasing the EV increases 'noise' also, is there a lesser of the two evils?
Thanks for any light on this...

8/12/2004 10:37:19 AM

Jon Close
BetterPhoto Member

member since: 5/18/2000
  If by "increasing the EV" you mean using the exposure compensation control, no, these are not equivalent.

If your exposure at ISO 100 is f/4 and 1/15, then increasing the ISO to 400 allows 2 stops higher shutter speed: f/4 and 1/60. The total exposure remains the same, though. The loss of light due to the high shutter speed is offset by the higher sensitivity of the sensor at ISO 400.

If you keep the ISO at 100, and dial in -2 EV of exposure compensation, you'll get f/4 and 1/60, but you'll be 2 stops underexposed.

8/12/2004 1:53:19 PM

Carolina K. Smith

member since: 3/28/2004
  Thanks for the explanation. Then why not increase the EV, rather than the ISO - for example, a low-light situation where you were trying to keep shutter speeds as fast as possible to reduce blur?

8/12/2004 3:48:44 PM

  The problem is that your photo is then underexposed. You won't be able to see dark areas at all. I increase or decrease the EV when I'm trying to make lighting changes. For example, if I'm photographing a large white expanse, like a snowscape, I'll dial in +.7 so that the snow actually looks white. If I'm taking a shot of a sunset, on the other hand, I'll underexpose (-1.0) to capture the reds.

However, if you use this trick under regular lighting conditions, your pictures will come out underexposed or overexposed. This means that darker areas will be invisible or lighter areas will be completely blown out. A little noise is probably preferable to this. If you wanted a picture with normal lighting but faster shutter speed, you would increase the ISO rather than using exposure compensation.

8/12/2004 3:59:14 PM

Gregory LaGrange
BetterPhoto Member

member since: 11/11/2003
  In layman's terms, EV is the amount of light there is. Midday has higher EV than dusk, like 8 is to 2. Camera meters see all white things in midday as very bright, thinking very high EV (like 10) and see all black things in midday as very dark EV (like 6). Light levels (EV Value) doesn't change, regardless if the meter thinks it does. EV compensation fixes the meter being fooled, but can't do anything about how much light there is.
You change ISO for low light, because if it's dark, then it's dark.

8/12/2004 5:50:41 PM

Robert Bridges

member since: 5/12/2003
  Funny, I always thought that increasing or decreasing the exposure compensation was basically the equivalent of increasing or decreasing the ISO. Did I miss something somewhere along the line?

8/17/2004 11:40:35 PM

  On my camera, exposure compensation seems to affect the shutter speed rather than the ISO. Maybe it's camera specific. It definitely causes the picture to be under or over-exposed relative to a picture shot without the compensation in automatic.

8/18/2004 9:31:14 AM

Robert Bridges

member since: 5/12/2003
  Same difference - faster or slower shutter speed ... larger or smaller F/stop. Either way it's equivalent to increasing or decreasing the relative ISO ... I think.

8/18/2004 10:05:02 AM

Jon Close
BetterPhoto Member

member since: 5/18/2000
  If you are shooting with film, then changing the EV (or EC - Exposure Compensation) is the same as changing the ISO. If I load ISO 100 film, but set the ISO for 200, that is the same as -1 stop EC. The film's sensitivity has not changed, so exposures based on ISO 200 effectively give the film 1 less stop of exposure.

If you are shooting digital they are not the same. When you change the ISO setting you are changing the sensitivity of the digital sensor. Changing the ISO on a digital camera from 100 to 200 is equivalent to taking out the ISO 100 film and replacing it with 200. It does not result in a -1 stop exposure compensation.

8/18/2004 11:09:51 AM

  If you do this with film, isn't it called pushing the film rather than exposure compensation? Don't you have to get it developed differently so you have to keep it pushed for the whole roll? Is there a way to change the ISO just for one picture with film?

8/18/2004 12:02:22 PM

Gregory LaGrange
BetterPhoto Member

member since: 11/11/2003
  Pushing involves changing the development time with changing the exposure. That's why it's full name is push processing. You can't push a single frame on a roll. You can try printing lighter, or b/w with higher contrast filters.
Exposure compensation is for when a camera meter gives incorrect exposures for certain situations. If it reads 250 at f/8 but the correct exposure needs to be 125 at f/8, setting a +1 exposure comp is what you do.
For film, if you had 100 film in the camera, it would be the same if you change the ISO to 50.
For digital, if you had the camera on manual, the same thing would happen with changing the ISO from 100 to 50 as long as aperture and shutter speed stayed the same on manual. Wouldn't work on auto modes.

8/18/2004 12:57:41 PM

  Thanks, Gregory. That makes sense.

