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Storm Chasing On a Time Budget

July 13, 2010
Please Spare the Crop!, Shepard

Please Spare the Crop!, Shepard

The past few days have seen a lot of heavy storm activity around Calgary. The biggest action was yesterday, and I missed most of it sitting in the office or working at home. But a big system rolled through town the day before, Sunday, and I was able to do something about it with my camera.

A joke about being self employed goes like this — “Thank God it’s Friday! Only two more working days until Monday.” Ha ha, only serious. I put in a bunch of hours on Sunday, working on this or that. My wife & I then took a break to visit family for supper, and I put in some more hours while we were there. Very sociable of me, I know! But it was either that or stay home by myself, which would be even worse. While I hit the keyboard, people kept commenting about the incredible sky visible out the window. Too busy, I didn’t have time to look; I was barely aware of the torrential downpour that lashed the house. Eventually our time there wound down, and it was time to drive home.

They had been right — the sky was incredible. On the half hour route home, my wife & I watched four major cloud formations surrounding the city like a besieging army. One of the formations looked like images I’ve seen of super cells — it was phenomenal. I was impressed, but I also muttered to myself all the way home. I was tired, it was getting late, I still had more work to do, and I figured I’d already lost any chance to photograph the incredible storm system. But when we got home, I thought to myself “cowboy up — it’s only sleep!”

I grabbed the camera, threw some gear in the car, and drove east towards Shepard as fast as I reasonably could. I was chasing the super cell, trying to get to a useful location out in the prairie farm areas east of the big city, where I could find some kind of view. The stormclouds were amazing and it was all I could do to stay on the road and not speed. (Safety first!) Alas, the super cell was fleeing away from me to the southeast at a pretty fast rate, and into a zone where I could see it was losing the light. I began to give up hope. Suddenly, as I wove my way through some back roads, I came across a field of canola in full bloom on the north side of the road. It was the only crop I saw this far developed, and due north of it was one of the other thunderheads that was putting on its own show of strength.

No foreground objects of interest, but who cares — this is the prairie! I screeched to a halt, grabbed the tripod and camera, and ran across the road in the growing gloom to set up and make a few exposures. The image shown here was the first one I shot, when things were at their least colorful. Yes! I knew I was capturing something good. All my tiredness dropped away, giving me enough energy to swat at the trillions of mosquitoes that descended upon me, out for blood, as I shot a few more exposures with the color deepening well into sunset. This cloud formation was the only one of all in view to maintain light right up to the end. My gamble had paid off. Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good, but if you’re persistent you can also make your own luck. How many times do I have to keep learning that lesson?

When I could tolerate the vicious mozzie attacks no more, I packed up and headed home. Another couple of hours of work awaited me… and the new task of developing my storm images, too. But hey, cowboy up — it’s only sleep.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. Barry Ryziuk permalink
    July 13, 2010 20:27

    Hi Royce
    Although I have only subscribed to you blog since the extreme trip, you continue to amaze me with the the articles you present, keep up the great work and hope to run into you again sometime!
    Take care

  2. Dave Pattinson permalink
    July 14, 2010 06:26

    Amazing shot!!! I love reading your blog and your images are fantastic!!!!

  3. David (art appears to be inspired work) permalink
    July 14, 2010 07:06

    Royce – when I think of prairies, this photo is close to what I think of. Big Sky, crops in the field, a sense that the horizon will show only more of the same grandeur. Your mountain photos are impressive, but a prairie landscape is more minimalist. A mountain photo pretty much has a subject matter; a prairie landscape requires you to work (harder, I would suggest) to produce an art-worthy photo.
    This photo is a nice result of that work.

  4. July 14, 2010 18:56

    Thanks guys. Barry & Dave, it was great shooting together out in SK. I’m sure we’ll meet again, perhaps out under some monster storm cloud. 🙂

    David: gracias, amigo. Though I have to say, clouds are the mountains of the prairies. This thunderhead is no less captivating a main subject than a classic snow-capped peak at sunrise. I just needed to put myself in a place to work with it. In that way, you’re right that you do have to work harder on the prairies because they’re more changeable in some ways; less static. I can go to shoot a mountain at any time or year and more or less know that it will be there. 🙂 Weather and other environmental or seasonal things I think are much more factors photographing the prairies… need to do it much more!

  5. July 17, 2010 14:42

    Hey Royce…. I just started following the blog. You have some fantastic writing here, complimented with some great photography. I’m excited to continue following! This post has so many lessons in it..I seem to keep “re-learning” all those lessons every few months as well…”it’s only sleep”- so true! It’s shots like these that make me want to get out of the mountains for a few weeks and travel the backroads of SK and AB…Great stuff, keep it up! JL

  6. July 17, 2010 16:52

    Gracias, Jeff! A good friend is challenging me to go to the prairies more rather than my default of going to the mountains. So maybe we’ll cross paths out there on a back road. 🙂

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