I've been wanting to practice taking pictures of lightning ever since purchasing a new digital SLR for over two years now. Unfortunately Western Washington doesn't get a lot of chances to practice this technique, which made me very happy to hear the forecast on Wednesday, July 2nd. After dozens and dozens of attempts, I was finally able to walk away with two decent shots worth sharing.
Getting pictures like this is really quite simple in concept. First of all you need a camera (film or digital) that allows you to manually adjust the settings such as shutter speed, aperture, and ISO. SLR cameras and high end "point-and-shoot" cameras will be able to do this. Next you'll need a tripod. Set the focus of the lens you're using (wide angle lenses work best. I used a 10-20mm lens to get my two shots) to infinity (weird sideways 8 looking symbol) while the lens is set to manual focusing mode. The next step is to set the camera to full manual and adjust the shutter speed to the lowest speed possible. I was unable to find a remote shutter switch so was limited to 30 second exposures for each attempt. That obviously worked out well in my situation. Finally you adjust the aperture to a narrow setting such as F/11 or better. Now all you have to do is point the camera at the sky, and hope for the best! This type of photograph really relies on a high level of patience.
If you have a remote to activate your cameras shutter you can use that to make sure you get at least one strike per photo by setting the shutter speed to bulb. This means the shutter only opens and closes when you press the button and enables you to have the shutter open as long as you want. This also increases your chances of success as you can leave the shutter open as long as it takes to get a as many lightning strikes in the same photo as you want.
Each of my pictures was taken with the following settings:
Manual Exposure, 30 second Shutter Speed, Aperture F/11, ISO 400, at a focal length of 20 mm using a RebelXT and Sigma 10-20mm.