8/18/2004 12:59:02 PM

Robert Bridges

member since: 5/12/2003
Thanks. I don't shoot digital (obviously), and I did not know that but now that you mention it, yes ... makes perfect sense.

8/18/2004 3:14:06 PM

Steven Chaitoff
BetterPhoto Member

member since: 6/22/2004
  Well, listen, I shot a roll in the evening (with street lamps) so it was adequate light. Anyway, I used 200 speed film and shot some shots at ISO 200, some at ISO 400 and some at ISO 800. I developed the roll like any other. No special processing. So it would seem like the shots at ISO 400 would be fine, just one stop underexposed. And 2 stops under for ISO 800. They are darker, but they are unfathomably grainy. Why is that?

8/18/2004 8:40:33 PM

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Photography Question 
Sam Endicott

member since: 6/7/2004
  9 .  Tips on Shooting Lightning
Thank you for all of your great input. I have always wanted to shoot lightning. I was just wondering if anyone had any tips on how to get good results. What film speed? When to click the shutter? That sort of thing. Thanks again.

6/13/2004 7:28:11 PM

Bob Cammarata
BetterPhoto Member

member since: 7/17/2003
  Electric Sky
Electric Sky
Nikkor 180 mm ED, Provia 100, "Bulb" setting
The easiest way to do this is at night. You should scout out a suitable area ahead of time that has an un-obstructed view of the north-west sky, (since most storms track from that direction). Watch the weather radar reports, and whenever a potential thunderstorm is tracking in your direction after dark, high-tail it out to the spot you've selected and get everything set up BEFORE the storm arrives. (I've tried getting lightning shots during daylight hours, without much success.)

Mount your camera onto a sturdy tripod, and point the lens in the direction the activity is most likely to occur. Lens choice will depend upon how big you want the lightning bolt to appear. A medium telephoto will record a larger bolt, but the area of sky coverage will be more limited than with a standard lens or a medium wide-angle.

ISO 100 and a aperture of f-5.6 will record the sharpest images. With the camera set to "bulb", use a locking cable release to lock the shutter open. At night, the shutter can remain open indefinitely and the only exposure will be from the lightning. If you're real lucky, a bolt will flash within your compositional frame. You can then advance to the next frame and repeat the process, or leave the shutter open to try for multiple strikes on the same frame.

This technique requires perfect timing and a lot of luck, so plan on quite a few dead frames. If you have several cameras, you can increase your chances for success. Oh yeah ... and try not to get zapped!

6/14/2004 12:33:57 AM

William Koplitz

member since: 2/28/2004
  I wrote an article on photographing lightning that was published in Rangefinder Magazine in the 1980's you can read the article on my site.

let me know if it helped.

Just be careful.


6/15/2004 2:30:30 PM

Daniel Dimitroff

member since: 9/12/2001
The hardest part of capturing lightning is the luck of having your shutter open when a bolt strikes.

A friend of mine wrote an article on lightning photograph at

6/15/2004 3:21:48 PM

Daniel Dimitroff

member since: 9/12/2001
The hardest part of capturing lightning is the luck of having your shutter open when a bolt strikes.

A friend of mine wrote an article on lightning photograph at

I had a little input on the article and one of my pictures appears in it.

6/15/2004 3:22:10 PM

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Photography Question 
Paul O. Mayo

member since: 4/20/2004
  10 .  Shooting Photos of Fireworks
I have a Canon Powershot S45 digital camera. What is the best setting for fireworks photos? Auto does not work very well.

4/20/2004 10:55:02 PM

BetterPhoto Member

member since: 5/28/2002
  Set your camera to shooting mode "M" (manual) or "Tv" (shutter speed priority) and use 1, 2 or 4 seconds. See what the result looks like and adjust the speed accordingly. Hope this helps.

4/21/2004 7:38:22 AM

Dave Cross

member since: 4/8/2004
  You will, of course, need to use a tripod :-)

4/22/2004 3:40:36 AM

Cathy Barrows
BetterPhoto Member

member since: 4/13/2003
  Without touching the camera, you can use a hat to cover the front of the lens in between bursts.

4/22/2004 9:56:03 AM

Rachelle Meilleur

member since: 1/3/2004
  Instead of a hat, I use a black card (around 5x7 in size). It fits easily into the back of my camera bag and is always readily available. If you are in a fairly dark area without a lot of lights around you then you can keep the shutter open a lot longer. I've had success photographing fireworks with the shutter open for 30 seconds or more, using the black card between major bursts. Of course, I use a film camera so I'm not sure how well this would work with digital.

4/27/2004 12:38:23 AM

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