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Technical

Stormchaser: <br class="br_visual" />shooting into the eye of the storm

Stormchaser:
shooting into the eye of the storm

© Marko Korošec

September 2016

Meteorologist and extreme weather photographer Marko Korošec documents the weather in his job and chases storms in the USA’s notorious ‘Tornado Alley’ in his spare time with two EOS 6D DSLRs. In an exclusive interview he spoke to CPN writer Steve Fairclough to explain his passion for skies and storms...

Marko has been shooting with Canon EOS DSLRs since “about 1998 or 1999.” He explains: “It was when I was getting more and more interested in the weather. Primarily the reason for getting a camera was so I could remember what I was seeing – the scenery, the [weather] events and so on – I simply just wanted to take a snapshot of the event. Then when I figured out the developing [digital] technology and with my [meteorological] knowledge I just noted that I could make very good shots of these extreme events and show people what it’s possible to see from ‘raw nature’ – so that’s how it started.”

He adds: “At first I was making documentary stuff so I could learn from the pictures what I was seeing. The next time there was a [similar] weather event I could follow it up and take another shot or set of shots. At the end I could see how it [the weather] started developing. Then, through the years, I learnt how to approach the storms – say it was a severe storm in the summer I could approach it from different angles and so on, which equipment to use, what settings and so on. So it just developed through the years.”

© Marko Korošec
© Marko Korošec

The deep ice of frozen snow and hard rime atop Mount Javornik, Slovenia, on 9 December 2014. Taken on a Canon EOS 6D with an EF16-35mm f/2.8L II USM lens at 16mm; the exposure was 1/100 sec at f/20, ISO 200.

Indeed when CPN spoke to Marko he was in Croatia waiting for a large weather front and he says, “That’s the real life of a storm chaser.” In his ‘day job’ he works as a meteorologist at a national agency for road maintenance across Slovenia. He reveals, “We have a network of highways and motorways and I’m an operating meteorologist for the whole country with regards to the weather on the roads so that at weather stations our maintenance people know when to go salting, when to plough roads and so on.”

A typical year

The extent of Marko’s shooting calendar is, unsurprisingly, dependent on the weather. “If there are a lot of extreme weather events throughout the year I’m very active but in a ‘calm year’ I will have less photo shooting. It just depends – if there are [weather] events then I’m shooting but if not then I’m just processing shots, doing some workshops and so on. So it just depends on how the climate is evolving in any year.”

He does, however, make an annual pilgrimage to the USA. “In the late spring I spend one month or a month and a half in the United States in the so-called ‘Tornado Alley’, where there are the most dangerous and most photogenic storms on the planet. I go there for specific expeditions just for tornado chasing and severe storms – that’s the primary trip of a typical year. Otherwise, as I’m from Slovenia, there and the surrounding countries – Italy, Croatia, Hungary and so on – I’m just using the [extremes of] local weather to photograph the seasons.”

Marko explains: “There are many storm-chasing groups and I have my own group; it’s myself and a friend from Australia – Brad Hannon. We get together and meet each year, usually in May. We just rent a car and organise it on our own. We have a computer with all of the radar settings, all of the data, all of the weather equipment and so on. Then we just simply do our own weather forecasts to know where to be at a certain time – we just simply follow the evolution of the storms through those few weeks. Brad is also active on social media – we just publish our shots worldwide so people can see them and share them.”

Marko and Brad are out shooting on every day of their annual trip. “On a daily basis it could be completely active from the beginning until the end and at the end we would be pretty exhausted. It’s a mixture of [getting] something for science, something for your shots and to learn something and get better knowledge. So, it works.”

The difficulties of photographing storms

But what are the major difficulties when photographing storms? He reveals: “The main part is having a really deep knowledge of meteorology so that you can completely understand weather maps and how the weather behaves. As ‘Tornado Alley’ is a pretty big area – 2,000 to 3,000 kilometres – you need to very deeply analyse the weather maps and decide where is the best location for the development of storms in the next couple of days. It’s a pretty difficult job and you need to be in the right spot at the right time based just on the weather maps and your knowledge – that’s the goal.”

