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Lightning
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Lightning

Lightning, like rainbows, produces a dramatic but unpredictable show in the sky. Unlike the sweet prettiness of a rainbow, the connotations of lightning are of danger, power, and gloom. As those who are careless about being outdoors in an electrical storm sometimes find out, lightning can deliver on its threat of danger. You should photograph lightning only from a distance and preferably from inside a building or a car. If you're outdoors, seek shelter the minute a storm begins to approach. You'll probably also need to concern yourself with keeping your camera and yourself dry if you're outside.

You can photograph lightning day or night, though night shots are generally more productive. In daylight, the technique is simple: With your camera on a tripod and aimed at a likely sector of sky, wait for a large bolt and fire. Base your exposure on the existing light conditions, using a small aperture and the longest shutter speed available. The odds are slim that you'll catch a spectacular streak, but it's possible.

Your chances of creating a thrilling lightning shot increase dramatically after dark. You can make exposures ranging from several seconds to several minutes and record a series of bolts. An upper-floor hotel window with a city view is a good and safe vantage point. The method is simple but requires that your camera have a B setting and that you use a locking cable release and a lens cap or a small sheet of black cardboard. Here's how it works: With your camera on a tripod, compose around a simple foreground with a large area of open sky. Set the camera's shutter-speed dial to the B position and lock the shutter open using your cable release. Keep a lens cap or the black cardboard over the lens until you see a flash, uncover the lens and then recover it, and wait for the next flash. Once you have several bolts on the same frame, close the shutter, advance to the next frame, and try it again. Exposure isn't critical; use an aperture of around f/5.6 (with the ISO set to 100 or 200) to start, and then bracket by changing the aperture.

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