Review: The Lightning Trigger

Lightning across the Painted Desert.   © Joe Decker, created during an artist residency at Petrified Forest National Park
Lightning across the Painted Desert. © Joe Decker, created during an artist residency at Petrified Forest National Park

In my last installment, I discussed some of the joys and challenges of photographing lightning. One of the tools I use to capture images of lightning is Stepping Stone Products’ Lightning Trigger which is particularly valuable for daylight lightning captures.

The way the Trigger works is simple. Attach the device to the camera hot shoe (for stability, the Trigger is powered by battery, not from the camera itself) and connect it to your camera’s electronic cable release terminal. When switched on, a forward-pointing sensor will keep an electronic eye out for quick flashes of light, when it detects one, it’ll trigger the camera. Assuming the lightning substrokes persist long enough (strokes of about a tenth of a second may occur as much as a half-second after the first visual sign of lightning), your camera should be able to capture the action.

Stepping Stone creates the connecting cables by modifying standard manufacturer cable releases, separating each into two pieces with a jack. Both are provided, so you can use the cables either with the Trigger or as a manual cable release.

I found the Trigger easy to use and remarkably sensitive. Because it does not know the field of view of your camera (focal length, sensor size, etc.) it may trigger at times where there’s no lightning “in the frame”, but I rarely, if ever, had the Trigger fail to fire when there was lightning in frame.

Thunderstorm across the Painted Desert.  Image captured as artist-in-residence at Petrified Forest National Park
Thunderstorm across the Painted Desert. Image captured as artist-in-residence at Petrified Forest National Park

This wide-angle image of an entire thunderhead over the Painted Desert in Petrified Forest National Park is an extreme example. Don’t look too closely, you won’t see the lightning stroke below the thunderhead here, it’s about 3% of the frame height, and well over ten miles from the camera, showing up with only moderate contrast even at 100% pixels on the original 21MP image. But the Lightning Trigger caught it, in full daylight. Very impressive.

The Trigger comes with complete instructions and suggestions for use, and those instructions are important. To capture lightning, your camera will have to respond very quickly once the Trigger tells it to shoot, you’ll want to configure your camera (manual exposure and focus, for example) to reduce this shutter lag to a minimum. The manual also contains an excellent set of safety warnings, I recommend investing the time to read these in detail. No photograph is worth risking your life for.

At a handful of ounces of weight (even including battery, cable and carrying case) it’s light enough to include in your pack when lightning is even a possibility. It’s powered by a single 9-volt battery, and sells for $329, plus another $55-$75 for the (required) cable release. While not an impulse buy, the Trigger is, for me, an essential tool for capturing lightning across the landscape.

Highly recommended.

This Post Has 12 Comments

  1. There is a less exspensive “lightning trigger” on the market. A small company in California makes it for half the price then the one you tried out. Sensor and cable I bid out on e-bay for $160.00 new not used. The trigger from Colorado works good but the price is steep, try this other trigger out I know you will like it. dcakaiser is the e-bay name

  2. Next time I’m in the market I will check it out. Having to buy the things myself gives me little room for buying more things to review, I’m afraid.

  3. Hi,

    i have been looking for a lightning trigger for quite some time. The followings seem the optimal ones in terms of cost and quality.

    The expensive one which seems more professional:

    The cheaper one which has lots of positive feedbacks on ebay:

    Any feedback will be really appreciated from those who have experience with them.


  4. I used the Dkasier brand on ebay and it failed to meet the expectations. i would not use them you get what you pay for in this instance. i got one it worked great for 5 months then failed to work right sent it back to get replaced they sent me the same one and said replaced sensor tried it and it still didnt work told them i want a totally new piece i got it in winter and waited till the first t storm came in and it didnt even work i sent it back and got my money back
    cheap versions fail it is best to spend the money on this product

  5. I purchased from and the PatchMaster Lightning Trigger seems the best one in the market. I think I will also buy a Sound Trigger.

  6. I ordered the newest lightning trigger on 03/11/2014. I got no response, so on the 14th I emailed Stepping Stone. On the 15th I received an email telling me that my trigger would not be built until the week of the 24th. The email asked if this would meet with my requirements. I replied that it did not and that I would like my order canceled. I have not got another email from them. Apparently they get your money, order the parts and build the trigger. There is no mention of this on their site, it says they are usually shipped within one week. This certainly is not the situation with my order. Apparently this is not their day job. Order only if you do not mind waiting for it to be built and shipped when they can do it.

  7. Neat! I’d love an iPhone version.

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