Storm Chaser

2012 SONY WORLD PHOTOGRAPHY AWARDS L IRiS DOR WINNER MITCH DOBROWNERSPEAKS WITH JORDAN BUTTERS ABOUT STORM CHASING, NATURE S BEAUTY AND COMBINING DIGITAL WITH FILM "I DON T GET SCARED - and that s not meant to be a macho statement. What I see is awe-inspiring; itMother Nature at her strongest and not many people get to witness that. It s exhilarating to see a storm unfold and it happens so fast, you have to react quickly if you want to do it justice. We know that storms and tornados cause death and destruction, and other photographers capture that really well, but it s not what I m there for. I m there to capture the beauty of nature, which is why I stay away from towns and cities, and stick to isolated .andscapes. It was in 2005 tha: I got hooked on photographing in extreme weather conditions. Prior to this. I d not picked up a camera for about 20 years, since I took off across America at the age of 21. Having won a Canon grant, I spent three years living out of my car while travelling and shooting landscapes across America, armed with my Argus rangefinder and fuelled with inspiration from Ansel Adams and Minor White. That day in 2005, when Death Valley was flooding and a huge storm goverred the skies, I went with a friend to shoot it happening and it started all over again. I first wanted to shoot storms, I was recommended my current scout. Roger Hill. We had some long conversations about what I was looking for and he told me about storm systems such as Tornado Alley, which runs between the Rocky and Appalachian Mountains, and how the jet stream changes at different times of year. Around late April, storm systems form in Texas, Oklahoma and the southern part of the valley. These storms descend quickly and violently. Later in the year, the jet stream moves north to Wyoming and the » Dakotas; these storms are much slower with fewer tornados and more supercells. It was the supercells that I wanted; large thunderstorms with fantastic cloud structures. The first time I went out with Roger in 2009, it was an experiment. I didn t know what to expect. But the second time, I witnessed a spectacular storm with 65,000ft supercells and I knew then that the experiment would become a wild, wonderful, never-ending project. "Normally when shooting landscapes, I take my time, watch the light changing and wait for the right conditions. It s a slow process and relaxing. But shooting a storm is more akin to shooting a sports event; a storm changes every second, you have to be extremely focused and make split-second decisions about composition and exposure. Having Roger as my scout allows me to zone in on capturing images, the only thing I m listening for is him giving me the cue that we need to leave - and fast. At first, it was difficult to tune in to what I was doing with so much happening around me. but now I m totally relaxed. chasing obviously has its dangers. Hail is one; it s the most damaging element I ve ever seen, tearing apart the environment. Lightning is unpredictable, photographers have been hit before, and too many storm chasers in one place can be serious. We ve been in situations when there s been a big storm in front of us and a traffic jam of storm chasers behind us. God forbid if it had dropped a tornado in our path. s a lot of science behind storm prediction, and the technology is so advanced now that you can often predict events a week in advance. Other times, we go on a road trip for a couple of weeks and see what happens. We take with us various pieces of software to help evaluate velocity, storm direction, isolated supercells and humidity levels for lightning. I don t always set out to capture lightning, but I compose with the hope that it strikes, but knowing that I ll still get a good shot if it doesn t. I shoot long exposures of between one and five seconds and if a storm is electrically charged, you can get some good results. "With a background in analogue photography, I shoot digitally the same as I did with film and work to get it right incamera. If I wanted to darken a sky, I used an orance or red filter, and so I do the same now to pick out colour channels. I set my Canon EOS 5D Mk II to its black & white mode and use LiveView to see a true representation of the image, though slightly overexposed. I always expose to the right slightly so that I don t have any noise in the shadows. While there are lots of inspirational storm photographers who shoot in colour. I find black b white is more expressive of what I see. I ve worked with my camera enough that when I m out shooting, I don t even think about it, it s an extension of my arm and I m not precious about it getting damaged - I have back-ups in case. The most important pieces of kit to me are my tripod, my lens cloth and a beanie hat; I ve got long hair so it keeps it out my eyes. "In terms of future projects, storm chasing will never end, but I have started looking into shooting volcanoes. I ll be taking a trip to Iceland and maybe Hawaii. Photography is always an experiment, I don t put a lot of pressure on myself to get a great image every time I go out. I don t see myself as a great photographer; winning the Landscape Fine Art category and the L lris d Or at this year s SWPA was overwhelming and unexpected. It was humbling and I m happy that people like my work. What I really want is for my images to do the talking

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