April 30th, 2022, 4:16 p.m. local time

Inspired by the brilliant photography of Roger Powell in Australia, I have intended for a while to attempt my own meager efforts at capturing lightning.  This weekend presented my first opportunity.

I haven't researched an ideal approach to photograph lightning.  It's been a "back burner" item on my photography stove for some time.  But when I saw the tornado watch on my phone Saturday afternoon, I sprung into action to build a quick semblance of a photographing setup.

(Please note, a tornado watch is different from a tornado warning.  A watch means conditions may give rise potentially to produce a tornado.  During my two sessions, at no time was a tornado anywhere near me, nor did immediate conditions hint at the possibility of a tornado, beyond the fast-moving and sometimes colliding clouds.  If there were true danger, I was always within seconds of my basement.)

I can't recall if I read this somewhere, but I went with my gut reaction, which was to use the "Meteor mode" on my iPhone's NightCap app.  In "Meteor mode", exposures are taken every five seconds, and images are recorded when there is visible change.  I secured my iPhone to my tripod, opened my garage door, and started filming to the West.  Once the rains became unbearably heavy, I closed the garage door and waited about 45 minutes until the next front, at which time I set up again, but now under the awning of my front deck.

During the sessions, I could not, at first glance, find any lightning capture.  However, later after downloading the images onto my computer, I found the image posted with this article.  It was the very first photo taken!

Unfortunately, since it was the very first photo and I had literally seconds before turned on NightCap, I had not even attempted yet to adjust the ISO and exposure.  Notice the bizarre auto-ISO setting below, 2304!  50 or 100 makes far more sense during the day.  Plus, the color scheme on the original is terrible, again a product of the camera's errant auto-settings, so I posted it here in monochrome.

Was this a good idea to use NightCap Meteor mode?  The mode is, after all, intended for the night and not mid-afternoon.  Still, I was impressed that something got captured on my very first attempt.  I want to fine-tune this approach with Nightcap on a few more sessions, and also try a setup with my DSLR camera.

Photography settings:

  • iPhone XS with NightCap app using "Meteor mode"
  • Exposure time: 5.03 seconds
  • ISO 2304
  • F-stop: f/1.8
  • Focal length: 4mm
  • Touchups in PaintShop Pro and AfterShot Pro