With the recent storms i tried to get catch a lightning bolt on film; a thing i always wanted to try. There was no real plan or guide behind it and just try and error to get a feel what works with a polaroid and what not (and to be fair i don’t want to become a polaroid storm chaser). It is a bit of a dance with the exposure settings and time though due of the unpredictability of the storm (and the polaroid).

For me it was hard to evaluate how much exposure the lightning flash produces and when it was overexposed in combination with the chosen aperture. Sometimes i thought i overexposed but the polaroid was just blank. Sometimes the other way around. The best result in that quick experiment seemed to be the normal settings i use when i do longtime exposure at night. More experimentation is needed.

The small test got me intrigued so i looked into some tips from storm chasers and maybe there will be a situation where i can try these with my other film cameras. This is what i gathered so far (but not confirmed yet):


  • Lenses:

    • Wideangle lenses with f/2.0 (or less) to catch the storm cell in its entirety
    • Tele (200mm) for lightning bolts
  • Filter:

    • Graduated grey filter to minimze contrast issues like a bright sky or bright clouds illuminated from the sun and a dark foreground. Seems to be mostly an issue with wide angle lenses
    • Polarization filter when the sun illuminates the clouds to give it more contrast
    • not necessary for lightning bolts though because of the potential light reflections between filter an lens during the lightning flash
  • Tripod is a must

  • Save the equipment from the rain

Depending on the motive, time and light conditions you have different approaches:


  • Take longer exposure times into considersations due to the darker spots in the storm clouds
  • Lower ISO seems to be better
  • Exposure time of 1/10s max otherwise the cloud structures start to blur
  • Graduated grey filter for panorama shots


  • distance between camera and the bolt is more relevant: the nearer the bolt, less light vanishes through the haze (the natural atmosspheric one and/or the light pollution), the brighter the bolt. Lightning bolts far away need more exposure time and/or open apeture. That is the difficulty with these kind of photography. A more open aperture could also affect the amount of light pollution that is captured which means less contrast or a overexposed picture. Especially a sudden near bright lightning flash could overexpose the picture as well. The haze also varies with the weather and therefore there is no clear rule to follow.

Sheet lightning:

  • difficult to capture but similar to lightning bolts. The farer away it is, the harder it gets and maybe more ISO is needed to not overexpose
  • exposure time should be short. The chance is lower to catch sheet lightning that way but the contrast is better
  • best situation seems to be dusk or dawn so that low ISO and longtime exposure is possible due to the balanced light