High Plains Chasing with Von Wong and Friends

posted in Projects

High Plains Chasing with Von Wong and Friends

The Opportunity

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 Challenge

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.

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Great Plains of the US (Red). Our Chase area outlined in yellow

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 WongSurreal 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.

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Image by epic conservation photographer, Von Wong for his, “Surreal Storm Chasing Portraits” series

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.

My Images

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.

Storm Chasing in Pine Haven, Wyoming. Panoramic supercell

Panoramic image of supercell moving towards us near Pine Haven, Wyoming

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18 image panorama of a supercell moving over the Montana state line into South Dakota. We were high on a hillside capturing this awesome storm. One of my favorites.

Panoramic image of a amazing wall and tail cloud associated with strong updraft near Boyes, Montana.

Panoramic image of an incredible wall and tail cloud associated with strong updraft near Boyes, Montana.

Wide panoramic image of the Boyes, Montana supercell ingesting another storm (on the right) making it stronger.

Wide panoramic image of the Boyes, Montana supercell ingesting another storm (on the right) making it stronger.

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Channel lightning coming out of the leading edge of the storm near Belle Fourche, South Dakota. The lightning field was intense!

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Smooth Channel lightning from the storm near Belle Fourche, South Dakota. The lightning field was intense!

amazing teal color from the hail core of a supercell outside of Mitchell, Nebraska. This storm had baseball sized hail when I captured this. The color comes from the reflectivity of the larger hail, glows teal!

Amazing teal color from the hail core of a supercell outside of Mitchell, Nebraska. This storm had baseball sized hail when I captured this. The color comes from the reflectivity of the larger hail, glows teal!

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An 180˚ panoramic view of the storm that was almost directly overhead

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Tornado roping out on the horizon at dusk outside of Perkins, South Dakota.

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Wide view of dissipating supercell with a tornado on the horizon. Ralph, South Dakota.

Stove pipe tornado starting to rope out. Captured near Ralph, South Dakota on June 21, 2015

Stove pipe tornado was starting to rope out. Captured near Ralph, South Dakota on June 21, 2015

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Beautiful multi-branched lightning captured at sunset outside of Cheyenne, Wyoming on our last night of shooting.

Behind the Scenes

BTS images by Anna Tenne-Photography

The Crew!

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The Stormchasing Crew! Benjamin Von Wong, Ryan Zimmerman, Anna Tenne, Pat Black and Kelly DeLay

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)

Education

  • Manuela Azevedo

    Congrats, its an amazing page!

  • http://www.kellydelay.com Kelly DeLay

    Thank you Manuela! I appreciate that

  • http://www.dennisoswald.de Dennis Oswald

    This is really awesome! Hope that we will finally meet each other under a meso next spring.
    Regards
    Dennis Oswald

  • http://www.kellydelay.com Kelly DeLay

    Thanks Dennis! I am sure we will, probably ended up at some Dairy Queen or Alsups at the same time and didn’t realize :)

  • http://www.dennisoswald.de Dennis Oswald

    I’ll let you know when I’ll arrive to the US.

  • Alexandra Houston

    Thank you for the fabulous storm photos. When my brothers and I were children we traveled across the US extensively with our parents in our 1970 Olds Delta 88, tent in trunk. Our dad never balked at a storm and kept driving to our next destination. We saw many a storm cloud, dodged flash floods and tornados. We were never scared since dad was a scientist and explained “its just a storm”, so we learned to accept them as normal. Little did we know!!! Dad was a biologist.

  • http://www.kellydelay.com Kelly DeLay

    OMG! That is SO funny!! You had me to the end, lol. Thanks for the comment :)

  • Bryan Barger

    Truly amazing stuff here. Then again that’s all I ever see from you guys! I think you have the best job in the world. These images get my heart pounding everytime I see them just thinking about seeing skies like this. I live in the northeast and have never got to see shelf or any arcus clouds over here in these mountains. Great stuff always, still no offer from Nat Geo? ; )

  • Matthew Fitzpatrick

    Awesome shots guys

  • Nicholas Travers

    I love the lightning in this one:
    http://www.kellydelay.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/6-19-15-BelleFourche-SD-1500px.jpg
    So curious how the lightning is both above and below the lower lip of the storm.

    I also love the troughs in this image. what is that! never seen before (though I don’t often look)
    http://www.kellydelay.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/6-16-15-Mitchell-Nebraska-HailCore-1500px.jpg
    So glad you did this collaboration!

    The twister and the Giant cumulous! Fantastic!
    http://www.kellydelay.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/6-21-15-Perkins-SouthDakota-Tornado-BlueHour-1500.jpg
    needs some postcards or regular cards of that one going around the world. ( I’m a fan of the mail system)
    The detail of the twister is nice too, but I like the thin foreground composition best.

    ~nicholas
    (sorry for reposting images.. I just wanted to reference them)