Storm photography a matter of preparation and having an escape route, weather tracker says
By Sophie Colvin
Jordan Cantelo captured this shot as storm clouds gathered over Carnamah in WA. (ABC Open contributor Jordan Cantelo)
Due to its size and location, Australia is home to some extremely diverse weather patterns.
ABC Open contributor and avid storm photographer Jordan Cantelo lives in northern WA and travels extensively to capture the region’s many spectacular weather events during wet season.
Mr Cantelo said the most important advice he could give beginners was for them to be aware of their surroundings and to be safe.
“Lightning is unpredictable in where it will strike and can strike a long way from the main thunderstorm,” he said.
“Clear air strikes (or bolts from the blue as they are commonly referred to) are lightning strikes that seem to appear out of nowhere from the side of thunderstorms.
“They can strike up to 20 kilometres from where the main action is taking place. If you are inside that 20km radius, you are in the strike zone.”
He also stressed that storms could bring lots of rain in a short amount of time, so having an escape route in mind was important.
“Do not drive through the core of a thunderstorm,” he said.
“This is where the strongest winds and heaviest rain will occur, and if hail is present, this is where it will be falling.
“Visibility can completely disappear as the core passes over you, so do not attempt to drive through the core of a thunderstorm.
“If you find yourself in the core, find a safe place to pull over, turn on your hazard lights and wait for the storm to pass.
“The safest place is in your car, especially if lightning is striking as well.”
There was no shortage of lightning during this storm near Marvel Loch. (ABC Open contributor Jordan Cantelo)
What you’ll need
While Mr Cantelo warned of the risks involved, he suggested the following equipment to capture lightning photographs:
- a sturdy tripod
- a camera that has the capability to be set manually
- a wide-angle lens
“The easiest time to capture lightning is during the evening, as you can set your camera to a longer shutter speed.”
He suggested starting with the following settings for night-time captures:
- set your lens to manual focus
- ISO 400
- Aperture f5.6–f7.1
- Shutter speed 10–30 seconds (depending on available light)
Mr Cantelo said he watched the weather every day during spring, summer and autumn.
“My day usually starts with looking through the Bureau of Meteorology website at the seven-day forecast, and then the synoptic charts to see what could be happening in a fortnight’s time,” he said.
“Once the forecast looks promising, I start to map out regions that look like they could be in the firing line.
“If it is an area I haven’t visited before, then I will look at road networks to start building a game plan of where I could go and where I can escape if it gets too hectic.”
Again, he said safety was paramount and would always tell his wife where he was going.
“I will usually leave early in the morning or even the day before [if it’s a long drive] so it gives me enough time to get out in the field.
“Then when the storms start firing, I will use the weather radar [if I have phone coverage] to track the storms to get myself into position to capture images that I want to capture.
“It’s not unusual to travel 1,000km.”
A dirt road is lit up by sun shining through storm clouds near Marvel Loch. (ABC Open contributor Jordan Cantelo)
Mr Cantelo works in fire management and said he’d had a fascination with the weather from an early age.
“When I was a younger you could find me always looking up into the sky watching the clouds, wondering what was happening at different levels of the atmosphere.
“The fascination naturally grew and grew as I got older, as I started learning and understanding basic meteorology and thunderstorms.
“The attraction to me is just the shear size and power of thunderstorms and the sense of calmness I get when viewing them.”
A storm at Wyndham last wet season stands out.
“Right on sunset the cells passed over the mudflats that lay around Wyndham and straight over the top of the lookout.
“The lightning was non-stop with bright flashes right around me and the loudest thunder echoing into the distance.
“With the incredible colours of sunset piercing through the clouds, it was a visual spectacle.
“A moment I will never forget.”