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Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Storm Watch

How to capture the power and beauty of dramatic weather

This Article Features Photo Zoom

Tornado near Campo, Colorado, 2010.
Lightning. When positioning around a thunderstorm, it's best to keep yourself a safe distance from the electrified portion of the storm, but yet not too far away to catch the beauty of a lightning strike. We find that about three to six miles away gives you the best opportunities to capture the lightning bolt and the structure of the storm. Contrast is key here, as well. A lightning bolt against a light-colored sky won't be as dramatic as a lightning strike against a dark sky. If you're shooting in daylight, using an ND filter to allow your shutter to stay open longer gives you the best chance to catch a lightning strike. You have to be very quick on the release to catch that bolt that only lasts a few tenths of a second.

One tool we use to catch a daytime lightning strike is the Lightning Trigger (www.lightningtrigger.com). It uses a photocell to detect an electrical discharge in the storm and trips your release as a lightning strike occurs, and as long as the strike has at least one return stroke, there's a significant chance you'll capture the bolt! We have both used the Lightning Trigger for years and highly recommend it for any severe-weather photographer. The more difficult part is to set your camera's aperture and shutter speed so that it allows at least a 1⁄8 sec. exposure to catch all the strokes from the lightning bolt. Nighttime lightning is much easier to capture. Simply put your camera on a tripod, set your camera to its Bulb setting, and then depending how far away the lightning is occurring, you can set your aperture anywhere from ƒ/4 to ƒ/9. The closer the strike, the smaller the aperture should be, otherwise you run the risk of blowing out your photo. You also can adjust your ISO to make it more sensitive to those distant strikes that would otherwise be very faint in your image. Using a remote-control release, hold the shutter open until a strike or two occurs, but not longer than about 60 seconds. With practice and a bit of trial and error, you'll soon capture incredible lightning images.

Tornadoes. One of the most difficult and dangerous events in severe weather to photograph is the tornado. Staying a few miles away from a tornado allows you more time and a wider variety of subjects within the storm and tornado to photograph. Regardless of your objective, always give a tornado the respect it deserves. Since a tornado usually forms at the front of the storm's updraft region, various positions can yield dramatic images. If you're east of the storm, with the sun to the west of the storm, a tornado appears dark and very threatening. However, the risk here is blowing out the light portions of your photograph. Many severe-weather photographers try to position themselves to the south of a tornado, with the sun to the west, which gives the tornado a ghostly white or gray appearance. Often, though, you don't have the luxury of positioning around a tornado, since it's on the move and road networks don't allow that perfect shot. Take what you can get when a tornado is on the ground, but some position planning during storm intensification can help in the end.

Severe Weather In B&W
We're pretty sure Ansel Adams would have something to say about shooting severe weather in black-and-white, as the dramatic effect achieved when shooting in black-and-white may have had him out chasing these magnificent acts of nature! Black-and-white photography has a tendency to bring out certain depths and details that color can sometimes miss out on.

However, not all acts of severe weather warrant black-and-white images. Here's where making sure any available sun is used to its advantage, giving your image greater contrast within the storm structure itself. Adding in a dramatic landscape for a greater depth of field also allows for a bit more perspective to the massive size of these storms. Caryn prefers to include old abandoned farmsteads into her preferred way of shooting, black-and-white photography, as it adds a bit of mystery to her images. The dramatic effect achieved when shooting lightning in black-and-white and against dark storm structure also can add some "pop" to lightning bolts.

Roger and Caryn Hill operate www.stormchase.net, www.silverliningtours.com and www.southwestphotographytours.com where they take guests on amazing tours throughout the year.


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