Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Capturing Wind

Yesterday, the low barometric pressure in Minnesota, and throughout the Midwest, broke all sorts of weather records. This massive storm reflected low pressure readings similar in large destructive hurricanes over the oceans.

These type of weather events stimulate the motivated photographer. Storm chasing has become a business in of itself. Here in Minnesota, two gals, called the "Twister Sisters," guide people close to severe weather with hopes of getting a close-up glimpse of nature's fury. Its both risky and exciting.

Yesterday, I found myself calling & emailing all my pals and Govt. sources like the NOAA, seeking information on where the waves on Lake Superior might be kicking up a fuss. For me, Lake Superior is the place I go to shoot big storms like this. The combination of Superior's size, familiarity with it's shoreline, give me a chance to position myself in locations that offer a greater percentage for successfully capturing the wrath.

Unfortunately, my schedule didn't allow me to scoot North to hunt for wind images. I feel blessed that last year about this same time, I was gifted a Superior storm (see below images) that I was able to photograph. To date, those photographs are still my favorite images from this great lake.

With all the furious communications yesterday, a few discussions about capturing wind came up. I love shooting wind and the challenges to capturing it are easier than you think. And, you don't need low light and long exposures to define it. If your camera has multiple exposure capability, you can shoot wind in the middle of a bright sunny day and still seize the movement. Simply shoot several frames over the same frame, perhaps of blowing grasses in a field, to show the windy conditions. Like magic, you have a wind photograph in the middle of the day!

In the images seen below, you will see a variety of situations that capture wind. The pain of not being able to head North yesterday failed to keep me inside. The winds were still howling here in Minneapolis and at the end of the day I stole about an hour to head down to our local park to see what I could find at night.

I grabbed my heaviest tripod and went wind hunting. Most of the trees were stripped of their leaves from the stinging rain and wind throughout the day. Fortunately, I found a Maple that still, believe it or not, had it's leaves clinging to Fall unwilling to give up just yet. There was a streetlight behind the tree illuminating it with a freaky glow that attracted me. I stopped down to f/22 and got a 30 second exposure. This long exposure allowed the windy movement to blur. The solid trunk of the tree remaining sharp, gave me my foundation. I do like to have something sharp in the midst of all that blur.

While shooting an assignment in Iceland, I experienced wind like I've never seen before. It was so windy, it was spooky. It never let up. It relentlessly pounded and pounded. It was the kind of wind that if you stopped your car to grab a shot, you had better be pointed into the wind. If you parked with the wind behind you, it would rip the car doors right off it's hinges. Don't believe me? Check out the photo I snapped of the waterfall being blown right back up into the sky! Another image created that same day of the trees blowing, I used my rental vehicle as a wind break to take a long exposure to bring out the strength of these winds.

Shooting an assignment for Smithsonian Magazine on Wind Power, I was criss-crossing the Midwest where wind farms were finally getting a foothold capturing the blowing prairie winds. I noticed that most of my coverage happened during the day, when the winds typically blew the strongest. I quickly observed that while I was getting good images of the giant turbines, I had stopped the action of the blades. I wasn't showing the wind being harnessed. I looked for other ways to show the breeze. One option was using a dollar bill with a wind turbine in the distance. I knew the dollar bill would flap in the stiff wind, and I liked the visual metaphor of generating dollars from nature. I held the dollar against a 20mm lens and fired away. The second option was waiting until nightfall and using a powerful spotlight, I illuminated the blades as they slowly moved in the darkness.

Finally, a clearing storm in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA) exposed a rainbow while the upper level clouds were still croaking. A long exposure allowed the clouds to show movement. The image was more complete for me. It exhibited a change in weather systems, not just a rainbow created by one.

Its still blowing today. So, I gotta run!


  1. Beautiful work! Great job capturing the power of nature.

  2. Great line -- "stimulate the motivated photographer"...

  3. Fantastic. Submitted to StumbleUpon.

  4. Love the blog entry, I remember well Oct 26th/27th of this year. My barometer went so low that I took a photo of it. I agree with what you say about the wind, re. capturing movement by combining multiple exposures, at times I have done this with as many as 26 exposures combined in one.
    Lake Superior is my favorite Great Lake, my wife and I have actually brought 2 acres shore frontage just east of Thunderbay, though we have done nothing with it. We just wanted our own piece of the Lake.

    Winnipeg, MB