Catching Lightning In A Camera

Lightning Trigger‚ Printer Basics, D-SLR Advantages, Zooms Vs. Fixed-Focal-Lengths, Upsizing Files

Layer MasksThis Article Features Photo Zoom

tech tips lightning
This is a composite of nine images, taken in Arizona over a period of a half hour with the Lightning Trigger attached to a Canon EOS 5D and 24-105mm lens on a tripod. The compositing was done in Adobe Photoshop

Lightning Trigger

I’ve heard of a product that helps capture lightning in the middle of the day. At night, I set exposures as long as several minutes to catch any lightning flash that might occur while the shutter is open. How could that work in daylight?
B. Kidd
Via the Internet

The Lightning Trigger from Stepping Stone Products allows you to photograph lightning, day or night ( When the trigger is attached to your flash shoe and connected to the auxiliary cable outlet, a flash of light activates the camera’s shutter release. Lightning lasts for about 200 milliseconds, and it only takes 100 milliseconds to fire the camera, so that’s why it’s possible to capture lightning in daylight. The caveat is that lightning outside the frame also will trigger the shutter, giving you a nice picture of nothing. But pixels are cheap. In an active storm, you’ll get a number of good captures of single strikes. If you want multiple strikes on the same image (as you might have at night with a long exposure), maintain tripod position, capture several strikes and composite the matching images later using imaging software.

Follow the safety recommendations on the Lightning Trigger Website. The trigger allows you to set your camera outside while you’re safe in your home or vehicle. It’s a great advantage.

Printer Basics

I have a 13×19-inch printer, and I’m having a hard time matching the final print to what I see on screen.
The screen shows a great deal of detail as well as good, balanced lighting, while the printed image is dark and muddy. I don’t use the printer often, and it seems I usually need to clean the heads if I haven’t used the printer for awhile. I also notice that inks don’t last too long.
C. Bosio
Via the Internet

A There are two procedures critical to producing finished prints that match what you see on your monitor. The first is calibrating your monitor to a set of industry standards. To accomplish this, you need what we call a “spider” (most of these devices resemble a spider). Some of the newer options, such as the Pantone huey, don’t. During calibration, the “spider” is plugged into your USB port and hangs on the monitor screen, taking a series of readings generated by the calibration software. The software prompts you to make adjustments on your monitor until the readings meet the industry standards. The process adjusts the color, contrast and brightness of the monitor. At this point, the printer and the monitor are speaking the same language, and your monitor and those of photo editors and publishers also should be in sync.

Now the printer needs to know on what kind of media it’s printing. By using paper profiles, the printer is instructed in how the paper accepts ink. Consider the different absorbencies of watercolor papers vs. hard, glossy papers, and you’ll begin to understand the complexity of laying down inks in proper quantities to achieve the desired intensities and colors on different media. Paper profiles are provided by the printer manufacturer or individual paper companies, or are custom-made by the photographer or a profile supplier for a specific media sample.

The environment in which you’re working is important. Shield your monitor from bright light, but look at your prints under controlled lighting conditions. The standard approximates daylight, 5500 degrees Kelvin. Bulbs, both incandescent and fluorescent, are readily available to give you this kind of lighting. A printer that’s sporadically used will have a tendency to clog; there are thousands of miniscule jets, and it doesn’t take much dried ink to cause a problem. Some manufacturers’ printers are more susceptible, and the atmospheric conditions where you live also affect the printer head. Low humidity is the worst. Maintenance helps. Turn on your printer and run a cleaning cycle regularly. Be aware that this uses ink without the benefit of a print. Professional printers like the Canon iPF5100 and Epson 4800 have much larger ink tanks and less tendency to clog.

D-SLR Advantages

What photographic advantages does a digital SLR have over a film SLR shooting slide film? Does digital have more latitude than transparencies? Assuming nothing is done with software after the image is taken, does a D-SLR inherently take better images than an SLR?
Via the Internet

It depends on the cameras. If you’re comparing a pro SLR film capture with a pro D-SLR capture, the digital capture has many advantages. Digital capture at its finest has surpassed film capture in terms of quantity and quality of information, not to mention the versatility digital offers frame to frame. A telling example is the choice of ISO. Digital ISOs far surpass film in latitude and grain structure. In film, anything beyond ISO 400 is really unusable, whereas in digital, we consistently get excellent results to ISO 1600 and beyond. In film, you choose a particular emulsion with a preset ISO and if you want to change it, you change film. In digital, you can change an entire set of options, from ISO to color renditions—high saturation vs. neutral tones—in every capture. But digital captures also require processing before they’re finished. If you shoot in JPEG format, you can accomplish this in the camera. The photographer can choose from a number of specifications, controlling saturation, contrast, sharpness, and in some cameras, a combination of settings. This offers the best image at time of capture. But you can do so much more by capturing in RAW and gathering much more essential data and then using image-processing software to “develop” the image.

It’s the finished image that matters, and there’s no doubt the potential of digital capture far exceeds film. In comparing captures from the latest pro digital cameras and 35mm scans, the processed D-SLR image produces a superior result in sharpness, tonal range, color saturation and image structure (grain vs. pixels).


Zooms Vs. Fixed-Focal-Lengths

I’ve been told that fixed-focal-length lenses are sharper than equivalent zoom lenses. Does this mean I have to buy and carry a lot of lenses to get the sharpest images?
C. Crider
Detroit, Michiigan

The potential of single-focal-length lenses allows for some advantages in the area of edge-to-edge sharpness, but the disadvantage is that you have to change position or lenses to optimally frame your subject, and yoy have to carry a lot of lenses. Most pros rely on zooms for most focal lengths other than extreme telephotos and extreme wide-angles. Today’s zooms are capable of performance very close to individual focal lengths within their range. The limiting factor is photographer technique. By working smartly with a zoom, a photographer can get the best performance from it—use a tripod and an aperture that maximizes sharpness from that lens, usually ƒ/8 to ƒ/16. Keep in mind that zooms are weakest at their maximum aperture and extreme focal lengths.

Upsizing Files

A lot of agencies request a minimum file size of 50 MB (8-bit flattened TIFF) for digital files, which will lead to upsizing the images with software. My guess is that more than 90 percent of images rarely will be printed in larger format than A3 (magazines, books, brochures, ads, etc.), which means the 50 MB file normally will be downsized before use. Theoretically, the quality of the final print will suffer from being upsized and then downsized, instead of being downsized once from native format. Why don’t agencies accept the native format (read a RAW file converted to TIFF) and upsize the file when it’s needed?
Swedish subscriber to OP
Via the Internet

Agencies require images to be submitted in their native capture size at 300 dpi. They don’t want you to upsize files. Top stock agencies that serve commercial clients require photographers to use a D-SLR of 10 or more megapixels and won’t accept images captured with lesser-quality cameras unless they’re to be used editorially. The 50 MB size generally refers to film captures scanned by a quality scanner. The end result from a 35mm image scanned at 4000 dpi is in the 50 MB range.

Agencies want the best-quality file that can be upsized when needed for commercial use and still be downsized for small publications or the web. An image that has been upsized prior to submission won’t render a quality result. Trust me, the agency will know if you’ve upsized (interpolated) the image. Metadata tells a lot about an image.

Other factors the agency is sensitive about are oversharpening and oversaturating in the attempt to optimize the image before submission. Use restraint.

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.