Category Archives: Photography


  1. the quality or fact of being able to grip something firmly; grip.

    I found this tree holding on tightly to a creek bank a few weeks ago.
    Life clings firmly to existence even when the odds are against it.


Photographing Lightning

I love to photograph lightning. Lightning is unpredictable, energizing (pun intended), and most recently, the act of photographing lightning pulled me out of the doldrums that i have been metaphorically sailing in for the last four months.

There are many approaches to photographing lightning. Some photographers rely on battery-powered triggers to, hopefully, capture a bolt of lightning as it traverses the sky. Some photographers use an intervalometer and let the camera merrily click away with the hope that a frame or two will have lightning in it. This is actually not a bad way to photograph lightning because if you let the camera run long enough you will also have the files that you need to create a nice time-lapse of the event. I’ve never used a lightning trigger and I probably never will. I’ve used the intervalometer method with mixed results. My favorite method is to place the camera in Bulb and trip the shutter when I feel that it is time to make a photograph.

What does “time to make a photograph” mean? Do I have a keenly honed sense of what the storm is going to do that allows me to predict the instant that a bolt of lightning is going to erupt from the cloud? No. I do not. Every storm has a randomness that defies predicting when and where lightning will strike. However, if you pay attention to it, you will find that the storm has areas of higher energy that produce more lightning events than other areas. The areas move within the storm in an unpredictable manner. Sometimes they move in the direction that the storm is moving. Sometimes they move toward  the tail of the storm. Sometimes they are at both ends and all through the middle. Bonus! Where the higher energy is, for some unpredictable period of time, lightning is produced at a higher rate.

Now might be a good time to mention that it’s not uncommon for lightning to travel 20 miles or more before it finds a place to return to earth. You do not want to be standing at the return point when that happens. With that in mind, it’s safe to say that anytime that you photograph lightning you are at risk of being struck. Nothing I’m about to write is going to prevent lightning from striking you. Photographing lightning is dangerous.

It is very important to pay attention to where the storm is going and what the lightning is doing. Not only for photographic reasons but for your safety as well. During my most recent outing I photographed a very energetic storm. It was an easy storm to capture lightning from. It was coming toward me. Typically, when a storm is inbound as opposed to crossing or receding, the rain will drive me to seek shelter well before the lightning gets close enough to concern me. I use 6 miles as the drop dead, time to go inside distance. With today’s smart phones it’s easy to see nearly realtime weather radar to help you decide when it’s time to go indoors. Again, 6 miles is my “safe zone” number. In actuality there is nothing safe about it. It’s a feel good number that is usually superseded by rain from the storm.

In the case of the most recent storm that I photographed, the rain didn’t come until I had been inside for almost 45 minutes. The storm was still building. The gust front winds were warm and flowing toward the storm. That indicates that updraft forces are pulling the surrounding warm air into the storm, energizing it, and helping to create the intense light show that I was seeing. A storm that is mature or dying will usually have a gust front composed of the cold air aloft. The cold air is dragged down, so to speak, by the rain falling from the clouds, and when it strikes the ground it flows out in all directions. This is indicative of the collapse of the storm. What goes up must come down.

I waited for the rain to send me running for shelter and it never came. At some point the thunder got loud enough that it penetrated my thick skull and I took stock of my entire surroundings and not just the beautiful light show in front of me. I had lightning behind me, above me, and in front of me. When I saw that lightning surrounded me I packed everything up and went inside. The storm front was only about two miles away. It took almost 20 minutes for the large cloud to ground strikes that the storm was producing to start to pop near me. By near I mean flash and then count to 1 or 2 before the thunder sounded. It took 45 minutes for the 70+ mph wind gusts and driving rain to arrive. Sadly I did not think to video the scene. The feeling of raw power that the storm produced was amazing. Less than an hour later the storm spawned at least two tornadoes in remote areas. No property damage or injuries were reported that I’m aware of.

