Mothership over Montana: Surreal Supercell Stormcloud

APOD got some attention yesterday with this stunning photo of a supercell thunderstorm several kilometers wide, brooding over a Montana field:

Sean Heavey, 2010

I'm not sure it's possible for a work of art or photography to more effectively convey the grandeur of nature and the awesome power of physics. The image is simply unreal (which is why the title "Mothership" works so well). But Montana photographer Sean Heavey has a whole gallery of these stunning storm photos.

I'm especially nuts about the ominous, Tesla-esque drama of "Base Reflectivity":

i-6098fe62f1384b43106ef9f23d7361d1-base reflectivity.png

And for all you would-be storm-chasers, this one is "A Little Too Close for Comfort":


Seriously: is anything more ominous-and-uplifting-and-scientifically-fascinating than a thunderstorm?

There are some saturation and color shifts between the APOD photo and the version on Sean's website, so I asked him how much digital processing he usually does on his raw photos. He was gracious enough to respond within an hour to my email, and told me that he does indeed tweak the output, mostly to maximize print quality:

Mostly I do some levels and color balancing in Photoshop . . . my lenses are old and have dirt in them which shows up on the image. I used to do more tweaking but really I'm not that good with photoshop and find that being in the place at the right moment is 98% of photography.

Judging by these photos, Sean Heavey is the posterboy of "being in the right place and the right moment." And while purists may disagree, I think the limited tweaking is extremely effective at heightening the drama without spoiling the authenticity of the scene. The colors in the photos above may seem surreally intense, but I grew up in the inland Northwest, and storms there really do have that supersaturated, luminous quality. I have no idea if it has to do with the wavelengths of light filtering through the clouds or what, but these photos make me feel like I'm back home, watching fork lightning on a hot July night. (Except that I never got to see any supercell motherships. Which is probably good, because something like that would freak me right the heck out.)

By the way, Sean's "Mothership" photo is an entry in the 2010 National Geographic Photography Contest - if you have a moment, click through and vote for him.

Update: Oops, I think we've drained Sean's bandwidth and crashed his site. Um! Sorry, Sean! Either that, or he's renovating. Regardless, you can still see his work (and buy prints) here at his storefront.


Sean Heavey's website (see particularly "Remnants," portraits of the gracefully decaying detritus of rural life)

More like this