Extreme Weather Photography – Know Your Gear

Last week I talked about camera settings I use while out chasing storms and looking for that perfect extreme weather photo. Specifically, using aperture to get a great depth of field and having your entire scene in focus.  Today’s extreme weather photography tip expands on this somewhat by taking a look at the camera gear I use while on a storm chase and how knowing your gear inside and out can make the difference between getting the shot or missing it!

The Equipment

In a previous blog I described the weather photography gear I bring along on a typical storm chase. Here’s a brief break down of that list: 

  • Nikon D750 camera
  • Wide angle lenses
    • Nikon 24-70mm lens
    • Tamron 15-30mm lens
  • Telefphoto lens
    • Tamron 28-300mm lens
  • Tripod
  • Polarizing filters
  • Smartphone with built in camera 
tornado Oklahoma weather photography

82mm at f/7.1, ISO 100, exposure 1/125 second

Read the Manual!

The first most important thing that you need to master is YOUR camera! I know this sounds boring, but the best way to get familiar with your camera is to go through and read the manual. Some areas to focus on while going through the manual are: camera settings in aperture and manual settings, what does each button do and why it does it, the focusing modes, back button focusing, how to change ISO, and how to update white balance. Practice each of these and become very familiar with them. This means getting out into the back yard and practice, practice, and practice some more. When photographing extreme weather the action takes place fast and you don’t have time to waist trying to figure out your camera when the action is unfolding right in front of you. 

supercell Kansas weather

10mm at f/7.1, ISO 800, exposure 1/100 second

Weather Resistance

Your camera and lenses should all be weather sealed and resistant. This will keep the elements such as rain and dust at bay. Remember, I said resistant rather than weather proof. If you shoot too long in the rain its going to ruin your camera equipment, so always keep this in mind. A little rain won’t hurt, but a bunch of rain will. Most DSLR’s and there lenses are manufactured today are weather resistant. Be careful with mirrorless cameras. While they are all the rage right now and rightfully so, the weather sealing for mirrorless cameras tends to be not as good as a traditional DSLR. I’ve talked to several chasers who’ve ruined a mirrorless camera because their equipment could not stand up to the elements thrown at them during a storm chase.

supercell storm weather Nebraska

28mm at f/8, ISO 500, exposure 1/100 second

The Strategy

When it comes to extreme weather photography time is your enemy. Many tornadoes last 10 minutes or less so you don’t have time to be screwing around with your camera. As I mentioned earlier, you should practice with your camera and master all of its settings and options. Learn how to back button focus as opposed to holding the shutter button down halfway to focus. This works great for landscape and extreme weather photography. The focusing mode I use is single-servo or AF-S mode. I also tend to use the single focus point and will move that point around on as the scene dictates. Again, practice this before shooting extreme weather! Your camera should be setup already with the correct white balance, aperture, and ISO for the scene so all you have to do is compose your shot and take it. My typical settings while its daylight out is setting the camera to aperture priority, auto white balance, aperture f/8 to f13, ISO 100, auto ISO at shutter speed intervals of 1/100 second with an upper limit of ISO 800. 

Tripod 

Only use the tripod when its getting to be dusk or its dark outside. I’ve seen chasers miss a shot because they where scrambling to get a tripod setup. As long as your shooting with a shutter faster than 1/100 of a second your not going to have a blurry image from camera shake. If your lens has image stabilization, make sure its turned on while hand holding your camera. If you must use your tripod during the day use it for video recording so the video is steady. 

Polarizing Filter

A polarizing filter on your lens is a great thing to use while shooting storms during the day. Polarizers help to reduce reflections. By shooting with a polarizer, you can get sharper details in the clouds and bring out dramatic colors in the sky. 

tornado Iowa weather

90mm at f/7.1, ISO 100, exposure 1/640 second

Smartphone 

If I want to take a quick shot of a storm or tornado and get it out on social media I’ll use my smartphone for that. Its quick and easy. Plus smartphones today take great photos with the more advanced technology. Don’t forget to watermark that photo before it goes out on social media. I use iWatermark with my iPhone. It works great and its simple to use. 

Practice

Remember, the key to becoming a great weather photographer is to know your gear inside and out. Know what all the buttons and camera functions do. Most importantly however, practice with your camera so when you do get in front of that perfect storm you can get that perfect shot. Until next time, keep shooting and thanks for stopping by. 

© Willard Sharp

 

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