Luck and Lightning

My wife and I just returned from a vacation to Italy (yes, it was wonderful).The second night there, Sharon was tired and went to bed early, so I decided to take a walk. And was reminded once again that skill is important in photography, but luck can be even better.

I decided to head toward St. Peter’s and see how things there looked at night. As I turned a corner and had my first view of Castel St. Angelo, the sky lit up. Last I checked, we weren’t due for the Rapture, so that meant either fireworks or lightning. As I got up to the bridge over the Tiber, I could see storms moving away in the distance, with St. Peter’s to the side. Now shooting, or more accrately, trying to shoot lightning, is a challenge. If you try to shoot when you see the lightning, you’ll miss it every time. The best

No lightning, but close.

thing to do is use a long time exposure, and hope to catch a blast when the shutter’s open.

Being vacation, photography wasn’t my priority, so I was traveling light. A single Nikon D7000 with Nikkor 16-85 and 70-300mm lenses. No tripod, no flash, no extra gear. And just a small waistpack (Thinktank Speed Demon). To steady the camera and get the framing I wanted, I put the waistpack on the bridge railing and set the camera on top of it. Next trick was making the time exposure. Lately, Nikon’s added some cool options for the self-timer in their mid-range cameras, letting you set them to shoot several frames in a row, and also adjust the time between frames. Since the lightning was moving away and infrequent, I needed as many frames as possible to

Jackpot!

improve my odds. I set it to shoot nine pictures (the max), with one-second between shots. I also turned on “Exposure Delay Mode,” which has the camera lift the mirror, pause briefly, then fire the shutter. That helps avoid any blur due to mirror movement. The final step was exposure. Switching to Manual mode, I chose four-seconds at f/7, 200 ISO. And while I was primarily shooting JPEG on the trip, I switched to NEF(RAW) for this.Then it was just a matter of tripping the shutter and praying.

I got a couple of shots where the sky was partially lit up, and those were okay. And there was a bolt of lightning between shots. And one bolt outside the frame. Arrgh. After 63 frames, though, I got lucky. There was a burst during an exposure, and in the frame. Bingo! I kept shooting, thinking I might get something better, but then my luck ran out. It started raining. After waiting at a nearby newsstand for the worst to pass, I headed back to the hotel. And during that walk thought about how important it is to be prepared and know your gearĀ  when going out to shoot pictures. But the one thing you can’t prepare for is the unexpected. You just have to hope it’s the good kind, and get lucky.