Put safety first in storm photography.
Staying safe is the primary concern for any type of storm or lightning photography. “If you can hear thunder, then you’re at risk for being struck by lightning,” says weather and environmental photographer Jim Reed. “In some cases, you don’t even have to hear the thunder.”
Set your camera up with a cable release or a lightning trigger so you can shoot from your car or a nearby structure. While cars are fairly safe, “you’re not a hundred percent safe unless you’re in a building and not touching anything that’s connected to an outlet or plumbing,” according to Weingart.
Don’t stand under a tree.
If you must be outside, avoid being the tallest object where you are and don’t stand under the tallest objects either, like trees or power lines. If a nearby tree gets struck, the current could travel to you or the tree could explode. If you absolutely can’t get inside in time, get on your tiptoes while crouching down; you want to be as low as possible, while also minimizing contact with the ground.
Check radar and be mindful.
Radar apps like RadarScope or RadarOmega not only enable you to find your storm, but they can also keep you safe. Keep an eye on the location of the storm and check often for changes in speed or direction. If you’re in a car, stay alert about where you’re stopping and pulling over. Don’t sacrifice your safety to get your shot.
Keep your distance from the storm.
Find a location where you can take pictures of storms from a distance of 5 to 20 miles. This distance is safer and can even make for more compelling images. “The whole storm structure lighting up from a distance is often prettier than being directly underneath it, with the lightning strike only a half a mile away,” says Weingart.
Find your vantage point and have patience.
Using a radar app and the National Weather Service website, find out which direction your storm is coming from and decide on a location with composition in mind. “I try and get to a safe location where the cityscape is between me and the storm. This way I can watch the system evolve as it approaches,” says Ulivieri. If you can find a safe elevated spot, that will also add some interest to your images of lightning strikes.