Thursday, 01 February 2018 10:19

Photographer takes dream storm photo during memorable year

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Award winning photo "Bucket List." Award winning photo "Bucket List."

Storm chaser and photographer Ryan Wunsch has many fond memories of Canada's 150 year anniversary.


During 2017 the Leader native travelled more than ever before for photography, but ironically one of his most important photographic moments happened in his hometown of Leader.
At 9:45 p.m. on June 4, three days after returning from a 20-day trip to tornado alley in the United States, he captured his dream shot only a few street blocks from his home.
“Shortly after I took the photo, it occurred to me that this was Canada's 150th year,” he said. “So I was excited that I got the photo in Canada's 150th year.”
During the trip to tornado alley he was unable to get any good lightning shots, but that evening in Leader he captured an image of a bolt of lightning that he has been trying to take for many years.
“That turned out better than I had envisioned,” he said. “I wasn't really expecting to get such a bright bolt of lightning with so many feeder bolts going off it, and I couldn't have painted it in a better spot if it had been up to me, and it wasn't up to me.”
The image shows a stormy sky with a bolt of lightning that brightens up the familiar shape of a prairie sentinel, the old wooden grain elevator in Leader.
“The conditions were pretty much perfect,” he said. “There was enough light still to illuminate the elevator and of course the lightning actually illuminated the elevator quite a bit.”
This photo is aptly titled “Bucket List Shot” because it has been at the top of his photographic wish list. It has received a lot of attention and many shares on social media. It was selected as an editor's favourite in National Geographic's nature photographer of the year contest for 2017. Canadian Geographic picked this image as a photo of the week and then as photo of the month.
The photo received additional accolades at the end of 2017. It became the winning image in the wild weather category of Canadian Geographic's 32nd annual photo competition, and it was selected as one of the top 21 images in Canon Canada's Best of 2017 photo challenge.
For Wunsch one of the best things about all the praise for this photo is the attention that it brings to his hometown.
“It's the last grain elevator in the area and so it's nice to see the town of Leader name show up on there every time that it's been shared,” he said. “I think I get a kick out of that more so than it being a photo that I've taken.”
The opportunity to take that photo almost did not happen, because he was supposed to be working, but he sprained his ankle and stayed at home. During the day a storm formed in Alberta and he tweeted to other storm chasers that he would not be able to be out there.
“I said that I couldn't go storm chasing, but I'll wait in Leader and hope that the storm came to me, and if it did, I hope that it still had lightning in it,” he recalled. “I saved that tweet, just because that was completely lucky. I wasn't predicting the future, but I happened to say that for some reason, and that's exactly what happened, and it led up to me catching the shot that I've been after for so many years.”
He works as an instrumentation technologist at a uranium mine in northern Saskatchewan, with weeklong trips to the mine followed by a week at home. It therefore provides him with flexibility to pursue his passion for photography.
He travelled 35,0000 kilometres in 130 calendar days during 2017. In May he captured some really good images during his trip to tornado alley, but during the summer the weather conditions were not really favourable for the development of storm cells on the Canadian prairie. He therefore decided to undertake a trip across the country.
“My mother always wanted to see Peggy's Cove on the east coast,” he said. “I have taken time off from work anyways for the storm season. So rather than just sit at home and wait for storms that weren't that great, we drove out all the way to Prince Edward Island and we came back through the States and then a few weeks later we finished the trip by going out to Tofino, B.C.”
In August they made another memorable trip south to Idaho to experience a total solar eclipse and he is really happy with the photos he took during that event, even though it was not his main focus.
“I went down to experience it, but being a photographer I wasn't going to leave my cameras at home,” he said. “That definitely was secondary to the experience. I set the cameras up beforehand. I started snapping, but I took it all in during totality. It was an amazing experience.”
Another highlight of the year was the use of some of his photographs for the 30th anniversary tour of the Canadian rock band Northern Pikes, who are originally from Saskatchewan.
His photos were projected onto a large screen behind the band during their shows.
“They asked if they'd be able to use some of my photos of the prairies and Saskatchewan during the show,” he explained.
“Of course, I said yes. They were one of my favourite bands growing up.”
As a storm chaser he takes a lot of photos of severe weather, but he also has a wider interest in the beauty of the Canadian prairies.
In addition to summer storms, he will take photos of prairie landscapes, abandoned old building and other interesting relics in rural areas, as well as auroras and the night sky. He enjoys it when people from across Canada reacts online to an image such as a hay bale in a field against a great sunset.
“Growing up here, things like that are easy to take for granted” he said. “You see it every day and you think it's nothing special, but sometimes it takes people who live outside Saskatchewan to help you appreciate what you get to see every day.”
He has been interested in severe weather since childhood and he still remembers an incident when he was just four years old.
“I hid out in my uncle's basement when there was a tornado and all I wanted to do was go upstairs and see the tornado and count the seconds between the lightning and the thunder to know how close it was getting,” he recalled. “Meanwhile my uncle was having a full fledged panic attack. Everyone was afraid this little kid was going to get scared, and I didn't get scared at all.”
Even before he started taking photos of severe weather, he went to the edge of town or out into the countryside to watch an approaching storm.
“It's absolutely amazing, no two storms are the same,” he said. “You never know when one is going to drop a tornado. They're beautiful to watch. You can do it safely when you know what you're doing, and where to position yourself, especially in Saskatchewan, where we have a really good grid road system. You could usually pick three emergency exits, if you need to, if the storm turns. So it's just something that I've always been fascinated with.”
Although photography kept him very busy in 2017, a lot of that time was spent on computer work, contests, and social media. He wants to scale back on those things during 2018 and just focus on taking photos.
“So in 2018 I think I'm going to try and get back to my roots a bit more and just not worry as much about the other things that go along with photography and do it just more for myself,” he said.
He still has other ideas for interesting photos to pursue after taking that bucket list photo in Leader. He wants to photograph a few old buildings in the area with a storm behind them.
“The other one that I think will be a goal this year when we go to tornado alley is to finally get a photo of a photogenic tornado,” he said. “I just usually see the big black ugly tornado. So if I can see a pretty white tornado that stays over an open field that doesn't cause any damage and nobody gets hurt, and I can get a decent photo of that, I would be a happy man.”
He is also looking forward to see the end result of the Turbulent Skies project, a collaborative art project between Edmonton artist Jay Bigam and six storm chasers from Alberta and Saskatchewan.
Wunsch is part of this project and one of his photos from a storm chase will be interpreted by the artist on a large canvas. The artist is doing the same with images taken by the other storm chasers and in September the six large paintings along with the photos will be on display during a gallery exhibition in Edmonton.
“I love his art,” Wunsch said. “I'm really excited to have been asked to be part of the project, and I'm really looking forward to having that gallery showing.”
He has presented photography courses in the past, and he is planning to have a number of training sessions in the fall for people who want to learn more about the different settings on their cameras and develop their photographic skills.
“If I can make one suggestion to anybody that wants to take up photography or is a photographer, take photos of what you like,” he said. “Don't try to take photos that other people are going to like. Take photos that you like and do it for yourself, and if other people like them, great. ... It's a lot more self fulfilling to take photos that you like, no matter what it is. It's been working for me, so I think it can work for everybody. It keeps the hobby fun.”
To contact Wunsch about upcoming workshops and to see his photographs, visit his website at http://ryanwunsch.com

Read 3836 times Last modified on Thursday, 01 February 2018 14:58
Matthew Liebenberg

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