Storm-chasing: Part 2 with Evan Ludes

Last week, Jain Lemos talked with storm chaser Martin Lisius in Part One of her two-part article on weather photographers. Here’s her interview with Evan Ludes.

Getting up to speed quickly on safety rules is Evan Ludes, a 22-year-old photographer from Omaha, Nebraska. Already, he’s amassing a solid collection of weather-related content, images that are intense and dynamic. His great love of the outdoors led him to establish Framed By Nature. His website chronicles past storm chases and scenes from his travels.

Ludes also caught storm fever as a toddler growing up in Wichitia, Kansas. “I don’t remember much about the storm itself, but I do remember sleeping in the basement for almost a week straight with the rest of my family,” he shares. “There had been a sustained outbreak of tornadic storms, and instead of waking up in the middle of the night to get our things together to go to the basement, we decided it was easier to simply sleep down there. An odd thing for sure, but that’s living in Tornado Alley for you!”

Though he hasn’t shot every type of weather yet, Ludes has a good selection of weather phenomena. “Thunderstorms, tornadoes, blizzards, dust storms, hail storms… you name it, I’ve probably been out in it,” he says. One of the most common types of storms in his gallery is known as a supercell, which is a persistent rotating thunderstorm. “This rotation is what sculpts the cloud’s spectacular “mothership” shape,” he explains.

High gas prices have kept him from traveling to the coast for hurricane coverage, but he’s hoping image sales and assignments will help fund his future adventures. Still, he gets around quite well and has traversed the plains and high plains to shoot storms. “My first chase was in Oklahoma,” Ludes says. By the end of 2010 (his first year of chasing) he had added Kansas, Colorado, Nebraska and Iowa to his list. “Since then, I’ve also chased in Missouri, South Dakota, North Dakota, Wyoming and Minnesota,” he adds.

One thing he is longing to shoot in a particular way is what he calls a “photogenic” tornado. The coverage he has of a few tornadoes were taken from too far a distance. “Ideally, I’d like to be within a mile of a significant tornado with good lighting conditions. That’s a shot that has yet to be crossed off my bucket list,” he says.

Shooting primarily stills early on, Ludes is now developing much more video into his workflow. He’s especially intrigued by time-lapse studies. “I can shoot 1080 HD video as well as time-lapses with a single camera body using my current workhorse, the Canon 60D. There are some things that stills just can’t translate, like the excitement of driving away from a thunderstorm, which is where video comes in,” he explains. He processes video clips through Adobe Premiere, which allows for cutting and color correcting quickly and efficiently.

 

Ludes is learning that one of the hardest things to convey to viewers is simply the sheer scale of the storm. He knows the frustration of not being able to translate the magnitude accurately to a computer screen. “An ultra-wide angle lens is a must for any storm photographer,” he advises. “Having a wide angle lens will allow you to capture the scene in the same approximate field of view at which you witness it. If I’m still not wide enough to frame the whole storm, I resort to taking panoramic images and stitching them together,” he says.

This is one reason time-lapse photography works so well for storms. “When you freeze a storm in a single frame, you lose a lot of the motion involved with the clouds. If you shoot a time-lapse video, you can see how that storm evolves over time, transcending what the human eye sees,” he adds. Ludes is capturing his time-lapse video using a Canon XSi with a Vello intervalometer for delay-release remoting switching.

In late July 2010, Ludes was chasing with a partner in Vivian, South Dakota. They were expecting a big hail storm. Not wanting to get caught in the precipitation they moved south of the main Interstate and wound up driving on dirt roads. Suddenly, the storm accelerated faster than they anticipated. “The hail core caught up with us, and before we knew it, there were softball-sized chunks of ice bouncing over our car as we blasted on dirt roads. Miraculously, we escaped with all of our glass intact,” he recalls. “Turns out, it was a world record setting hail storm, with stones measuring 8 inches in diameter, about the size of a bowling ball,” he exclaims.

Weather Spotting: A Visual Guide to Midwestern Weather,” is Ludes’ 62-page self-published photo book on severe weather and cloud identification. His chapters include examples of nearly every cloud type, a narrative on hail formation, why supercells are rare and lightning safety tips, plus he finds a clever way to use diagrams over his images for explaining how storms generate and flow.

Ludes has been licensing to TV outlets, finding that with today’s 24-hour news cycle, networks are constantly searching for the latest, greatest and most exciting video clips to fill air time. He is represented by Live Storms Media, a major distributor that pushes content to ABC, NBC, CNN, The Weather Channel, Weather Nation and other top cable channels.

Lisius and Ludes are always willing to share their storm chasing knowledge and welcome calls from visual buyers and researchers. Their passion for elemental and phenomenal photography involves observing, reading, tinkering and experimenting, but most of all they love sharing what they discover through their images. There is one other thing we can count on: they’ll never complain about the weather.

© Evan Ludes Paxton, Nebraska Lightning Storm
© Evan Ludes Paxton, Nebraska Lightning Storm

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