I first became interested in storms when I was a boy growing up in Texas, the only state in the US that experiences tornadoes, hurricane and blizzards on a regular basis. I built a scale model of a supercell thunderstorm inside a clear, plexiglass box using cotton and a light bulb for lightning, the entry that won first place in the weather category at our local science fair. I got permission from my mother to climb onto our roof and build a weather station. And, when I was 12, I took my first storm photo. A big, fat bolt of lightning shot on a Kodak rangefinder through the window in our kitchen.
In 1993, I founded StormStock, a collection of premium storm imagery including lightning, tornadoes, hurricanes and other beautiful and dramatic weather. You can see some of my work in a short film I made titled “Wakinyan” (Thunder Spirit).
Over the years, people have asked me what kind of gear is best for storm photography.
Although I spend most of my time capturing weather imagery on motion picture formats for use in movies and TV commercials, I do also take stills. That is the medium I will focus on here.
A lot of folks ask me to suggest a “best” camera or lens for photography. My first question is always, “What are you shooting?” That’s because different subjects require different gear. The more unique your subject, the more you may need to specialize. For example, one of the most demanding types of photography is fast action sports. It typically requires long and fast lenses. Long and fast. Those two things don’t go together easily and require large, heavy, expensive lenses – which is pretty specialized.
The good news is storm photography is only somewhat demanding. The most unique things about it are relatively low light and lightning. Lightning is an unusual thing to photograph because it exists only for a fraction of a second. And, you are pointing your camera at something that doesn’t yet exist.
The best way to discuss this topic is to divide storm photography into two categories. General storm photography and lightning photography.
GENERAL STORM PHOTOGRAPHY
Subjects: Storm clouds, rain, blowing dust, sunsets, tornadoes.
Storm subjects tend to be dark rather than bright. This may sound obvious, but know that storms can sometimes be exceptionally bright when sunlit. Given the fact that low light is more common, a camera and lens that performs well in that environment is generally preferred.