Photographs of blizzards and heavy storms captivate the eye and stir the imagination. Learn how these experienced photographers brave the elements to capture stunning images of dangerous weather.
Ansel Adams reportedly said, “Bad weather makes for good photography.” True enough, he produced some of his most recognizable images in snow, rain, and wind. Weather we consider frightening and ghastly in person can become majestic and awe-inspiring in photographs. Stormy skies, dense fog, and roiling seas were trademarks of the Romantic era for this reason.
Still, as any photographer knows, cameras and storms can be a dangerous combination. A simple mistake can mean getting stuck in the cold, frozen and wet, with a ruined lens and little to show for your efforts. We asked eight photographers, ranging from landscape lovers to storm chasers, to tell us how to find beautiful moments in all kinds of brutal weather.
1. “Planning ahead and familiarizing yourself with the weather forecast and the potential hazards of the day is paramount.”
Image by Todd Shoemake. Gear: Nikon D80 camera, 18-55mm lens. Settings: Focal length 45mm; exposure 1/250 sec; f9; ISO 800.
What’s the story behind this photo?
This unforgettable day (May 31, 2010) featured a cyclic supercell thunderstorm that developed in southeastern Colorado and drifted into the Oklahoma and Texas panhandles. Over its long lifecycle, this one storm produced four tornadoes, the strongest being an EF-2 rated (110-137 mph winds) tornado. I took this particular image as the aforementioned strongest tornado crossed U.S. Highway 385 near Campo, Colorado. Large hailstones (between the size of quarters and ping pong balls) were falling during the capture of this image. Fortunately, no injuries or fatalities occurred, but my SUV did endure some substantial hail damage.
Image by Todd Shoemake.
What tips would you give to other photographers about shooting in “bad” weather?
Weather safety cannot be stressed enough. Severe winds, large hail, flooding, deadly lighting, and even tornadoes are all potential weather hazards that can be encountered while storm chasing. Planning ahead and familiarizing yourself with the weather forecast and the potential hazards of the day is paramount. No nature, landscape, or other outdoor photographer should ever venture into the elements without first checking the forecast through the National Weather Service website or the equivalent for your specific country.
Also, knowing when to back off can be a potential lifesaver. Often, just putting some distance between myself and the storm is my best safety precaution, and I can compensate for the distance with a longer lens. Know when to take shelter in your vehicle or a sturdy building. If I’m shooting lightning storms, I will often use a window mounted tripod for my vehicle, as it is an effective tool that allows me to shoot safely from my vehicle and avoid being struck by lightning. No shot is worth your life.
2. “When there is extremely heavy snow, it is important to protect the camera body and lens from moisture.”
Sokolenko (Viktoria Ivanets)
Image by Sokolenko (Viktoria Ivanets). Gear: Canon EOS 7D camera, Canon EF 40mm f/2.8 STM lens. Settings: Focal length 40mm; exposure 1/200 sec; f3.5; ISO 160.
What’s the story behind this photo?
When I saw a strong snowstorm in the weather forecast, I immediately thought that I should try to shoot it. Before this, I had no experience shooting in such difficult conditions, and therefore all I thought to do was to cover the camera body and lens with a cotton towel during the shoot.
That day, the streets became empty quickly because the weather was so harsh. The snow was strong and gusty, and I had to wrap myself up so that only my eyes were visible. The storm was so strong that when I opened my backpack to take out my camera, my eyes blurred with snow and my mittens became wet. But I was so interested in the process and the desolation of the streets that I wanted to continue to photograph, although the fear that the camera and lens would get wet and spoiled was real enough. But everything worked out! When I came home, I put the camera in a warm place and did not turn it on for three hours.