Chasing supercells is all in a day’s work when this landscape photographer goes where the weather takes him.

[credit to Alexa Keefe at NatGeo and the photographer, Mitch Dobrowner]

Mitch Dobrowner has a vivid imagination. When he listens to music, he can see colors. And before he goes out to photograph, his mind’s eye already sees an image of what he wants.

This time, it was something like a spaceship—the type of storm cloud that takes on a distinctive saucerlike shape.

Landspout | Goodland, Kansas PHOTOGRAPH BY MITCH DOBROWNER
Raincloud | Hershey, Nebraska PHOTOGRAPH BY MITCH DOBROWNER

His expectations were met—and then some—the first time he found himself facing a supercell storm on America’s northern plains. He and Roger Hill, a veteran storm chaser who’s been his guide ever since, had been following this particular storm for nine hours as it wound its way from Sturgess, South Dakota, through the Badlands, and down into Valentine, Nebraska, gathering force as it went.

“I couldn’t believe what I was looking at,” he says. “It was so surreal to me.”

He was hooked.

Lightning Strikes | Peckham, Oklahoma PHOTOGRAPH BY MITCH DOBROWNER

“After that I’d just go out, and these [phenomena] kept on happening. I don’t even know if the pictures do justice to what I’m looking at.”

For anyone who’s seen Dobrowner’s breathtakingly beautiful images, there’s no doubt that they do. (Case in point: A print of one of his tornado pictures was used as an inspiration for the cyclone in 2013’s Oz the Great and Powerful.)

Dobrowner comes from the school of classic landscape photography—think Ansel Adams, large-format film cameras, carefully composed black-and-white exposures. When photographing landscapes, he typically spends a couple of days finding his compositions and waiting for the right light. He can take his time because, as he points out, the rocks aren’t going anywhere. He compares the process of discovering his surroundings to stepping into a darkroom and waiting for his eyes to adjust.

But with storms, the adjustment has to happen much more quickly. “I don’t know what’s going to happen when I step out of the van,” he says. For him, it’s more like photographing a sporting event, where you have to act fast or the moment is gone.

Vortex | Long Hollow, South Dakota PHOTOGRAPH BY MITCH DOBROWNER

Also different is the equipment. Shooting digital rather than large-format allows him to both move quickly and preview the images. And he has to maintain his concentration in the face of wind and rain, which also means constantly wiping his lens between shots (and no, he doesn’t Photoshop out the raindrops.)

“The only thing I ever listen for when I’m out is Roger saying, ‘We’ve got to get out of here right now,'” he says. But sometimes he also just wants to stop and take it all in.

“Storms are like a creation to me,” he says. “They don’t exist unless all the elements are just right … the right humidity, the right winds. If everything’s right they form structure and mature. They feel like living things. No two storms are alike.”

White Tornado | Woonsocket, South Dakota PHOTOGRAPH BY MITCH DOBROWNER
Rain Curtain | St. Francis, Kansas PHOTOGRAPH BY MITCH DOBROWNER
Tornado Above Farm | Syracuse, Kansas PHOTOGRAPH BY MITCH DOBROWNER

Source: National Geographic – Heading Camera-First Into the Storm