That should do for the Amateur Meteorology 101 part of this blog post. I give you this information because it is important to know something about the anatomy of a storm and to read what phase it is in. The web is full of better information than what I just gave you. Please look into it for your own safety.

The process of photographing the image below was really very simple. Camera shutter in Bulb mode. ISO 100. f2.8. Focus at infinity. When I felt that it was time to make an image I tripped the shutter for a 12 count. 12 seconds in other words. When the storm was farther away I used ISO 200 and a 15 second exposure. Exposure is easily determined from the histogram and ISO makes a great coarse exposure adjustment. Fine tune the exposure with the length of time that you hold the shutter open.

A lot can happen in 12 seconds when a storm as energetic as the one that I was photographing is in the viewfinder. The following image is the second image out of a dozen or so that I made. They all had lightning in them. I credit the storms intensity with the high rate of keepers. Typically I have some dark frames or frames with nothing more than illuminated clouds in them. Some storms yield a high percentage of lightning in the frames. Some make the photographer work hard for one mediocre image. Some give you nothing but the satisfaction of being there. Some of my best misses (images that I missed) occurred as I was walking away with my camera and tripod over my shoulder.

Thanks for reading my blog

Lightning MLL_1368-Edit June 09, 2014s

An Overview of Lightroom 5

Lightroom can seem difficult but once you get the hang of it it’s pretty easy. I’ve had Lightroom since the day that Adobe released it. I didn’t start using it until version 4. Most of this reflects my opinion. You will likely find contradictions to what I have written on the web. I’m good with that. This is what works for me today. I may discover something new after publishing this.

It’s best to work with raw files. LR’s default color space is Pro Photo RGB and bringing a sRGB or Adobe RGB image (smaller color spaces) into the Pro Photo RGB color space can make things look wonky

Here are a few Lightroom concepts for you:

(1) Catalogs. You only need one catalog. I’ve been toying with the idea of having a catalog for each year but it’s not necessary and I can’t see the benefit of having more than one catalog.

(2) A catalog is a place holder for the reference to your images. It doesn’t “contain” the images, it just points to them. LR is a nondestructive editor so your raw files are never modified from the original version.

(3) Library Module: this is where I add copyright info to the EXIF, cull the obviously bad images, rate the images if its an event shoot or from an extended trip, etc. After a while the keyboard shortcuts are easy to remember and use. After attending a recent Lightroom seminar, taught by Matt Kloskowski, I have changed the way that I flag images. I use his approach and use the following shortcut keys: P – Pick, U – Unpick, X – Reject. While in the Library module, look for the Metadata tag Headline. If you add a headline you can later use it in the Export function to add whatever is in the headline to the file name.

(4) Develop Module: this is where the editing is done. All of the functions are useful but I predominantly work in the Basic (most used), Tone Curve, HSL, Detail, Lens Correction, and Camera Calibration (only useful if you have a camera profile setup and that takes another piece of software). I don’t use Tone Curve much anymore because if I use curves (hardly ever) I do so in Photoshop CC. HSL is pretty cool. You can adjust the Saturation and Lightness of individual colors. Most recommend not moving a slider higher than 35 or 40. Detail is where Sharpening and noise removal are done. Lens correction: If your lens and camera is in the drop down box you can enable lens correction and it will automatically correct for lens imperfections. There is free software on the Lightroom website for creating lens profiles. I’ve never used it though.

Collections: This is not a Module. It’s in the left side at the bottom of the menu. These are real handy. You can create a collection, for instance a collection called Flamenco, and make it the Target Collection (Right Click, Set as Target) and when you see a Flamenco image that you know you will want to print or export, or whatever, you select it, hit the B key, and it shows up in the Target collection. Collections don’t “contain” the image. They point to them. Similar to catalogs but not the same. Now instead of hunting for your favorite Flamenco images you can just click on the collection, edit, print, export, whatever, without navigating to the individual folder on the hard drive.

Above the Basic module you have cropping and other tools
Crop and Straighten: If you want to free form crop you have to uncheck the little lock symbol where it says Original. You can click on Original and a drop down box will open to give you some presets or you can make your own. The Angle selection is nice for straightening horizons, etc.

