ALBERTA

Alberta Photographer Of The Month: Beth Allan

09/27/2014 10:52 EDT | Updated 09/27/2014 10:59 EDT

There's no doubt the weather in Alberta keeps things interesting.

But for some people, bad weather isn't a time to stay at home, curled up under the blankets.

For people like Beth Allan, a storm chaser and nature photographer from Calgary, an incoming storm is the time to get in the car and chase the weather down.

We've chosen Beth as September's Photographer of the Month on account of her jaw-dropping, awe-inspiring weather photos.

Beth was kind enough to share some of her photos and answer a few questions for us:

Q: Where did you grow up and where do you currently live?

A: I grew up in and around Toronto and Aurora, Ont. until I went to Huron University College in London, Ontario. After a couple of years in Edmonton and northern Alberta, I moved to Calgary almost two years ago, and I plan to stay!

Q: How long have you been shooting photos?

A: I started in photography around about 2006, when I purchased my first digital SLR camera. After a couple of years of playing around, I decided to take photography more seriously and in 2009 I started working toward making the transition from amateur to closer-to-professional.

Q: What about Alberta inspires you?

A: Alberta has an energy to it that is unlike anywhere else in the world. The undercurrent of excitement, of possibility, coupled with the tranquility of the prairie (and mountain) landscapes feeds something in my brain. To go from photographing a building surrounded by a million people in Calgary and then, 20 minutes later, to be standing in the middle of a field with only the sounds of birds and wind is an amazing experience. We are so lucky to have nature so close to us in this province - the duality between nature and the march of progress is fascinating.

Q: How patient do you have to be to photograph weather and wildlife? Have you ever waited a really long time for a certain shot?

A: For weather photography, it’s less about waiting for a long time and more about returning to a place repeatedly or chasing storm after storm. Sometimes it takes years for weather conditions to come together into the perfect shot. Photographing storms is the epitome of “hurry up and wait” photography. It’s important to get into position early enough to be on time, but since nature doesn’t listen to a clock, once I’m in position for storms, sometimes there are hours of sitting in a field under a hot blue sky before storms start to happen. That’s where patience comes in handy. Most of the time, capturing beautiful shots is more about returning to a favourite location numerous times to catch the right light, the right clouds, or the right angle. It’s a different sort of patience, maybe better called persistence!

Interview continues after the slideshow:

Beth Allan: Storm Chaser

Q: What's the most unusual, remarkable thing you've ever had happen while taking photos?

A: Most people would think that seeing a tornado develop from a cloud is pretty remarkable, and I would be first in line to agree! There’s nothing like seeing the clouds and structure that Mother Nature can create — it’s awe-inspiring and jaw-dropping. Any time I’m out creating images, I count myself lucky and so incredibly blessed to be able to be out witnessing these amazing sights… and any day that I can watch a storm, churning out over an open field, doing very little damage, is one that I’d consider remarkable in my books.

Q: Have you ever found yourself if a scary situation while shooting?

A: When I’m chasing a storm, I’m always aware of where the storm is, what it’s doing, how it’s moving, and how I’m moving around the storm. This includes also always planning at least one escape route so that I can move away from a storm as safely as possible. Of course, nature is unpredictable and I have had a few close calls — though, compared to some of the more aggressive chasers out there, I’m sure most are rather tame. Back in my second year of chasing. I was in the sand hills of Nebraska with a friend and turned down a road, as advised by my GPS. Unfortunately, the GPS lied and the road quickly turned into sand, and then stopped in a dead end. There was a storm coming up on us that had a history of putting tornadoes on the ground, and there was lightning raining down. We couldn’t see what was coming at us and had no cell service. Thankfully, the storm passed just to our north.

More recently, this year my escape route from a big storm by Claresholm in July ended up being flooded and impassable. I had no option other than to turn around and drive toward (and into!) the storm that was severe warned for very large hail. I added a few new dimples to my vehicle that day, thanks to the golf ball-size hail.

Q: What's your advice to people who want to learn to take remarkable weather photos?

A: First of all, it’s important to take the time to learn about storms and weather. Safety needs to come first for people looking to get weather photos and part of that is in understanding how storms work. In that thread, if you can find someone more experienced to take you out and be a bit of a mentor, you’re likely to find better storms and get more interesting shots. Also, take an interest in the active communities of chasers in Canada and the U.S. — both to see the sorts of shots being taken as well as to learn as much as possible about weather.

Q: What do you like to do when you're not taking photos?

A: I’m a big fan of traveling to as many interesting destinations as possible (Alaska and Antarctica this year alone) as well as reading memoirs and autobiographies. I work as a school counsellor at a high school, volunteer for AARCS (Alberta Animal Rescue Crew Society) and am taking cello lessons. Mostly, I just like new experiences and to do things that sound like fun!

See more of Beth's work:

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