Beware Of The Sun?

A Burning Question • What’s A Pro Camera? • Prints From The Dark Side • When Things Get Wet
This Article Features Photo Zoom

A sunburst becomes the focal point of this image of a sand tufa at the edge of Mono Lake in the Eastern Sierra of California. It’s common for me to put the sun directly within the frame in many of my landscape images. To this date, I haven’t incurred any damage to my cameras. It still makes sense to be careful when having the camera pointed at the sun for an extended period of time.

A Burning Question
Q I recently “went digital” with a Nikon D90. While exploring the user’s manual, I was surprised to read a warning to keep the sun well out of the frame when shooting backlit subjects. It stated on page XIV in the “For Your Safety” section, “Keep the sun well out of the frame when shooting backlit subjects. Sunlight focused into the camera when the sun is in or close to the frame could cause a fire.” Could you please explain why this happens? I guess this means no more sunset shots (with the sun showing) and no more “starburst” effects.
L. Wallace
Via the Internet

A First, I can’t speak for Nikon’s motivation in adding this caution to their manuals. What I can say is that I’ve had thousands of Nikon shooters in my workshops, and just about every one of them has photographed a number of sunsets, sunrises and sunburst effects. Not one camera has suffered any evident damage from including the sun in the image. On my part, I’ve taken 4000-frame time-lapse sequences with my Canon equipment, where the sun was included in the frame for at least part of the series, with no discernable harm.

That said, it’s possible to damage your camera if you point it, with lens attached, directly at the sun for an extended length of time. Whether you’re intentionally shooting a really, really long exposure in broad daylight (why would you do that?) or whether you casually set your camera down on a rock with the lens pointed at the sky, the effect is the same as directing the sun through a magnifying glass onto combustible material. Keep in mind that the lens, not attached to the camera and uncapped at both ends, has the same potential for fire-starting as the aforementioned magnifying glass.

There are combustible materials inside many, if not most, D-SLR bodies. A strip of foam often is placed to cushion the mirror as it slaps up during exposure. In some cameras, there are plastic components that can be melted or deformed under high temperatures. The rule I follow is to always cover the lens with the lens cap (if I can find it) when the camera isn’t in use. This will protect it from other calamities as well.

There’s another safety aspect related to cameras and the sun. Just like my mother always told me, never look directly at the sun, even through your camera’s viewfinder, because it can damage your eyes. Listen to my mom.

This Article Features Photo Zoom

What’s A Pro Camera?

Canon EOS-1Ds Mark II with an EF 15mm ƒ/2.8 fisheye lens attached, ƒ/16 at 1⁄250 sec., ISO 200

Q I’m an avid amateur landscape photographer who’s pondering making the jump to pro. On a recent trip to the Canadian Rockies, I met a professional photographer who told me I would have to upgrade my camera to something like a Canon EOS 5D Mark II or Nikon D3X to have a chance of making quality, professional images (I’m currently shooting with a Canon EOS Rebel XTi). The main reason for upgrading, he insisted, was to take advantage of the much better “pixel sensitivity” from more expensive cameras. He said these pro cameras would deliver images with “pop.” Now, I’m not one to discount advice from someone who’s already making a living in the same field I aspire to, but I’m puzzled. I’ve read, in these very pages, that the excellent “entry-level” Canon and Nikon D-SLRs are eminently capable of producing professional images. What gives? And for the record, I’ve had no trouble capturing images that I consider professional quality—images that “pop”—with my little ol’ Canon XTi.
S. Eaton
Vancouver, B.C., Canada

A Let’s see. What’s a professional photographer? What’s a professional camera? What’s an image that pops? We usually say a “professional” photographer is one whose day job is photography, sufficiently remunerative so as to make a living from it. This doesn’t mean that everyone who’s making a living at photography is producing professional work—of consistently high quality, both creatively and technically. There’s no doubt that a high-end camera can facilitate the work of a capable photographer, and even help to elevate it to a professional standard. The equipment needs to meet certain criteria in file size, sharpness and color rendition for the product to be sold in professional markets. Fast autofocus, expandable ISO, full-frame sensors, rapid capture, image-stabilized lenses and other advanced functions can vastly increase a competent photographer’s creative and technical options. All of these factors might indeed improve your chances for capturing a high-quality, compelling image—one that “pops.”

