Brandon Eskra Photography

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Captured: Shelf Cloud

If you have followed my photography journey at all, it is pretty obvious that I love to shoot landscapes. There are a lot of different subcategories of landscape photography, so to be more specific, my favorite has become stormy summer weather.

I definitely don’t get to shoot this subject as often as I would like, mostly because I am on a pretty short leash. Wait! It is not what you think, that wasn’t a cheesy marriage joke. Instead, my job requires me to stay close to home and able to respond quickly back to work at a moments notice. Being on-call is a big part of the life of a rural Paramedic, just as much as finding a good hobby to occupy your downtime. I don’t travel too far for stormy weather either, mostly because I do not know enough about severe weather to follow it any amount of distance. I am not an expert on severe weather or storm chasing by any stretch.

I’m not totally sure what draws me to shooting weather images. It might be the thrill of the chase or maybe it's the time pressure to get the shot. Weather conditions can change rapidly so time usually isn't on your side when setting up your composition. You can easily miss an amazing cloud formation or that perfect lightning strike if you are fumbling with your gear. I have been fascinated with storms and severe weather for a long time. During storm season, I keep a close eye on weather forecasts and radar to see if anything is coming my way. I always have my camera bag ready to roll in case conditions are right for a good storm. On this particular day, a local storm chaser had caught my attention with his Facebook live video. He was only about 50 km northwest of me and his video, he was following an interesting cloud formation that he was pretty sure was going to build into some more serious weather.

Once I got on the road, I could see the shelf cloud building to my west, which looked quite promising. I wanted to get roughly to the center of the storm, so I continued driving north. I was only a few kilometers from town when I saw a white tail deer and 3 fawns ahead of me. They were in some pasture land alongside the road, close enough to get some good shots. Capturing an image of a spotted, white tail fawn was on my list of images I wanted to shoot, so I had to stop.

Canon 7d mark ii Canon 400 mm f.5/6 Focal Length: 400 mm Shutter Speed: 1/500 sec Aperture: f/5.6 ISO: 3200

Canon 7d mark ii
Canon 400 mm f.5/6
Focal Length: 400 mm
Shutter Speed: 1/500 sec
Aperture: f/5.6
ISO: 3200

I got out of my truck and shot a few images as the deer ran across the road, into the safety of a nearby treeline. As I got back into my truck, some movement in the ditch caught my eye. A lone fawn was walking along the ditch, in my direction. I slowly opened the door of my truck and stood inside the door opening, resting my lens on the roof. I shot several images of the fawn. It seemed too curious and didn't immediately run away. I captured several images as the deer kept a close eye on me, eventually crossing the fence and entering the safety of the trees.

Canon 7d mark ii Canon 400 mm f.5/6 Focal Length: 400 mm Shutter Speed: 1/640 sec Aperture: f/5.6 ISO: 3200

Canon 7d mark ii
Canon 400 mm f.5/6
Focal Length: 400 mm
Shutter Speed: 1/640 sec
Aperture: f/5.6
ISO: 3200

After I could no longer see the deer, my attention turned back to the storm. By this point, the storm was almost on top of me. I knew I was too close to adequately capture the whole cloud, so I began to drive east to get ahead of the storm. I was looking for an area, free of obstructions, to show the true size of this giant cloud formation. I drove several kilometers east, finally choosing an area of open pasture I felt would work. I didn’t want to continue searching for a better spot, at the risk of the shelf cloud dissolving and totally missing this opportunity. As I began shooting, I realized that my wide angle lens was not wide enough to capture the whole cloud, so I would have to shoot multiple images and create a panorama.

This final image is comprised of 13 vertical images, shot handheld. The images were shot with a Canon 7d Mark ii and a Sigma 17-50 mm f/2.8 lens. All 13 images were edited and merged into a single, 1:2 panorama in Lightroom.

Focal Length: 17 mm
Shutter Speed: 1/30th
Aperture: f/8
ISO: 100

2U5A2804-Pano-2.jpg

A shelf cloud is a low-hanging, well-defined, wedge-shaped formation that occurs along the leading edge of a gust front in a thunderstorm. Shelf clouds are most often formed just ahead of intense lines of thunderstorms. This shelf cloud was followed by a light thunderstorm.

Thunderstorms…Love them or hate them? Let me know in the comments!

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