Pro storm chasers know to respect the power of nature even as they pursue the perfect photo. Join the chase and discover how these seven experienced photographers capture breathtaking images of dangerous storms.
As far as we know, the oldest existing photograph of a tornado dates all the way back to April 1884. In those days, weather patterns were still something of a mystery; the International Meteorological Organization had only been formed about a decade earlier. The introduction of photography was key, and those early storm pictures helped scientists to better understand the nuances of severe weather phenomena. The public was so amazed that the most popular of these images were printed and bought as postcards.
Today, storm chasers with cameras still have a crucial role to play in our understanding of our environment. In the age of climate change, the ability to predict and anticipate the weather is our first line of defense against catastrophe. Through images, storm chasers pique our interest and ultimately raise our awareness. Some well-known professional and amateur photographers have hundreds of thousands of followers on Instagram.
We asked seven experienced storm-chasing photographers to walk us through the process. Below, they share their most amazing photos and the stunning stories behind them. Along the way, they also provide expert tips for staying safe and catching once-in-a-lifetime shots in crazy weather.
1. “The two greatest dangers in storm photography are automobile accidents and lightning.”
Eugene R Thieszen
Image by Eugene R Thieszen. Gear: Panasonic GH-3 camera, Olympus.M 7-14mm F2.8 lens. Settings: Focal length 7mm (effective focal length 14mm.The GH-3 is a micro 4/3 format camera); exposure 1/60 sec; f2.8; ISO 200.
What’s the story behind this photo?
As is often the case, this incredible late-summer supercell thunderstorm developed along the I-70 corridor in eastern Colorado and moved into NW Kansas, producing destructive wind and large hail along its track. I captured this photograph just South of I-70 near Brewster, KS. It’s a great example of the magnificent structure and beautiful colors associated with these monster high-plains thunderstorms. I like to call them “Dangerous Beauties.”
Image by Eugene R Thieszen
Keep yourself safe. The two greatest dangers in storm photography are automobile accidents and lightning. Staying safe requires constant environmental awareness and vigilance. Distraction is the enemy of safety. Also, keep your distance. For really great photo opportunities, stay five or more miles ahead of a storm. This makes it possible for storm photographs to take in the full storm-scape.
Go wide. Most of my better photographs were captured using my 7-14mm lens or the wider end of my 12-35mm. And go manual. Storms generally have a broad dynamic range, and a photographer has a better chance of capturing much of that by using the in-camera histogram as a guide for manual shutter-speed and f-stop settings. In some cases, it may be wise to bracket exposures for later blending.
2. “Storm chasing is a lot of fun and a great adrenaline rush, but it can also be dangerous.”
John D Sirlin
Image by John D Sirlin. Gear: Canon 6D camera, Rokinon 50mm prime lens. Settings: Exposure 25 sec; f7.1; ISO 160.
What’s the story behind this photo?
This photo was captured on Airport Road in Sedona, Arizona on July 30th, 2016. Storms had been hanging close to the canyons through sunset, and I was hoping that some of them would survive after dark. I like this shot because the city lights help to give it some scale, and you can see the exact impact point of the lightning bolt on the canyon wall.
This particular storm gave me a very small window of opportunity, and I was only able to shoot for about ten minutes before retreating to my vehicle for safety. One of the great things about weather photography is that you don’t need hundreds of shots. It only takes one good one to make it a memorable night!