Photography and AllisonHouse

Train in the fog

A foggy train. Using (or not using) weather data from AllisonHouse to determine weather conditions in real-time can help you make or break your photographs. Photo (c)Gilbert Sebenste.

In my free time, one of the things that I have come to enjoy doing is photography. Now, mind you, I’m on a budget: a used Canon t3i with a broken focus motor for my stock 18-55 mm lens is some of my basic equipment, but at least my 75-300 mm stock lens focus motor works, as do my entry-level wireless flashes!

Since I work day and into the night on at least a few nights every week, I only can get out at night during the weekdays, for the most part, to take pictures. But how—and what—I shoot, depends on the weather. And so, let’s start from the beginning, on taking good pictures, and using AllisonHouse to help you do so.

The basic rules of photography are simple: light, composition and subject. You have an object or a person (subject) you want to take a picture of, there’s no light all the way up to the blazing bright light of the sun (lighting), and do you want, or does it have shadows? Do you need more light through a flash or multiple flashes…on board the camera, or set up wirelessly and remotely, off-camera? And who or what are you shooting, and how do you want to shoot it? At eye level, or at a large angle? Do you want the background blurred? (composition).

Just 15 years ago, the answer to those questions would be answered by those with expensive SLR film cameras. Sure, there were the Polaroid cameras with instant-developing film, or the 110 cameras with “flash cubes” that only worked once. Back then, my audience for this article would be limited to about 10% of the population—or less, who would be semi-serious SLR photographers. The low-end cameras typically took low-resolution shots.

Then something crazy happened.

With digital technology, not only did digital SLR’s develop, but so did camera phones. At the end of November 2016, per the Pew Research Council, 77% of all Americans owned smartphones (even amongst low-income Americans, 64% have smartphones; and of those 65 or older, 42% had smartphones, a jump from 30% in 2015). And those pretty much all have cameras. In fact, the camera on the phone makes up the majority (in many cases, the vast majority) of the cost of manufacture of a smart phone.

So where am I going with this?

There’s no secret that our core audience since our inception have been storm chasers and weather enthusiasts. But now, most Americans can become photographers. With the iPhone 7 ratcheting up with zoom lenses, and other manufacturers soon to follow, the picture quality can approach DSLR’s in good light. And that means a lot of pictures are happening outdoors.

Where does AllisonHouse fit into this? Let’s say you want to take pictures at a nearby flower bed in a park, or at a lake. Well, on a cloudy day, the colors and the lighting won’t “pop”, or make your pictures look colorful. They’ll be rather dull. How will you know if you can get out to take pictures when the official forecast calls for “variable cloudiness”? Or when there’s a 30% chance of thunderstorms tonight, and you want to shoot lightning (and lightning apps do take excellent pictures of lightning, but be very careful doing that—stay indoors!), or maybe the Northern Lights, or maybe planes or trains, how will you know if it is time to head on out?

AllisonHouse helps take the guesswork out of it. Our GOES-16 images via AllisonHouse maps has 1/2 kilometer per pixel resolution by day, and 2 km infrared resolution at night. With the 1/2 km visible resolution, you can see just about every break in cloud cover clearly, and it can help you determine if you’ll get middle to high clouds for a great sunset shot. If you’re in Minnesota, Wisconsin or the northern tier of states and hear of a solar flare or solar speed wind maximum going by, you can check to see if there’s cloud cover or fog, clearly at night, to get those “Northern Lights” shots. and when you want those animal or plant pictures in just the right light, you can look and see what’s happening. And you can see, from our single-site radar to the fantastic MRMS radar mosaics and ENTLN lightning, where those thunderstorms are, and where they are headed.
This lets you make an informed decision on how or if you want to take a picture of something. Even indoors: if you have light from the sun shining in, it makes the photo look better.

I remember several years ago when an Associated Press photographer was given an iPhone 5 and told to do one thing: shoot pictures of the summer Olympics using the camera phone…with picture quality up to the high photo standards expected by AP staff photographers/journalists. And the pictures that person took passed the test. With the iPhone 7 (as I write this) and the competition from Android and Microsoft, in the summer of 2017, the latest models of smartphone cameras blow the iPhone 5 out of the water in quality. They are aren’t DSLR’s and never will be, but in daytime in good lightning, they will approach the quality of them if shooting without any zoom (shooting at the widest angle possible).

Camera clubs are once again coming back to life as new blood, and new enthusiasts show up with their smartphones. At one of the biggest and most respected county fairs in the country, their digital photography contest featured a smartphone-only category for the first time in 2014, all judged by a local camera club. And to my eyes as a video and production guy, they looked amazingly good for what they are.

So, in the next 1-5 years, I do think the quality of camera phones will level off as physics takes over (the lens is so small, you cannot get more light in, or a better quality lens). But even so, I think the quality is fantastic for what they are, and DSLR’s are coming down in price to make them affordable to many, too!. If you’re into or getting into photography, check out your local camera club on how to make your shots really sing. But don’t forget to take us along! For many of your shots, they’ll be weather-dependent to make them or break them. Let us help you get the shots you could only imagine, by making your outdoor and some indoor shots lighting gold.

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