Storm Chasing On a Time Budget

August 25th, 2010 by Royce Howland

Editors note:  We are proud to welcome Royce Howland to the OPG blog!  Hailing from Calgary, Alberta, Royce is a consultant in the IT industry and is an accomplished wildlife and landscape photographer.  Look for more articles from Royce soon in the areas of HDR and the digital darkroom.  You can learn more about Royce and view his spectacular images at his website:  Vivid Aspect Photography.

A joke about being self-employed goes like this — "Thank God it’s Friday! Only two more working days until Monday." Another one was pointed out to me by a friend — "Being self-employed, you get to work half-days. And you even get to choose which 12 hours you work!" Ha ha, only serious. As somebody with a non-photography day job and doing photography on the side, I don't always get to spend my time the way I would choose. Two serious pursuits to fit into each week, each with challenging and necessary ways to spend a lot of time… well, there are only so many hours. It's easy to get bogged down in the work of it all. But it's also important to preserve some time to focus on creativity.

On a recent weekend, I had a ton of work to accomplish and was busily chipping away at it as one of a series of powerful storm systems blew through Calgary. After taking a break to visit family on Sunday evening, on the drive home my wife and I watched huge cloud formations surrounding the city. I was tired, it was getting late, I still had more work to do, and so I figured I’d lost yet another chance to photograph some incredible stormy weather. But when we got home, I decided to set my work aside and try to do some image making given the opportunity created by the weather.

I grabbed my camera, threw some gear in the car, and drove east towards Shepard as fast as I reasonably could. I was chasing what looked like a 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. Unfortunately, the storm 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. 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. Yee-haw!

There were no foreground objects of interest, but who cares — a field and big sky is the essential prairie setting. 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. Yes! I knew I was capturing something good. I felt energized again, gaining the strength to swat at the trillions of mosquitoes that descended upon me, out for blood. I even maintained the presence of mind to consider composition possibilities, and framed both vertical and horizontal orientations that would be useful for different layouts. 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 what I have learned is that if I'm persistent I can also make my own luck.

When I could tolerate the vicious mozzie attacks no more, I packed up and headed home. My total time for storm chasing ended up being only about two hours; not a bad diversion! Another couple of hours of work still awaited me that night… and of course now I had the new task of developing my storm images, too. But hey, cowboy up — it’s only sleep.

Visit Royce’s web site at



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