How I Got the Shot: Lightning Photography with Michael Dellitalia

Iinitially went up to my rooftop in Williamsburg, Brooklyn at dusk to do some moon shots, because the particular phase would render an image with interesting detail due to side lighting. I got some captures that were OK, but as I was packing up my gear, I noticed that the sky was getting darker and darker, and when I looked towards Manhattan, there was a brilliant orange glow emanating from the horizon.

The wind was picking up and there were lightning strikes and thunder claps beginning in the distance, but I climbed up on my building’s skylight.

While clutching onto my tripod (literally, to keep it from flying away), I was able to fire off a couple shots, and with some luck from the universe, I got the photo you see, which arrested a large bolt of lightning juxtaposed over the Manhattan skyline. 

Photo by Michael Dellitalia

The gear used:

  • Nikon D7000
  • Nikon AF-S Nikkor 70-300mm lens 1:4.5-5.6G, at 70mm
  • Aperture F22
  • Shutter Speed 1.3 Seconds

I chose the Nikon system because my first camera was the Nikon F3 (I inherited it from my father, who is an accomplished photographer and has very influential in my development as a photographer), and I’ve grown to appreciate the quality of Nikon optics. In more recent years, I’ve loved the ergonomics of their digital cameras and the layout of the custom setting menu. I chose this lens because it’s sharp, lightweight, economical, and allowed me to work quickly.

In order to get the shot, I used C3 (custom setting 3) self-timer. The setting that I used was “number of shots” — 9. The interval between shots was 1 second. I had a mirror lock up set, and I also had Custom Function D11 “exposure delay mode.” With the combination of mirror lock up, self-timer, and exposure delay mode, I minimized any chance of motion blur caused by the mirror rising and falling.

People wonder how long it took me to get the shot. The answer is simple: “It took me my whole life.”

It’s decades of shooting and using my judgment to know how to pre-visualize the image and execute it. Nikon put the tools in my hand to create this story.