Storm Photography Tips & Tricks

Thunderstorms are one of nature’s most powerful outbursts and seeing one can make your heart flutter and your mouth begin to drool.  Not only are these storms a wonder to behold, they’re also a thing of beauty that must be photographed.  Here are some simple tips and tricks to keep in mind when a good storm does pop up and you want to photograph it.

1. Know what you’re getting into
Know what you’re getting into before you go out to take storm photos.  Check the Weather Channel ( for more information about developing weather in your area. Severe weather, especially storms with the potential for high winds, hail, and tornadoes, are extremely dangerous. Shooting this type of weather has the potential of getting you killed, so reading up on it will help improve your chances of staying safe.  Sign up for a National Weather Service sponsored severe weather spotter training course (it’s free!) or find a storm chaser friend who won’t mind you tagging along. 

The best time to take storm photos is before or after a thunderstorm, so don’t think that just because a storm is over you won’t get any good images. Some features to look out for when you’re photographing storms are wall clouds, shelf clouds, anvils, mammatus, rain shafts, lightning, and the thunderstorm itself. 

2. You might get wet
You’re going to photograph storms, so the possibility of getting rained on is pretty high. You don’t want to ruin your camera equipment, so what do you do? Get yourself a large zip-top bag (one gallon or bigger), place your camera inside the bag, cut a hole out for the lens, and you’re done! No need to spend hundreds on underwater housing for your specific camera with this trick. Just throw out the bag once it starts to leak and get a new one. Also grab a hoodie or some kind of jacket for yourself (a change of clothes might be a good idea too!) Nothing sucks more than getting drenched then having to drive hours in wet clothes before you can go home and change.

3. Cargo pants are cool
Okay, maybe they’re not, but for a storm photographer, they’re a time saver. You can keep everything from lens caps to filters to blank media in your pockets, and sometimes even lenses if they’ll fit. When you’re out in the field, especially if a storm is bearing down on you, you’ll want those extra pockets.

4. Pack light
Camera, wide angle lens, standard lens, tripod, filters, and a backpack to keep them all in; that’s pretty much all you need in the field. And don’t forget lens cloths. You’ll need them to wipe off any moisture on your camera or lenses.

5. Filters are easy to replace, lenses are not
You should always keep some kind of lens filter on your camera, be it UV or clear. This is even more important when you’re shooting storms because the wind can pick up and throw things at you in a moment’s notice. You’re better off replacing a filter than a lens, so keep those filters on your camera. It also keeps pesky dust off your lenses.

Speaking of filters, you’ll want to carry a polarizing filter with you. This’ll give your cloud shots more depth and reduce reflection if you happen to be shooting through a car window (which is a definite possibility). Other filters that you can use to enhance clouds are neutral density, graduated neutral density or color, and color correction filters.

6. Your tripod is your best friend
This is especially true in night settings when you’re trying to photograph lightning. It’s good to have a sturdy tripod. Weighing it down with something heavy would be really helpful (remember, it can get windy).

Shooting lightning while using your tripod is quite easy. Set your aperture to its highest setting, put your lens on infinite zoom, and meter your lighting to determine just how long to keep your shutter open. Keep it open for 5 seconds or longer depending on how frequent the lightning strikes and whether or not you're in a well lit area (you’ll want to keep your shutter open for shorter periods if you’re in a city setting). Don’t wait for lightning to strike. Shoot photos in succession. You’re bound to get something sooner or later. Just remember, you can always layer your photos later in post processing to create a lightning collage (just don’t move your tripod).

7. RAW + Photoshop = great images
When it comes to post processing storm photos, Photoshop is your best friend, especially if you've taken all your photos using the RAW format. Use it whenever possible because there are so many more editing options in RAW than there are in Photoshop alone. You can create some truly spectacular images using the RAW editor; everything from darkening your clouds to making the colors of the sky and ground pop. 

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