Friday, August 31, 2012

The edge of a storm

Blue skies are fine for travel brochures, but my favorite landscape images have an element of drama. And they're captured at what I call the edge of a storm.

I'm not talking about anything as extreme as hurricanes or severe thunderstorms. Photographing right at the edge of an approaching rain storm or right as the storm is breaking up can give your landscapes extra punch. The dramatic red clouds of a passing storm can allow you to make a unique image even from a popular national park photo spot.

Such is the case with the image at the top of this post. The Paradise section of Mount Rainier National Park is known for stunning displays of summer wildflowers. And when I was able to go, the peak of the show, at least for an impressive cluster of silky lupine, was along Edith Creek, an area especially popular with photographers. Mount Rainier, a small waterfall and wildflowers easily fit into the frame – no wonder it's so popular. It can be tough to make a unique image there.

So, I timed my trip to coincide with a change in the weather. Several days of clear skies were forecast to end right at about sunrise on the morning I visited. Since weather typically moves from west to east, my thinking was that western sky would be filled with high clouds; the eastern sky clear. The vibrant red light of sunrise would be able to shine through to paint the underside of the approaching clouds.

That was my plan, but the weather does whatever it will do. As I was waiting for the sunrise, I began to doubt whether it would work. It appeared the clouds arrived a bit earlier than forecast. The eastern sky was filled with clouds, too. Without an opening for the sunlight, the sky would just be a solid gray. For a landscape like this, that's even worse than solid blue.

But the wind was strong and the clouds were thin. One moment the sky was full of clouds, the next there were only streaks of clouds. And then there was only a lenticular cloud, a flying-saucer shaped cap cloud that forms on the summit of mountains when there's moisture in the air and the wind is strong.

The conditions continued to change repeatedly even through sunrise. I have a sequence with red cirrus clouds over the mountains. This lenticular cloud image, though, is my favorite. I've photographed numerous lenticular clouds in the winter and spring, but never in summer with wildflowers below.

Photographing at the edge of a storm involves taking a chance. Often, the weather won't work out. Every now and then, however, you get an image that's truly special.

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