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Behind The Shot: See How This Storm Chaser Photographs Lightning

France-based photographer and storm chaser Emric Imbertie (@emric_imbertie_photography) chooses a low ISO and long exposure to capture lightning. Below we connect with him to learn more.

Photo by Emric Imbertie. Sony Alpha 7 II. Sony 50mm f/1.8. 30-sec., f/4, ISO 50

Photo by Emric Imbertie. Sony Alpha 7 II. Sony 50mm f/1.8. 30-sec., f/1.8, ISO 250

Photo by Emric Imbertie. Sony Alpha 7 II. Sony 28-70mm f/3.5-5.6. 30-sec., f/5, ISO 1000

Photo by Emric Imbertie. Sony Alpha 7 II. Sony 50mm f/1.8. 30-sec., f/6.3, ISO 200

Photo by Emric Imbertie. Sony Alpha 7 II. Sony 50mm f/1.8. 1/13-sec., f/10, ISO 50

Photo by Emric Imbertie. Sony Alpha 7 II. Sony 50mm f/1.8. 1/13-sec., f/10, ISO 50

Photo by Emric Imbertie. Sony Alpha 7 II. Sony 28-70mm f/3.5-5.6. 25-sec., f/5.6, ISO 640

Photo by Emric Imbertie. Sony Alpha 7 II. Sony 50mm f/1.8. 1/8-sec., f/8, ISO 50

Photo by Emric Imbertie. Sony Alpha 7 II. Sony 50mm f/1.8. 30-sec., f/2.8, ISO 50

Photo by Emric Imbertie. Sony Alpha 7 II. Sony 28-70mm f/3.5-5.6. 1/10-sec., f/6.3, ISO 50

France-based Emric Imbertie (@emric_imbertie_photography) has been a photographer and storm chaser for the past several years. “For me, the storm chasing was the start of my passion for photography,” he says. “I discovered it thanks to exceptional people who I now call friends. We collaborate with each other for the account @stormtrotters. Since this discovery of my passion, I’ve practiced photographing landscapes, architecture/city, sports and of course storms.” We caught up with him to learn more about his experience chasing and photographing lightning with his Sony Alpha 7 II and an underappreciated Sony 50mm f/1.8.

Photo by Emric Imbertie. Sony Alpha 7 II. Sony 50mm f/1.8. 30-sec., f/4, ISO 50

Photo by Emric Imbertie. Sony Alpha 7 II. Sony 50mm f/1.8. 30-sec., f/4, ISO 50

Photographer & storm chaser Emric Imbertie chooses a low ISO and long exposure with an A7 II and an under-appreciated, older Sony prime to capture lightning.

The Chase

I'm going to tell you about this shot that I had the opportunity to immortalize in September, at the end of the storm season, in Normandy (Northwest of France). Storm chasing is not something you can improvise. You have to be on the lookout for the weather forecast in detail, find the most interesting chasing area accordingly and identify the different spots. Then the chase begins and you have to know how to make the right decisions in the face of the elements with the means at your disposal (real-time precipitation map, different atmospheric indices, etc,), to be in the best position to take good shots but also live the moment in the best possible way, because storms are just as impressive as they are fleeting.

For this photo, I was initially on the West Coast of Normandy, above the bay of Mont Saint Michel (my first target of the day). I witness the birth of thunderstorm cells which gradually rise from the Southwest and move towards the Northeast. I noticed a certain intensification when they entered the land and I decided a strategic move. I must carry out a "corepunching," which is a dangerous movement consisting of you literally crossing the heart of a storm in order to get ahead of it, to arrive at this second and last target. After having faced a real wall of precipitation mixed with strong wind gusts and a lot of lightning strikes falling more or less close to my vehicle, I finally managed to get ahead of it and post myself on the spot. So I quickly take out my stuff and make my adjustments. Now you just have to enjoy this magnificent sound and light show offered by the storm…with the reward, beautiful ramified impacts in the camera.

The Gear

I use a Sony hybrid camera, the Sony Alpha 7 ll, which I really like. I turned to Sony in the sense that their experience in mirrorless cameras is no longer to be proven. In addition, the quality of these cameras is particularly appreciable, a real impression of solidity in an aesthetic product, what more could you ask for? 

I also needed a product that manages the rise in ISO well, essential for someone like me who takes pictures in low light or even sports where the opening time must be very fast. Given the reputation of Sony hybrids in this field, and what I explained to you before, it is quite natural that my choice is oriented towards this camera that is the Sony Alpha 7 ll.

For this photo, I used a must-have lens, the Sony 50mm f/1.8, which offers superb sharpness and allows full use of the full-frame sensor of the body.

The Shot

For this shot and for night lightning photos in general, I often use the same process.
First, I put my tripod (Manfrotto Element Mll) so that I have a solid base. Once the camera is installed, I choose the most suitable framing. Since the lightning was not falling too far I decided to leave the ISO at 50, the lowest possible, and open at f/4 given the distance I can attempt such an opening without too much risk. To finish I leave an opening time of 30 seconds, here the objective being purely lightning, as much to put all the chances on its side with a rather "long" opening time.

Then I adjust the focus as well as possible to have the clearest image possible, so that I fix an artificial light at a good distance and I make sure to have it as clear as possible by zooming as much as possible with the magnifying glass. I ended up adjusting the white balance for an optimal rendering. For this scene, I had a town below and a certain light pollution. I then decided on the "artificial light" setting which limits the orange side produced by light pollution.

The Edit

Post-processing is a very personal part of photography, a way to bring out your shot in your own way. It is a job that continues to develop over time and with practice, and that must not be neglected. Due to lack of resources and not having a PC at the moment, I do all of my work on my phone (the rendering is quite good but I know that it will be even better with a PC).

I use the "Lightroom" application which can process RAW files with all the necessary features. I proceed by adjusting the brightness by slightly modifying the exposure, highlights, whites and shadows. Once I have the result I want, I will bring out the details by touching up the textures, clarity and slight haze correction. To finish I go to colorimetry, where I will be able to play with saturation, vibrance, tint and each color for the best rendering suited to my expectations and what I have experienced.

See more of Emric Imbertie's work on Instagram @emric_imbertie_photography.

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