My choice of seats on the eastern rim of a 1,000-foot chasm was questionable, but the sandstone boulder was a welcome relief from the long hike I had just made along the rimrock in search of cactus flowers in bloom. It was in the spring season, and wildflowers were blossoming in full color over the northern Texas Panhandle, and I needed images for a Texas Highways article on Panhandle flowering plants. The day had been long, and I was taking a much-needed respite before the 200-mile drive home.
After packing my gear securely in heavy-duty Pelican cases, I quickly scanned the sky for the telltale sign of building thunderstorms. Since I was in the process of shooting images for a book project on the Texas sky, I wanted to take every available opportunity to secure images for the upcoming work and beef up the files for future reference.
Far to the east and along the line of I-40 and old Route 66, a column of clouds seemed to be expanding suspiciously skyward. Despite a westerly wind, usually not associated with the buildup of storms, the surge of cumulonimbus activity was unmistakable. Stoked with adrenaline from the possibility of encountering a storm, I pointed my vehicle on a collision course with one of the most spectacular spring storms I had ever seen.
For more than 28 years, I’ve been a student of weather dynamics and its potential for creating interesting photos. Focusing more on cloud design, structure and color than the maximum intensity of the storm, my travels take me to the peripheral edges of dangerous squall lines or cumulonimbus thunderstorms to record the vibrant if not surreal forms of these clouds. Of course, I’ve sometimes found myself inadvertently in the line of fire of some of these monsters with limited avenues to safety.
Photographing nature’s angry sky doesn’t always have to be a risky touch-and-go process. In fact, over the past decades I’ve found that the finest colors and cloud structure are often more evident in the dying throes of these churning monsters. An additional plus is that when composing images at a safe distance from storms and the associated severe wind shear and hail, dramatic photos are more easily created by including landscape or other secondary elements of interest that add dimension to an otherwise ordinary sky.