~ Lightning Photography Strategies and Safety Tips ~
Use the 30-second rule to estimate lightning distance. Never be outside when lightning is striking closer than six miles (30 seconds between the flash and the thunder). Be especially observant of storm development around you. If you are photographing a supercell, extend your distance for photography to ten miles or more. Practice lightning photography with the same safety in mind as you would any other activity during thunderstorm season.
The best location to photograph a storm is from a distance greater than six miles. Positioning yourself where the storm is passing transverse to your field of view provides a safer location to photograph and to isolate the region of the storm where the ground flash activity is most concentrated. It also allows for tracking the active area as the storm changes. The use of a medium telephoto lens will allow you to compose the Lightning Landscape and determine the degree to which the lightning lightning flash plays a role in the image. Wide-angle zooms in the 28-200 mm range provide excellent flexibility for lightning photography.
Isolated cells are the easiest and safest to photograph and they also provide the best photo opportunities. Embedded systems usually have multiple cells producing lightning and are more difficult to photograph. They also tend to be less photogenic.
Lightning strikes will occur from any region in and around a storm. Typically, you will observe not only the strikes preceding, trailing and occurring within the rain shaft, but also often when there is no rain. Strikes may occur from upper regions of the storm and travel outside of the cell to the ground. Although lightning activity may be occurring around the rain shaft at a distance of six miles, you should not position yourself under the cloud. Relocate to a safe distance.
Always be aware of objects around you that may attract or conduct lightning. Fences and overhead lines dominate the landscape. Do not set set your camera closer than 50 feet from a pole or a fence line even if the storm is more than six miles away.
Photographing advancing storms is not only dangerous, but also difficult to do since the area of lightning activity is broadening as the storm is approaching. The area of the storm where the lightning activity is occurring changes constantly as the storm develops and dissipates. Observation of storm development is very important not only for maximizing photographic opportunities, but for safety too.
At distances closer than six miles, photographic activities should be limited to indoors or from within a metal bodied automobile. The use of a windowpod is recommended when shooting from within a vehicle. Photographing close storms should be avoided. Again, the closer you are the more difficult it is to predict where the lightning activity will occur. It's best to relocate to a safe area. Remember that distance equals safety and distance equals the best photo opportunity.