Taking nice lightning pictures requires not only technique and experience but also
a good dose of luck.
How to start with photographing the weather
I get asked this question occasionally, and as I grew into the
hobby more or less by chance, it is not an easy one to answer. But
I believe that the following will help you somewhat on your way.
First off all, I always like to compare photography with playing an
instrument. You can't play music with an instrument without knowing
how to use it, so you have to learn how to use the instrument. But
you can't learn unless you have the motivation. The place to start
is obviously to be motivated (in the long term!) to photograph and
improve your skills.
This motivation usually comes from your interests, automatically. I
didn't choose to photograph the weather really; I observed and
studied the weather and wanted to document what I saw. Maybe your
motivation comes from looking at other people's pictures. This is
great, but there is a risk that you become over-enthusiastic too
quickly. You might have too high expectations of your first photos
or invest in expensive photo equipment before really getting into the
hobby. Therefore, I suggest starting with photo equipment that you have
and don't worry if your first pictures don't turn out the way you
expected. There is a lot to learn.
Rainbows are always beautiful and easy to photograph, and are great to start your
Most importantly, you don't need to own top-quality professional
equipment to take decent photos of the weather. Photos of clouds
and sunsets can be taken with any ordinary camera. The best is to
start with an inexpensive camera, maybe a used one, or a compact
digital camera. In fact, for starters, I recommend using a digital
camera since you avoid the trouble of getting your slides or photos
processed and printed right (there's lots that can go wrong there,
making you think you took the photos incorrectly while in fact it
is the photo lab that printed photos differently).
What I do recommend you to purchase right away is a tripod, if
your camera has a tripod mount. It may be a simple, cheap tripod;
any tripod is better than no tripod, especially with low-light
photography. Your photos will be much sharper.
If you decide to use film, choose slide film. It is not very
forgiving if you under- or overexpose a frame, but print film
requires printing photos off the negatives and this can go wrong
at the lab easily (again, making you think that exposure settings
weren't right, while in fact it is just the print that was printed
too dark or too light).
Learn about the various genera and varieties of clouds when you
start. Building a photographic cloud atlas of everything you see can be very
One good place to start is... reading a few books or websites,
preferably with lots of weather pictures. Try to learn about the
weather, so you get some feeling which phenomena are caused by
what and how common or uncommon they are. This way, for example,
you will know where and when to look for a certain phenomenon, and
you will be more excited if you happen to see an uncommon phenomenon.
It also helps a lot to share your pictures in some way with others.
I recommend you to make a portfolio with your pictures, that you
can show to people whenever they ask you about your hobby, when
you go to meetings or visit your friends. If you really want to
show your work to a broader audience, build a website.
The technical part
The skills you will develop will come from experimenting and learning
from yourself and others. Do not try to force this - expecting too
much! No-one can learn photography in one day, or a week or month.
The most important thing is that you keep your motivation at all
times. When some picture doesn't come out the way you intended, or
in general if you encounter anything that you don't understand, find
the cause and learn from it. See this as a positive experience and
don't be discouraged by things you didn't know or photos that didn't
turn out the way you wanted.
Snow and ice are excellent subjects to photograph. While not
easy to correctly expose, snowscapes are usually very beautiful and will give you
rewarding pictures that help your motivation.
It is by no means a requirement, but some understanding of basic
mathematics and physics will help immensely in understanding how
cameras, lenses, filters, film and such function, and the principles
of light (basic optics). Understanding the properties of light is
one of the most important things in photography.
The artistic part
If you want your pictures to be eye-catching, you'll also need to
develop a feeling for composition and balance in your photos. One
way to learn this is to look at other people's photos and ask
yourself what you like or don't like in the picture... is the
horizon too flat? Too low or high? Is the subject too much
centered? How would you improve if you were taking that picture?
Note that some subjects you will photograph are not really artistic,
but more documentary in nature. For example, a halo display can
be really difficult to get properly composed on the frame, because
the arcs in the sky are usually huge, the sun may be in the frame,
and the display may last very shortly, not allowing for any time to
seek composition in the landscape.
Never stop learning, always keep experimenting with new techniques,
and never be fully satisfied with your own photos (but always be
happy with them). Be not only proud of what you accomplish but also
critical of your own work, yet never be discouraged. This will keep you
motivated in the long run and will improve your skills all the time.