THUNDERSTORMS AT DUSK

Photo Tip: Showers and Thunderstorms shortly before sunset

What is the best time to catch the most dramatic sceneries in the sky? It is, of course, the early morning light or when it is getting dark. In Europe, it is often in May or in August when there are opportunities to catch dramatic thunderstorm clouds in the late daylight. Particularly in August, the days are getting shorter and there isn’t so much dust in the air.

Taking pictures around sunset with fast moving clouds however are always a challenge. The light conditions change quickly. If possible choose raw mode since there are more opportunities to improve material later. A tripod or putting the camera in a stable position is also important. Furthermore a remote Release/timer can be a very useful tool in these situations.

A couple of lightning storms in August

Early August 2018 offered some possibilities to capture thunderstorm and shower clouds in the early evening. The strange summer with the headline provoking heatwave and the drought continued in many parts of Europe. There was still no longer lasting rain. In Bavaria, there were showers and thunderstorms happening close to the Alps as before.

Mountain Warehouse

Intense Thunderstorm Bavarian Alps, August 9, 2018

August 9 there was severe weather in Germany. The storm cell above arrived around sunset and this is the backside of the storm. There was little time left to take pictures since the daylight faded away.


Stock photography by Peter Engelmann at Alamy

A few days later huge clouds could be seen before sunset. In the west, the sun illuminated the clouds in red and yellow. This was only visible for a short time. The tops of the clouds were shining in bright yellow for some time. As the lower parts of the clouds were in shadow and appeared in dark colours there was dramatic contrast.

Since conditions how the clouds are illuminated are changing sometimes quickly it is important to act very fast. Therefore it is good to wait at a view-point which is already familiar before sunset and not wasting time with looking for the right position.

For one evening there was already an autumn air. It was a bit colder and the scenery with the low hanging dark clouds created that impression. This is not unusual in Middle Europe in Mid-August. But this year’s extreme weather conditions led to a quick return to typical hot summer weather. The drought meanwhile is causing dramatic damage. More and more researchers say that 2018 is an extreme never seen before. 

Filming clouds and thunderstorms during sunset: There is a particular challenge when doing videos. If possible shut down all automatic functions and set speed, aperture, ISO manually, since the camera will automatically adjust to changing light conditions and causing unwelcomed “jumps”(video getting suddenly brighter). Videos are a lot of try and error since no weather situation repeats itself exactly in the same way. Every shot needs different adjustments.

Thunderstorm In August After Sunset. Interesting cloud movement in the lower half of the picture.



Panoramic Viewpoint: Hilltop Near Wessobrunn, Upper Bavaria

In Upper Bavaria, you can find an endless number of panoramic viewpoints. Thus the choice might appear a bit arbitrary. There will be certainly more places to be portrayed in the future but recently I discovered a viewpoint I particularly liked because of the extraordinary setting. There is a village nearby, meadows and woods and there is a free sight of the whole chain of mountains in the south.

It is easily accessible because it is close to the famous Wessobrunn monastery, where there is also a parking space, approximately one kilometre from the viewpoint which is basically a small road and a hilltop leading towards Diessen am Ammersee.

I discovered this viewpoint when I did part of the “King Ludwig 2 Trail” between Diessen am Ammersee and Wessobrunn. The viewpoint is certainly the highlight of this section of the trail. It is possible to do this (not recommended if it gets too warm) but there is no restaurant or such thing between Diessen and Wessobrunn. Due to the length of this part, it might be most suitable for a bicycle tour.

Sunday, March 11, was the first really warm day (17 Celsius) after the period of the arctic cold (“Beast From The East”) in Southern Bavaria. This was mostly due to the Foehn-Effect, which happens often during the wintertime. Foehn leads to an unusual rise in the temperature. The air becomes very clear and there is a clear sight of the mountains with many details. This day, however, there was also a special phenomenon, the so-called “Föhnkante”. This is a distinct border between clouds and the clearer part of the sky. It appears when the Foehn-Effect starts to break down. Subsequently, the following days were much colder and more winter-like.

In March there is little green and if the sun is behind higher-clouds colour in the landscape isn’t much appealing. But this time of the year between winter and spring could be interesting to capture structures in photography. After some time where I played a bit around with the pictures, I decided to present it in black and white. Black and white is often an interesting option and could reveal much of the special atmosphere of a place. The trick is not just to switch to black and white but trying different things with the software. There are also very good black and white filters in the NIK-collection software.

The viewpoint can be reached easily: you can use the parking space at the “Tassiloweg” behind the monastery. From there a steep path leads to the “Schloßbergstr.” The “Schloßbergstraße” leads to a settlement called “Haid” but do not walk towards the settlement but straight. The street becomes a small single road (better not go by car there because it is really very narrow and there is no parking space). It is great for a walk. There is also a seat there near the viewpoint and its fantastic for a rest – and of course to take pictures.

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The viewpoint is also not so far from the Hohen Peissenberg. Both places are very suitable for weather-photography. The place near Wessobrunn could be also of particular interest for sunsets or sunrise. It presents a very typical Upper Bavaria landscape setting.