© Marko Korošec
© Marko Korošec

The Crni Kal Viaduct, Slovenia, in low cloud on 13 November 2015. Taken on a Canon EOS 6D with an EF24-105mm f/4L IS USM lens at 105mm; the exposure was 1/50sec at f/6.3, ISO 200.

His yearly US trips usually last between four and six weeks and he explains: “Usually it’s [travelling] about 20,000 to 25,000 miles in one month – so it’s a lot of driving, but it pays off in the end.”

Marko cautions: “If you are not totally experienced and are in the first years of going into this field it’s pretty dangerous to do anything from close range, so you need to gain experience throughout the years. As we’ve been doing this for 10 or 15 years we’ve got a lot of knowledge and experience of how to approach the storms, what are the dangerous parts and so on… so we can do what we do completely safely. That’s the most important part so we make sure we’re completely safe.”

Speed is of the essence

Most of the time is spent chasing the storms with short stops to take photos. “Often there is maybe just one or two minute stops – let’s say we are adjusting the settings for one storm that is approaching from one direction to your direction. Then you just stop, take a couple of shots of the structure [of the storm], maybe there is a tornado or dangerous lightning flying out from the storm. Usually it’s just one or two minutes tops [of shooting] and then you move ahead of the storm again, maybe two or three miles and take another set of shots. Usually we’re quite active and are moving quite a lot.”

As for his key equipment Marko reveals: “I have two 6D bodies so I can use different lenses. One is usually for a wide-angle and one is for more of a [longer] zoom lens. I can simply have both cameras on me so I can just shoot whatever I want and no time is lost in changing lenses or getting dust on the sensor. For me, this works best and I figured out that having two of the same cameras has worked perfectly for me in the past two years.”

He continues: “For storm photography it’s best to use something like a Canon 17-40mm and for more medium range shots it’s a 24-105mm zoom. These two lenses are perfect zoom lenses. Sometimes I use a wider angle lens – I have some manual lenses; a 12mm or 14mm lens but usually a 17-40mmm does the best job for me.”

© Marko Korošec
© Marko Korošec

A supercell storm near Milnesand, New Mexico, USA, on 29 May 2015. Taken on a Canon EOS 6D; the exposure was 1/50sec at f/5, ISO 400.

One of his EOS 6D DSLRs is modified with a Baader IR cut filter but Marko explains: “That is actually modified mainly for astrophotography so sometimes if there are storms or if I’m going to Iceland or maybe Scandinavia to shoot the Northern Lights it’s much better for [capturing] the spectrum from the sky. It works at night but during the day there is no difference [between the two cameras] but if it’s a different type of storm and the light is different that’s why I’m using the modified camera but during the day it’s just for normal photography.”

Marko always shoots RAW and explains: “When I started shooting RAW just after the year 2000 I noticed what difference I could do so after I changed from JPEG to RAW I never went back. It simply gives me a lot more space for processing and so on.”

Low light performance

One of the key factors for using the EOS 6D cameras is their low light performance. “My Canon 6D is well done for the dynamic range and also for the low light stuff the ISO is pretty good all the way to 3000 or 4000. I can easily shoot with that and there’s not much noise to fight with. As the storms are usually in bad light it’s usually pretty dark, so the Canon 6D is perfect to use and I don’t want to change. For me, it works perfectly. If you imagine I’m working with extreme conditions, with the rain, wind and dust and so on… the camera works like a charm.”

He tends to use AF when possible but notes: “If not I just figure out where is best on the lens to be close to the optimal focusing. If I’m a couple of kilometres away [from a storm] usually it works to infinity and a bit back usually on the lens and it works that way. Otherwise I just autofocus on a distant object and it works.”

He tries to avoid doing too much post-processing and reveals: “It’s more about making images more dramatic so you can feel the brutal force of the storm so it looks that way. Otherwise there is not much processing, maybe just some minor colour correction and maybe just some extra sharpening. Otherwise there is no big manipulation [involved], especially not composing and so on – I’m not a fan of those. Usually I just want to make [pictures of] what’s real in nature because for me it’s nature and it’s not abstract stuff.”