As long as you’re using quality lenses, your 10.1-megapixel Canon Rebel XTi is capable of producing images of professional quality, more than adequate for the cover of this magazine. In fact, this entry-level D-SLR has many advantages over the best, expensive, professional ones available just a few years ago. Its limitations, as compared to today’s top-of-the-line D-SLRs, are in its relatively small sensor size and lower resolution, lack of robustness for field use and slower image capture rate. The XTi’s DIGIC II processor doesn’t offer the same expanded ISO (low-light capture) options available in cameras with DIGIC 4 processors, such as the Canon EOS Rebel T1i, the EOS 5D Mark II and the new Canon EOS 7D.

It’s still the person behind the camera who creates the image with a WOW factor, and I’ve judged photography contests where some of the most creative and compelling work was done with compact point-and-shoot digital cameras. You’ll know that you’re growing as a professional photographer, however, when your creative drive and technical standards exceed the limits of your equipment and ability. New worlds will open to you when you master the higher-level skills required to maximize the capabilities of pro gear.

Prints From The Dark Side
Q I shoot in Camera Raw and process images in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 2 with great results. I have a laptop with a high-definition monitor that I calibrate, and the images look great on my computer when I’m finished processing. However, when I send these images to my Epson R2880 printer, they print very underexposed (color seems okay, but exposure is very dark), and I have to greatly overexpose the image in Lightroom to get a properly exposed print. Is there a way to adjust my Lightroom processing or print process so that what I see in Lightroom is what I get in a final print?
T. Kolhoff
Via the Internet

A You don’t mention whether your printing process includes printer (paper) profiles. These convey a set of instructions to the particular printer you’re using about how to properly lay the ink down on the selected media. Watercolor papers, for example, are much more absorbent and will print the ink in different color and dot sizes as compared to glossy paper, where the ink stands on the surface and maintains a very small dot. Epson furnishes printer/paper profiles for their printers and papers. Photographic paper manufacturers, such as Moab, also offer printer/paper-specific profiles. I can’t overstate the importance of the combination of a consistent, calibrated monitor and appropriate printer/paper profiles for successful print production. With this preparation, I have on numerous occasions produced a perfect print on the first try with both Canon and Epson professional printers, right out of the box.

On my Canon imagePROGRAF professional printers, I modify the printer/paper profile if I feel it isn’t producing the color, saturation, tonality, contrast or brightness I seek. Rather than making these changes in Lightroom on my image file, I can modify the output parameters to make fine adjustments, and I can save these modifications in a custom profile to be used again later.

When Things Get Wet
Over the years, one of us (guess which one) has dunked a lot of expensive camera equipment in wet places. We’ve recently come across a possible quick solution. The Bheestie Bag is a sealable bag with a pouch of powerful built-in desiccant included ( The bag is a bit small as it’s designed for electronics like compact cameras, cell phones (just another camera) and iPods, but the packet of desiccant can be placed in a larger sealable bag if the lens or camera body is larger. The Bheestie Bags weigh almost nothing and take up very little space. I’m carrying two of them, just in case. By the way, a bheestie, in India, is a water carrier.

For information about upcoming seminars and digital-imaging workshops, visit If you have any tips or questions, address them to: OUTDOOR PHOTOGRAPHER, Dept. TT, George Lepp, 12121 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 1200, Los Angeles, CA 90025-1176 or online at

One of North America’s best-known contemporary outdoor and nature photographers and a leader in the field of digital imaging and photographic education, Lepp is the author of many books and the field editor of Outdoor Photographer magazine. One of Canon’s original Explorers of Light, Lepp finds inspiration in advancing technology that fuels creative innovation and expression of his life-long fascination with the natural world.