Getting the Shot – Lightning over Albany
By John Haywood
It was just a regular kind of day. I had been to Christman Sanctuary in Delanson earlier to photograph the waterfalls there and I was on my way home from having my brakes replaced on the car. I had planned on getting some stuff done around the house.
As I drove toward Albany on I90, I saw the sky up ahead take on a truly concerning look. Faint flickers of lightning danced across a menacingly pink sky topped by angry bluish clouds. I knew right away where I needed to get to and was hopeful not to miss this opportunity!
Fortunately, I was close to a favorite spot where I photograph the Albany skyline. I pulled in and hopped out being met with intense gusts of wind. I thought “How is this going to work?” I would have to have a slow exposure or be very lucky on a quick exposure in order to capture the lightning over the city. Regardless, I set up the tripod and camera with the wired shutter release. I got a quick meter reading and set focus. I set the aperture and shutter speed and gave it a go. I failed miserably. The wind was so intense that even with me trying to hold the rig steady, it still caused blur. Also, as I was trying to steady the camera, I would miss lightning strikes by sheer milliseconds. Then the rain started.
You might think at this point I’d give up, thinking I’d missed my shot, but I stuck around. I attempted to set the tripod up in the car but the angle was no good due to the parking. I would’ve had to move the nose of the car into the roadway to get the proper angle.
As I waited, the wind calmed and the rain became lighter. I jumped back out and set up again. This time I didn’t have to hold the camera and could focus on the task at hand. I set the aperture to f16 and the shutter to 10 seconds with an ISO of 100. I released the shutter… and waited.
It wasn’t long before I was able to capture several bolts as the lightning remained constant due to a second storm cell made its way up the Hudson River. I was fortunate that this storm didn’t just race from west to east, otherwise I may not have been able to capture anything.
I mentioned the camera settings above, however for framing the shot, I chose to keep my focus on the city skyline although there were some great strikes to the left and right. I zoomed in slightly and kept the bit of foreground under the skyline which kept the sky open above the city. I was being mindful of the “Rule of Thirds”. I also chose to move the skyline to the left of the frame a bit. I was hoping for a lightning strike to the right which I felt would make for a powerful image. I was not disappointed.
In the end, I captured a few “keepers” despite the rough start. I’ve been a photographer for 28 years and only within the last seven years have I been able to capture lightning. The photographs from this night along with my “Fire in the Sky” photograph of lightning and fireworks over Albany, were truly worth the wait.
Camera – Nikon D7000
ISO – 100
Aperture – f16
Shutter Speed – 10 seconds
Exposure Bias – 0
Focal Length – 42mm
Additional – Tripod, Wired Shutter Release
The final images –