In June of this year, I got a chance to collaborate with one of my favorites, epic conservation photographer Von Wong on a project he wanted to do called, Surreal Storm Chasing Portraits. His concept was fascinating to me. He wanted to spend a week to 10 days on the Great Plains chasing storms, asking his fans to meet up with us, model and bring out everyday items to place in front of the storm. I thought it was a very exciting idea, I was thrilled to be a part of it.
The list of challenges for this project seemed to be infinite, from keeping a convoy of first-time chasers safe, having a tail vehicle (converted ambulance) for equipment, props, etc… following me the entire time and giving Ben enough opportunities to get shots he would be happy with for his project.
We planned for a couple of weeks before meeting in our base city Denver, Colorado. I chose Denver because in June, the severe weather pattern shifts North with storms firing off of the Palmer Ridge (Colorado) and the Cheyenne Ridge (Wyoming). We would also get opportunities to chase in The Dakotas, Montana, and Nebraska.
Another major challenge was we would only have 24 hrs (sometimes less) to give “general area” to fans in our specified chase area. I would use the morning to forecast the storm possibilities then Ben would let his fans know where to meet. Once we met up and went over safety guidelines, we would go into chase mode to try to intercept a storm. Using words like “epic” and “surreal” Ben set the bar high on what he wanted. I learned quickly how particular and meticulous he was. His incredible images from this project give you a great indication of that. It was my job to get us in front of a storm with a great foreground and in an area that we could back the ambulance in and get the shot before a supercell would run us over.
Von Wong Project Sneak Peak
Here is one of the images from Von Wong – Surreal Storm Chasing Portraits project. The image below is from one of my favorite chase days and storms from the project. A massive wall and tail cloud from a slow moving supercell outside Boyes, Montana.
Weather Photography and Storm Chasing
I am sure this goes without saying, but Storm chasing is dangerous. I have been lucky to learn from some of the best meteorologist, climatologist, research scientist and professional storm chasers around. Even with years of education and experience, it took me a long time have the confidence to go out on my own or to lead a group. This project was perfect for me. As a weather photographer, I think about images I want to get and questions like, where will the sun be? (for light and contrast) What direction will the potential storm be moving? Is the area we will be chasing flat and have a decent road network? In the planning stages, I had decided to shoot more panoramic images. To get the wide, open look I was going for, you have to be a considerable distance from the storm. I like to see the whole storm from top to bottom and watch it move towards me. Ben needed time to set up lights, props and get the model where he wanted. He also needed the storm to be closer, so it filled up the screen and looked “epic”. Having a plan in place to get into position and let the storm come to us was the perfect strategy. I would get the shots I wanted while Ben was setting up, then I would monitor the storm. We did get lucky that we chased 7 out of 10 days we were out. We had several good days and one great day in South Dakota complete with tornados and rainbows, amazing lightning and storm structure. The storms were so dynamic and moved so fast that Ben did not get a shot. He wanted a tornado in the background too! (sorry Ben). I say we did well, though.
For the panoramic images below, I used my Canon 5D Mark III, Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM lens with my RRS Pano-Gimbal Head to shoot 15 – 18 image muli-row panoramas. Each pano was stitched together using Adobe Lightroom CC 2015 new panorama photo merge feature and finished with Adobe Photoshop CC 2015. Please click on the images below to enlarge. Please leave me your comments.
Behind the Scenes
BTS images by Anna Tenne-Photography
Learn More About Storm Chasing
Now you want to go storm chasing? It changed my life. I think everyone should witness supercells on the Great Plains. A great way to learn and really enjoy the experience is booking a stormchasing tour. Spend a week or more during storm season driving up and down the Plains. Let the experts do all of the work, it is a blast!
For my own forecasting, I use a number of tools and weather models:
NOAA / National Weather Service – Storm Prediction Center
Weather Forecast Models and Satellite
Radar and Field Equipment
- GRLevel3 Windows based radar software for live and archive NEXRAD Level III data
- RadarScope OSX, iOS and Andriod utility for viewing NEXRAD Level III data
- AllisonHouse – High-resolution weather data. Integrates with GRLevel 3 and RadarScope
- Touchscreen Laptop, iPad, Verizon Mobile Data, HAM Radio (I am a licenced radio operator)