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Landscape Photography: Shooting Storms

EOS 7D, EF8-15mm f/4L Fisheye USM
lens, f/11, 1/100 sec, 15mm, ISO 100 by Normand Gaudreault
The storm on the road to L'anse-à-Benjamin

There’s something incredible about standing in front of a storm as it prepares to unleash its powers of destruction. But being able to point your camera at something this terrifying and beautiful is a moment that deserves to be shared. Here are some things you should know before you pursue the perfect storm.

Essentially a subset of landscape photography, shooting storms could involve hours of travelling to chase after these forces of nature. But sometimes, if you’re lucky, Mother Nature unleashes her power right before your eyes. Remember, storms are not created equal. Each one comes in various colours, shapes and intensities, hence the beauty of capturing these atmospheric wonders is that you’ll never shoot the same storm twice.

Learn more about landscape photography in the article: Mastering the Art of Landscape Photography

Essential Equipment

Pack light – camera, wide angle lens, standard lens, tripod, filters, and a backpack to stash all that equipment – as you’ll probably be on the move. Don’t leave home without your lens cloths to wipe off any dust or moisture on your camera or lenses.

Example of wide angle lenses:
Canon EF11-24mm f/4L USM
Canon EF16-35mm f/2.8L III USM

Always keep some kind of lens filter on your camera as the wind can pick up and throw things at you out of nowhere. Use a wide-angle lens with a polarizing filter to give your cloud shots more depth and reduce reflection, in case you decide to shoot through a car window.

EOS 5D Mark II, EF16-35mm f/2.8L USM lens, f/4, 1/100 sec, 16mm, ISO 200 by Alan Dyer
Retreating Thunderstorm at Sunset Panorama

Keep the ISO as low as possible to achieve the cleanest image. A higher aperture allows all the details to stay reasonably sharp. A good guide would be ISO 400, f/8 and 1/100 seconds.

Use a sturdy tripod - preferably carbon fibre instead of metal - which will be helpful when you’re trying to capture lightning. If it gets too windy, weigh it down with something heavy.

You don’t need to wait for lightning to strike. Set your camera on a tripod facing the area where the lightning appears. Use a small aperture, f/16 or f/22 if possible, and a long exposure to increase your chances of capturing lightning. Shoot in succession as you’re bound to get something sooner or later. Don’t forget to bring along patience!

EOS 7D, EF8-15mm f/4L Fisheye USM lens, f/9, 1/80 sec, 8mm, ISO 200 by Normand Gaudreault
Before the Storm

Things to consider

You rush to the location of the storm only to realize it’s over before you had a chance to shoot anything. Don’t panic as the best time to shoot storms is actually before or after a thunderstorm. Look out for features like wall clouds, shelf clouds, anvils, mammatus, rain shafts, lightning, and the thunderstorm itself.

Storms are massive wonders, so a sense of scale can really amaze your audience. Objects such as trees and houses on the horizon line add scale to your shots so keep them in mind while you’re shooting.

EOS 7D, EF8-15mm f/4L Fisheye USM lens, f/11, 1/36 sec, 8mm, ISO 100 by Normand Gaudreault
The storm on the road to L'anse-à-Benjamin

Work with elements

Stormy days set up great opportunities for amazing clouds, especially during sunrise and sunset. Hence you’ll have a better chance of capturing something magical if you go out on partly cloudy, mostly cloudy and stormy days. But be cautious during stormy days, if it gets too windy or tornadoes or hurricanes are forecasted, it’s best to stay safe at home.

Tip: If the sun is behind you while you’re shooting the storm, look out for a bright rainbow.

EOS 5D Mark II, EF24-105mm f/4L IS USM, f/5, 1/800sec, 24mm, ISO 100 by
Pablo Reinsch

Safety First

Always maintain a safe distance away from storms. Don’t stay too far away from your vehicle and keep an eye to the sky and roads, if you’re on the move. Set up your equipment away from roads as slick roads and strong winds can be a dangerous combination. Avoid shooting directly into the wind and if ever you feel like you’re in extreme danger, leave.

Quick Tips:

  • Protect your camera with filters
  • Use a small aperture and longer exposure to increase your chances of capturing lightning
  • Work with elements like trees and houses on the horizon to give your storms a sense of scale
  • Avoid shooting directly into the wind to prevent small objects from flying headfirst towards you


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Azmin Zainal

Azmin Zainal has been in love with the written word ever since she could well, read. Relatively new to all things digital, so show her some love. Still searching for the meaning of life, whatever that is. Loves coffee, good conversations, fried chicken and Roger Federer. Not necessarily in that order.