Spot Removal: I keep mine set on Heal so it mimics the Content Aware Fill tool in CC.

Red-eye Reduction: This works good though I rarely need it

Graduated filter: very powerful and handy way to shape light, sharpness, etc in your image. You can add multiple graduated filters

Radial Filter: Absolutely my favorite tool on the tool bar. The first time you use it you will probably think I’m crazy for saying that. Click the Invert Mask checkbox and it becomes a more useful tool. By the way, every one of these tools has an on/off switch in the panel. The Radial Filter on/off is at the lower left corner of the panel with the Reset and Close button. The on/off switch is very handy for seeing the difference that the effect makes. You can add numerous Radial Filters, each with a different setting, to an image.

Adjustment Brush: This one is tied with the Radial Filter. It lets you brush in or out all kinds of adjustments. If you have a Wacom tablet you can make pinpoint adjustments with this tool. It’s also like the Radial Filter in that you can add multiple adjustments with different settings

Book Module: I haven’t used this yet but I’ve seen tutorials on it and it’s pretty dang nice

Slideshow Module: I used this to make a slideshow of my favorite images from this year and exported it out as a movie

Print Module: Once I figured this one out it became my goto way to print. Even if I edit in CC I print from LR.

Make sure you have a Catalog. Use the default name or make your own. It doesn’t matter

Import your images with File, Import. I changed how I import after the seminar. Lightroom will put your images in dated folders. I sill have a year folder, for instance I have a 2014 folder, but now, instead of downloading my images to a folder with the date of the image, with Lightroom, I create a folder under the year that the image was taken that is specific to the subject of the image. For instance my folder structure may be 2014–> Landscape and I put every landscape image that I shoot in 2014 into this folder. I don’t have to wonder what month or day that I shot a specific landscape image was. I just open the landscape folder. The Import function is still the same but instead of importing from a card or camera, I import from a folder that I downloaded the images to.

When you get finished with your raw file edits and you want to work on them somewhere else, like Silver Efex Pro 2 or CC, up on the menu bar click Photo—> Edit In and select the editing method. It will take you to the software and when you are through it will return you to Lightroom, where you can tweak the result, print, make a JPG, etc. The externally edited file will be a TIF or PSD or whatever your default format is. Mine is TIF because it’s smaller and not proprietary.

Make a JPG, etc: File—> Export. This is a busy little window but I’ll try to break it down for you

Export To: Specific Folder, Choose later, Same folder as original. I keep my TIF’s in a subfolder under the original called TIF and JPG’s in a subfolder under the original called JPG so I always use Specific Folder. I just have to remember to select Choose. I could probably make my exports faster if I used some of the other tools

File Naming: This is handy. I created my own template for this called Headline Filename Date.

File Settings: JPEG or TIF. sRGB color space since most of the time it’s going on the web and I only print my TIF or edited RAW files. Quality: 90 Limit File Size is unchecked

Image Sizing: This depends on what I want. If it’s a JPG going on the Web I’ll do Resize to fit W: 1280 H: 1280 pixels and 72-100 for resolution. 1280 x 1280 makes the longest side 1280. It does not affect the original aspect ratio. If it’s a full size JPG then I don’t check resize to fit and resolution is 360 pixels per inch

Output Sharpening: Depends on what I’m doing. Amount is always standard.

Metadata: I include all Metadata and check the Write Keywords box

Watermark: Nope…

Post processing: Do nothing

Back to the topic of Metadata, you can make your own template and then automatically add it to the files on import or you can Select All in the Library Module and add it from Preset drop down box in the Metadata tab. I used to have Presets for every year. Now I just have one called My Copyright. It has my name, address, phone number, Copyright box turned on and text that says hands off.

Like so: All Rights Reserved. No reproduction of any kind without express written permission.

I hope this helps someone make their way around Lightroom

Parting shot. This is Sotol Vista in Big Bend National Park

Sotol Vista_MLL9679_

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