Thursday, August 2, 2012

Be A Storm Chaser

Inclement weather creates dramatic photography opportunities
Text & Photography By Tom Bol Published in Shooting
Be A Storm Chaser

If I had a nickel for every time I decided not to go out in bad weather with my camera, I'd be a rich man. After all, I can hardly resist a good cup of French roast and a fresh blueberry muffin at my local coffee shop. I sit down in those big fluffy red chairs, start reading my favorite book—what photographer in his or her right mind would go out in the pouring rain? But then a shaft of sun hits the book I'm reading, and outside, a double rainbow is forming. Suddenly, the coffee doesn't taste so good, and the soft cushy chair feels a little stiff.

I race out to the parking lot, snap a few shots of the rainbow—over a bunch of power lines and gray buildings. If I had just gone out in the rain, I would be shooting this same scene over a lush mountain valley near my house. I make an oath never to drink coffee again and always go out in the rain with my camera ready. Two days later, I'm drinking coffee again, but this time, I'm in my truck waiting on an approaching thunderstorm. Bring on the dramatic storm clouds.

Bad weather is good weather for photographers. We often photograph landscapes and cityscapes from familiar vantage points. One way to create a unique image is to photograph the familiar landmark in dramatic weather. Even though the scene has been photographed a thousand times, chances are, no one has captured a lightning bolt arching through the sky in this popular location.

Just being out in stormy weather doesn't ensure a good shot. There are a few techniques and critical equipment that will ensure your next inclement-weather shoot goes well. Be prepared when the storm clouds start forming above your house.


Luck favors the prepared. When it comes to storm photography, the more prepared you are, the better. Storm shooting is less about capturing random moments and more about strategic planning and waiting for the shot. Sometimes you just happen to be in the right place at the right time. Last year, I was in the Atacama Desert in northern Chile, one of the driest deserts in the world. The locals there said they could remember some rain…three years ago! When I was there, it rained every day, and we had massive lightning storms. Unfortunately, I didn't have my lightning shutter trigger. I was still able to get some nice images, but I would have captured amazing electrical storms if I had been more prepared.

Your local weatherperson is your friend. I watch the TV weather like it's the Super Bowl. When I'm in the field, I use my iPhone with weather and radar apps to show what's coming my way and where the most active storms are. Never before has a photographer had so many tools to use in the field for predicting weather.


Protect your gear. Since you're actively going out to shoot in the rain, bring foul-weather gear for your camera. Even though many of today's cameras are well sealed against moisture, most cameras can't take getting drenched in a downpour for an hour.

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