I love it when the sky is filled with drama as ominous clouds boil in fury and thunder. This frequently occurs as huge thunderstorms move into an area. Likewise, as a storm wanes, a crispness and vivid sense of cleansing occurs. Both provide dramatic circumstances for storm photography. Constantly monitor weather stations and satellite radar to be prepared when changes in sky conditions are forecast. Be it an impending storm or the end of a snow squall, it’s at the cusp of these events that spectacular natural phenomena occur.
To watch a storm roll in is a multi-sensory experience. Visually, skies begin to darken and clouds thicken. Bands of rain can be tracked in the distance as they build in intensity. There’s something very invigorating about a threatening sky about to create a downpour across the landscape. The air takes on a distinct musty odor that warns most to take cover. As a photographer, it’s a signal something amazing is about to unfold. Auditorily, a bizarre quietness brought on by the stillness in the air envelopes the surroundings. The silence is broken by distant rumbles of thunder that get closer and closer until vibrations can be felt. The sky grows more and more dramatic. It’s essential to capture these events as they produce unique images since no two storms ever form in identical ways.
It’s imperative you stay safe when you’re on a storm photography mission and lightning is in the area. As much as possible, photograph the drama from the safety of your car. If for some reason you get separated from your vehicle, crouch down as close to the ground as possible. Keep your feet close together and try to balance on the balls of your feet to minimize contact with the ground. Don’t use your tripod as a balance support. When the electrical activity subsides, seek shelter.
As a storm dissipates, a sense of freshness fills the air. The precipitation scours the atmosphere, which removes pollutants. The repercussion is heightened visual acuity as everything is sharper to the eye. The smell is fresh and alive and the sounds of birds and other animals can be heard as they emerge from hiding places. Witnessing this transition always inspires me to make a myriad of images.
When the sun is low on the horizon, an added bonus of an impending or waning storm is the possible formation of a rainbow. Rainbows form when the sun is 42 degrees or lower from the horizon and there’s moisture suspended in the air directly opposite the sun. A polarizer can enhance the intensity of a rainbow, but it can also eliminate it. The effect is visible through the viewfinder, so fine-tune it as you see fit.
To learn more about this subject, join me on a photo safari to Tanzania. Visit www.russburdenphotography.com to get more information.