Storm Chase and a Sunset on a Humid Mid-Summer Afternoon

Well now, what an adventure this was. This might turn into a bit of a yarn, so bear with me.

So, one of the advantages of working for myself is that I can down tools when I want if interesting photographic situations arise. I knew storms were forecast and the local storm chasers had posted on Facebook that there were good prospects for some decent storm activity, so I was keeping an eye on the sky. Mid-afternoon I looked out of the office window and the clouds were looking decidedly stormy, so I checked the radar and saw a line of storms all queued up in the west. I grabbed my camera bag and headed out in the Kluger which is far better suited to stormy weather photography than my Golf. Initially I headed to Shoalhaven Heads, but I realised I wouldn’t have a good enough angle on the approaching storm so I went a bit further north to Berrys Beach in mid-Seven Mile and this turned out to be the perfect location to view the storm’s approach …

When I arrived at the beach there weren’t many folks around – most people had quite sensibly taken one look at the sky and headed for home, but there were a couple of tourists and a young family enjoying the spectacle on the beach. Fortunately it wasn’t that windy as the gust front had not yet hit and so I cheerfully prepped the Mavic 2 and sent it up into the sky.

 

I shot a 180º as soon as I could because I didn’t know how long I’d have before the storm hit. The storm front was tracking south-east in a diagonal line and I knew from the radar that there was a decent amount of electrical activity too, so I didn’t want to keep my plucky drone in the air for too long in case it attracted a bolt of lightning. On a side-note – how cool is that sand getting churned in the waves there? Love this beach. Oh yes, and I’m the tiny dot on the right side of the picture, just in front of the beach path.

 

This is one of my favourites from the day. The cloud was really shaping up by this stage and producing lightning bolts over in the direction of the escarpment.

 

Looks like a mothership coming in to land. I wanted to get the drone out over the ocean for a look back, so I flew it out about 400m from me and got this angled shot.

 

I took this 180º from just in front of the beach car park. As you can see on the left it’s raining hard on the leading edge of the storm cloud and there’s some angry clouds forming up over the land.

 

Another favourite. I wanted more control over the shots I was taking with the automated 180º panos, so I decided to shoot a bracketed pano. So this image is made up of 35 individual shots taken in seven segments of five bracketed images. I output it to AutoPano Giga and rendered it in exposure fusion which gives me a massive amount of dynamic range. So in this shot, none of the highlights are blown out and there’s detail in the shadows. The result is this spooky shot showing the monster cloud off to my south-west.

 

I was starting to get a bit nervous by this stage. I mean, I was shitting myself the whole time the Mavic was in the air. I always shit myself when I fly it over the water because any malfunction means there’s zero chance of recovery, but add to that a fucking great electrical storm bearing down on it and it’s fair to say my heart rate was elevated.

 

This is a manual vertical pano comprised of 40 shots processed in AutoPano in Exposure Fusion mode to get full dynamic light range. I wanted to try and capture the scale of the landscape and the storm.

The problem with photographing lightning with a drone (aside from the fact that it is itself a potential lightning magnet) is that you can’t really do the long exposure trick like with a DSLR and there are no lightning detectors for drones. So my solution is to video it in 4K and extract stills from the footage. This is a composite of three stills taken from some 4K footage.

 

That central part of cloud grew pretty rapidly. By this stage the wind was starting to pick up.

 

I brought the Mavic back in from over the ocean and got a few last shots before the shit hit the fan.

Mhmmm … about now I was thinking that I really ought to bring the drone down.

 

Last shot before I landed the Mavic for the day – the storm was really very close by now and the wind had picked up substantially. I hurriedly brought the drone down and was walking forwards to hand-catch it when I tripped over the beach pathway, twisted my already buggered knee, fell flat on my face and sent the controller flying across the pathway. The controller landed upside down and the right hand stick got nudged to the left, causing the drone to start moving towards the trees. Fortunately the object detection kicked in and the Mavic saved itself. Thanks DJI! I picked myself up, caught the drone, dusted off the controller and headed back to the car, cursing, limping and sweaty. As I closed the boot on the car, big fat heavy drops of rain started falling and I realised how fine I’d cut it with the drone flight. But what to do now? I decided to head round to Black Head in Gerroa to see if I could photograph some lightning as I’ve previously got some excellent storm shots there.

