JK: How did this photograph come together?
SP: I shot this in the Gila Bend area on an August evening last year. I was storm-chasing and looking for haboobs, which are large dust storms that happen in the desert during the summer monsoon. This is one of the more popular areas to capture them, because there’s so much dry land and dirt. Looking at the forecast, I figured this would be a good opportunity.
JK: Often, photos of dust storms can appear somewhat flat, but I like this shot because it’s much more three-dimensional, with the storm moving across the photo.
SP: The sun was hitting the dust clouds head-on, so it made for a really vibrant contrast with the dark storm clouds, the mountains and the desert plants. I’m proud of the foreground as well. While I was driving down the interstate, looking for a place to set up and shoot the storm, all I saw were open fields without much vegetation. As soon as I spotted this patch of chollas and saguaros, I knew I had to stop and get the shot there.
JK: What sorts of tools do you use to track and photograph these storms?
SP: I use an app called RadarScope, which lets you look at wind velocities and Doppler radar to get an idea of where a dust storm might be forming. I’m not a meteorologist, but I know enough to have a pretty good chance of catching a storm. Once I get there, my main goal is to get time-lapse sequences, but I have a backup camera to shoot still photos like this one. I have pretty sturdy tripods that I weigh down if I need to, and I clean my camera sensors before and after shooting, because the nature of these
storms means dust can be an issue.
JK: What do you enjoy most about chasing storms?
SP: I’ve always been attracted to photographing the beautiful things Mother Nature has to offer, and storms are part of that. I love the adrenaline, the thrill and the adventure of chasing them. But I have to be careful, because the times when I’ve been full of adrenaline and energy have been the times when I’ve almost stepped on a rattlesnake or narrowly avoided getting hurt in other ways. After some years of practice, I’ve found ways to be safe and protect my gear. I also enjoy being part of a small fraternity of storm chasers in Arizona; in fact, I ran into a few of them on my way to this spot. For the most part, there’s a spirit of friendly competition there.
Do you have a question about photography? Email it to [email protected], and our photo editor, Jeff Kida, will try to answer it in a future issue.