When a good storm comes rolling in, most people prefer to retreat, cozy up inside with a warm blankie and listen to the sound of thunder and rain from a safe distance. This is not a blog for those people. Nope, this is for those of us who can’t help but do the exact opposite. If you’re the type that runs toward a storm, camera in hand and inhibitions buried deep within, well then, we have a lot in common.
There’s a bit more to capturing storm photography than having the nerve to run towards Mother Nature’s angry face, though. In my years of chasing these events, I’ve learned a few things. Here are some tips to help you with everything from trip prep to framing your storm photos.
It’s always best to know what to expect. Rain, hail, debris, dirt, and sometimes all the above can swirl around you and your equipment at any time. There’s gear for just about every scenario you can imagine, but for the sake of keeping things simple, I have some essentials that keep me prepared.
- Trusty Rain Jacket– Something water proof that you can move in comfortably.
- Clean Lens Cloth – Much better than using your shirt sleeve!
- Towel – Never leave home without a towel! (Preferably one you can get dirty.)
- Rain Cover – This is a must have even if your camera is weather sealed.
- Blower – I keep mine in the car to give my equipment a quick blow now and then.
I’ll put it to you straight: severe weather photography can be a dangerous hobby. This is nature you’re dealing with, after all. Have no fear. With a proper plan in place you can largely avoid any serious issues.
Best practice for photographing lightning storms, supercells, or anything massive is to keep a distance of a few miles from the base of the storm. This way you can capture a wide berth of that chaotic beauty without becoming part of that chaos yourself. Additionally, always have an escape plan or safe form of shelter. Any stormy situation can go sideways on a dime, but a grounded place such as your car – with rubber wheels that conduct electric current – will better protect you.
Now that you’re set up for safety, it’s time to start shooting. But how does one photograph something as massive as a storm? Well, if you’re a based a few miles away from the event, going super wide will fit most of the storm into your frame. You could even add a soft-graduated neutral density filter to help maintain a proper exposure for the ground and the sky.
Try composing your shots with a sense of place. Put something in the foreground like an old house, the edge of a tree line, or perhaps a fellow adventurer along for the ride with you. This will both add life to your image and provide a sense of scale. Oh, and don’t forget to securely mount your camera on a sturdy tripod. In especially strong winds, I’d advise keeping a hand on the tripod as well.
If it’s lightning you’re after, you might think speed is the best policy. But unless you are kung-fu fighting, your snaps will likely not be fast as lightning. Slower exposure times will net you much better night shots. Couple that with the widest lens you’ve got and you’re more likely to catch that night time bolt.
Daytime lightning will be much more difficult. For day shooting, try using a 10-stop ND filter, the highest aperture possible, and the lowest ISO to eliminate as much ambient light as possible. And of course, day or night, have patience. Sweet talk Lady Luck and get her on your side and you can snag that spectacular lightning picture you’re after.
If you’re looking to Star Trek your storm photography adventure and boldly go where no one has gone before, make sure you can properly chart your course. A satellite-based GPS is a great investment. Storms can make electronics go haywire, though, so stock up on paper maps (yep, paper maps. Remember those?). For just $20-30 you can save yourself much frustration by purchasing a road atlas. If you’re a member of AAA, you can take advantage of TripTiks for free Tourbooks. And remember to stay on pavement! Venturing off pavement is a sure way to rack up a tow-truck bill for rescuing your vehicle.
Did you know? There are several companies lead by trained meteorologists and veteran storm chasers who will safely take you to the best storms of the day. They can help put you in a prime position to capture some beautiful supercell photos. Storms can easily change paths, shapes, sizes, intensity and more, so these tours are your best way to dip your toes in the water and learn about storm chasing.
Bet you didn’t expect this tip, did you? That’s right, in the peak storm season of spring you are far more likely to encounter some slithery friends. As the weather warms up, snakes come out of hiding and can be quite cranky after spending the winter with no food (who wouldn’t be?). Don’t go strolling into deep grass or weeds, and be mindful of the ground you’re walking on. Rattlers have been known to NOT announce themselves and you really don’t want that kind of surprise.
Once you’ve completed your photo shoot with Mother Nature, you’re going to want to show off that magnificence. You’ll find sleek, black frames with white mats to be simple, elegant, and professional-looking. On the other hand, don’t be afraid to go bold and choose some frames with lightning-size pops of color. And if you just can’t settle on an idea, visit the Muse gallery for some Designer-curated collections that will make your walls look STRIKING.
Once that bad boy is hanging on your wall, we’d love to see it. Post your framed storm photos with #framingjoy and we’ll be sure to check them out!