 

Black Head was a complete stormy, windy, wet close-out so I shot some video with the GoPro (which is of course completely waterproof) and a couple of timelapses. I looked at the satellite images and couldn’t see any end in sight for the storm, so with sunset about 45 minutes away, I decided to head home. However as I got to the junction of Burke Parade where the Blue Swimmer restaurant is, a little voice in my head told me to stick around and so instead of turning right and heading back to Berry, I turned left back into Gerroa and parked up near the little Gazebo. As you might imagine the beach and the streets were completely deserted but all the lights were on in the tourist accommodation that dominates Gerroa and I could see people in their lounges watching TV or having a cold one and I wondered how many of them were paying attention to the scene outside their windows. 10 minutes passed and I figured I’d call it quits for the day. I put my hand on the key to start the ignition and right then this ray of light suddenly appeared in the south and lit up Moeyan Hill in the far distance. Spooky! That light was enough for me to see that there was in fact a gap in the cloud on the horizon and I realised this sky was probably going to get back-lit. So I got out of the car, grabbed the DSLR, took shelter from the rain under the gazebo and started taking shots on the tripod.

 

The light started spreading as the sun headed down adding some real drama to the scene.

 

Low cloud and sea mist was visible and, with the light situation fairly poor I decided to do some long exposures. This one was 3 seconds.

 

The 50mm is such a great lens, I love the clarity it produces. The sun lit up the landscape over Mount Coolangatta like a massive spotlight.

I decided to bring the sunset a bit closer and stuck the zoom on the camera to capture these deep reds and oranges. As always, the birds were congregating just below the high tide mark.

 

Another favourite – love the colours in this. So much cloud going on here – sea mist, low cloud, mid-level cloud, high cloud – and the sun setting behind it all.

 

Full zoom into the sunset to capture the amazing colours.

 

So by now the sunset had turned everything this eerie orangey red colour. I looked behind me and realised that all the holidaymakers had gone out onto their balconies or verandahs and were pointing their smartphones at the sunset. Nobody decided to join me under my leaky gazebo though.

 

The lifeguards tower gives a handy sense of scale to this image. I wish it was there all year-round but they take it away at the end of the summer holidays once the council patrols finish up at Gerroa.

 

Back to the wide angle lens and the spooky glow continued.

 

Love how the sea mist looks in this one.

 

This was one of my last shots of the evening. The colour did actually carry on for a while after this, but I was very damp and hungry and my knee was killing me, so I decided to head home, certain that I’d find a few keepers amongst the photographs I had taken. I got home at about 8:45pm, plugged the memory cards in to begin the import and, made myself some quick Mi Goreng noodles because I was so keen to see how my shots came out. Four hours of editing later, I went to bed a very happy boy.

I do love evenings like last night. They make all the crappy sunrises, sunsets and grey sky days worth it and re-energise the old photo karma to see me through the next few months of wash-outs, close-outs, disappointments and near-misses. Here’s to the next adventure.

By |2019-01-09T12:40:25+00:00January 9th, 2019|Shoots|4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. Stephanie Ford January 9, 2019 at 2:09 pm - Reply

    Amazing photos of this amazing place with all the drama of a decent summer storm. Thank you so much.

  2. Laura Horne January 9, 2019 at 5:34 pm - Reply

    Loved reading this, what a magical artistic experience you had yesterday and such amazing photographs. Thank you for sharing the story behind them all, hope your knee is better

    • Andy Hutchinson January 9, 2019 at 6:27 pm - Reply

      Thanks Laura – knee’s going to be a swap-out unfortunately – that’s what comes with ageing 🙂

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