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How to Photograph a Thunderstorm

Posted on Saturday, January 21, 2012 at 5:00 PM MST

Thunderstorms are some of the easiest weather phenomena to document, regardless of where you are. The main requirement for stellar shots is to find a location where you have an open view of the storm and there are no trees or buildings to obstruct your view. Trees and buildings are okay if you are shooting from a large distance, but up close they will dominate the photograph and you won't get the storm to really "pop"in your picture. Consider the following two photos of a severe thunderstorm near Oklahoma City on October 22, 2011.

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You can choose to shoot from up close or from a distance. If you're shooting from a distance, you will want to get the whole cumulus tower in the frame, which may mean shooting in portrait orientation. You will also want to include the ground at the very bottom of the frame. A thunderstorm with a large anvil at the top and a dark base will really pop against a background of bright blue sky.

If you opt to document the storm up close, it will require a bit more coordination, but is by no means rocket science. The place you want to be is out in front of the storm to document the leading edge of the storm's base (yes, this requires putting yourself in the storm's path), just ahead of the area of heaviest precipitation. You will want the entire base of the storm to dominate the frame, with the bottom of the cumulus tower and the ground in the frame as well. If you stay out of the precipitation and track just ahead of the storm, you can document its entire life cycle. This method is the most basic fundamental of storm chasing. Finally, don't forget about basic safety from things like lightning and hail, and you can't go wrong.

Posted In: Education

Tagged: Photography, Severe, Thunderstorm