A friend asked me how the lighting in this picture could possibly achieved:enter image description here Source: http://www.theatlantic.com/infocus/2012/10/wildlife-photographer-of-the-year-2012/100392/

The description leads me to believe that there's no HDR or other technique that requires multiple exposures:

Hannes worked fast, framing the lion against the illuminated night sky at the moment a bolt of lightning flashed to the ground.

But it seems hard to believe that this could be done in a single shot with a flash.

How could one achieve a shot like this?


2 Answers 2


Well, it does look like a flash photo to me. By the shadows behind front leg, it seems to have been bare flash slightly on the left of camera.

When the camera is well supported, the good thing about shooting lightning in dark is that you don't have to worry about shutter time too much - after the thunder has struck, the scene is dark and risk of overexposure is low. So you have time to fire your own flash for lighting up the foreground like here.

Other than that, you'll very likely have to study the habits and sleeping locations of lions, focusing in the dark, find location that even has both lions and lightning storms (desert weather tends to be rather boring), watch weather forecasts, and either get lucky or still come back empty-handed several times. So, nothing special :)


Taking a shot with this style of lighting is actually easy - timing the lightning and dealing with lions - not so easy :-)

The trick is that with a bright background if you expose for the background the foreground will be completely dark - but you can brighten the foreground to the same level with your flash (because you control the flash power you can control the foreground light level and the flash has limited range so it has no effect on the background).

First you choose your aperture for the depth of field you want.

Than you set the shutter speed so the background is well exposed, ignore the foreground for now (just keep the shutter speed slower than your max sync speed).

If you use a TTL flash you get just take the picture and the camera will do the rest, if you use a manual flash keep reading.

Set your flash power, you can choose the initial power based on the guide number (f number * distance = guide number at ISO 100 full power) guide numbers are not accurate but after doing this a few times you should know how to adjust your power.

If you have a little bit extra time you can, instead of messing with math, start from some middle-of-the-road setting and adjust from there (with my flash unit I start with 1/4 power).

You can use an higher ISO to conserve flash power, if you can't get enough power you will have to adjust your aperture (shutter speed has no effect on flash).

Also, flash attachments (umbrellas, softboxes, etc.) all waste some light, if you get to know your equipment you should know how much light each of your specific flash accessories wastes and use that knowledge to adjust flash power.

I can usually get everything right with 2-3 test shots (I'm not an expert like whoever took the lion shot).

This is quick and simple if you are photographing a model, maybe too slow if you are near a lion.


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