Full-frame and GPS benefits

The fact that the EOS 6D is a full-frame camera was also one of Marko’s key decisions. “Because over the years I’ve gained so much knowledge that I can be as close as possible to the storms, which means I can get better shots – that’s why you need a full-frame camera so you can have a wider angle and at the end you can get more dimensions on the image.”

© Marko Korošec
© Marko Korošec

Positive lightning in South Dakota, USA, on 21 June 2015. Taken on a Canon EOS 6D; the exposure was five seconds at f/6.3, ISO 100.

The built-in GPS capability of the camera is also a bonus for his type of photography. “Since we are travelling a lot it’s very nice to see if I import all of the shots back to Lightroom you can see on Google Maps where you were. Let's say if I’m doing some finer reports or chase reports later on it’s a great tool and is pretty useful.”

As to his main motivation, Marko states: “I’m aware that a lot of people take my experience in meteorology for granted, so my goal is to show people what’s actually possible to see outside. We know that from the media that storms can be very dangerous, can take lives and so on, so in some ways I can show how the storm behaves and how it looks. If someone comes across such a storm maybe they would know that you need to move to shelter.”

Aside from his storm imagery Marko also shoots other extreme weather, such as snowstorms and blizzards. “If I’m shooting in the winter or the summer it’s the same. I’m just documenting when the serious storms come and at that time I have a plan to be out a bit before them if a storm strikes a town or a country. Also, just to document stuff so that we can maybe know for the future that if you see a storm in a particular way you’ll know what will happen. Let’s say it affects traffic, transport and so on.”

Advice to other photographers

When quizzed on what advice he would give to others seeking to shoot storms, Marko replies: “I think the main part is to know and to understand the weather pretty well. To have a good knowledge and a meteorological background, like studying it at university, is a big part of being successful in this field.”

© Marko Korošec
© Marko Korošec

Branched lightning strikes over the Trieste Gulf, Italy, on 20 August 2014. Taken on a Canon EOS 6D with an EF24-105mm f/4L IS USM lens at 73mm; the exposure was 13 seconds at f/5.6, ISO 125.

He adds: “The main problem with this field of photography is the dangerous part, so if you are not very experienced and don't have any knowledge of how the storm behaves it could be very dangerous for you. Even when I’m in the United States, let’s say chasing tornadoes, if I make a bad decision then it could be a killer for us, our team. Knowing photography can be easy for anyone but knowing the weather and understanding it is a more difficult part of the job.”

He continues: “There’s not much photography at work. Maybe when there are some really extreme events, like some intense snow blizzards or ice storms in our country I can, of course, document it and we can do a good analysis of it for the future in case we need to install more weather stations and so on. Otherwise photography and chasing extreme weather is more like my hobby and my passion in my free time. The company is not supporting my photography, only the salary is!”

Marko admits: “My dream is to also try to photograph lightning in the tropics. In Venezuela it’s known that there is one place, one lake – called Maracaibo – where for maybe 300 days per year there is lightning every night so it’s a pretty interesting meteorological phenomena. Otherwise hurricanes or typhoons would be the next dream to achieve [photographs of].”

He concludes: “For now I’m pretty happy with what I’m doing with extreme weather – it would be nice to maybe shoot some winter storms in Iceland but maybe in the next few years I can try some different stuff and some stuff that is pretty much on the next level of extreme weather!”

Biography: Marko Korošec

Marko Korošec

Meteorologist and weather photographer Marko Korošec combines his job with his passion for his hobby. He works as a meteorologist for a national agency that monitors the weather on the roads in his native Slovenia but he devotes his spare time to photographing extreme weather. He has been shooting with Canon cameras since the late 1990s and is well known for his dramatic imagery of storms, often captured on his annual trips to shoot in the famous ‘Tornado Alley’ in the USA.



Showcase

A supercell storm near Julesburb, Colorado, USA on 28 May 2013. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark II with an EF16-35mm f/2.8L II USM lens at 16mm; the exposure was 1/160sec at f/4, ISO 200.