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The most dominant mountain in the silhouette in the south is the Zugspitze. Seen from the viewpoint near Wessobrunn you have the Hohen Peissenberg with the big antenna in the foreground before the Zugspitze. It is good to choose a day like this one with the Foehn-Effect or come very early to capture the whole dimension of the view. The lower hills and the bigger mountains in the background add to the depth of the scenery.

The picture above is taken from the viewpoint and shows the whole Hohen Peissenberg. In the middle, there is a church. On the right side, there is a small tower, which is part of the weather station of Deutsche Wetterdienst. On the left side and also in the picture below is the big antenna.

Weather Lookout Points: Solitüde, Flensburg Fjord

Between Germany and Denmark is the Flensburg Fjord (Flensburger Förde). This is a long stretched and curved bay similar to a Scandinavian fjord. It belongs to the Baltic Sea. The Fjord ends in the famous town of Flensburg, which was sometimes a Danish and sometimes a German town. There are also famous tourist spots there as Glücksburg, a small city, and Holnis, a peninsula.

The area is frequented by tourists and sailors a lot and is also a favorite place for painters. A lot of people come from Berlin in the summer. On the other side, in Denmark, there are three little islands, “The Ochseninseln”. Unlike the flat “Nordfriesland” on the west side, the surroundings of the Fjord make a more England-like landscape with its green hills and many woods.

The Fjord is also a great place for weather-watching and photography. There are many viewpoints in Flensburg, on the Danish Coastline or at the top end of the Holnis Peninsula where there is a steep bank (visitors be careful!). It’s also a great place for watching birds or sunsets.

The destinations on the German side along the Flensburg-Fjord are connected by a highway, the “Nordstraße”. There are more fantastic lookout points in Langballig and Habernis.

However it isn’t necessary to do a long car ride, there are also great places within the city-limits of Flensburg: One example is the “Solitüde”, a beach and a quarter of Mürwik on the north-east side of Flensburg. It’s very popular among the inhabitants of Flensburg. Since a long time, there is also a restaurant and a small shipping pear. It’s great for swimming as long as are not so many jellyfish around.

But even more, it’s a great place for photography. It’s worth to visit the place all time of the year. Particularly, if the tourists are gone there is a unique atmosphere.

The shore consists of a beach and some meadows. Since I can remember there is a group of trees standing there. They never grew very big. They remind me always of a certain Tarkovsky-Film.

The place is an example of something which had been mentioned before: If you do weather-photography or video it’s always good to have good lookout points in mind, perhaps do an inventory of interesting places in a notebook, with their specific conditions. The Solitüde-Beach in Flensburg is a good example. It is quickly accessible and its a great backdrop. When I was there I always had been watching “great dramas” in the sky. Mostly if the wind is coming in from the North-West, it can be an interesting place.

There is wind most of the time. Weather is often changing quickly here and you have often completely different conditions within a few hours. However, it’s less extreme as on the west side of Germany’s Schleswig-Holstein with the Northern-Sea.

Contrast and color are also different most of the time as on the west-coast but there are many variations in atmospheres. The color of the Fjord’s water also changes all the time.

Even there is no tide on the Baltic-Seaside, water levels are changing too since if there is the wind coming in from the east-side it presses the water into the Fjord. Sometimes there is even flooding in the harbor of Flensburg.

If you do weather-pictures, it is useful to keep a list of landmarks and significant objects like these trees. It adds to the pictures if it’s not only clouds and some meadow and you could do a series over the years. The images with the trees below are an example.





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PURPLE LIGHT

 

Approximately 15 minutes after sunset there is sometimes a phenomenon called “Purpur Licht” in German (Purple Light). This is not the same as the “afterglow” where clouds are illuminated by the sun in a red light. Purple light is a physical phenomenon and created by dust particles high up in the atmosphere, for example, Sahara dust.

It needs two different kinds of reflections in the atmosphere to let us see the purple light. The observer sees a red light and a blue light. These two sources are getting mixed by our eyes and in our brain and we see a purple light.

October-November evenings are often a good time for purple light when the sky is clear. There are various conditions responsible for purple light. For example, pressure, wind, or what kind of dust particles are in the air are factors.

Sometimes it’s not exactly clear what the reason for this phenomenon is when the purple light is very intense but the eruption of a volcano or a bushfire could increase the number of particles in the atmosphere. The legendary paintings of romantic painter W. Turner with the memorable red sky are perhaps influenced by real intense purple light and afterglow due to volcanic activity.

 

 

Photography of purple light is easy. Mostly you need a place where you have no obstacle like high buildings or trees in the west. Always good to have the camera on a tripod since the eye is a bit tricked: the sky looks brighter as it is. I was going for a jog when I saw too late that this could be a very interesting sunset, thus my equipment wasn’t appropriate for the situation. Sometimes you could rest your camera on a stone or on the edge of a wall but here I was in the middle of some fields. I didn’t want to have a high ISO thus the result has its limits but demonstrates what purple light is. If you use photoshop or another post-pro software careful use of saturation could underline the purple light effect.




 

For a better effect, it is also worth to check an astronomical calendar and look out for an evening with a clear sky when Venus or Jupiter is visible in the west or even better a planet and the crescent moon having a rendezvous in the sky.

Sometimes also clouds in the stratosphere could create an intense “red sky phenomenon”. This time however it wasn’t stratospheric clouds or volcanic ash it was simply a few warm days with a clear sky during the Indian summer in October.