Getting Started In Weather Photography.. Where To Begin?

Jan 12, 2015
The title is pretty self-explanatory. I'm a sophmore Atmospheric Science student in North Alabama, and I had an opportunity to go on my first chase trip wirh some older meteorology friends this May! It was, to be frank, life changing. I got to experience many phenomena out there, including my first tornado and my first time seeing an LP supercell.

However, when I was out there, I noticed the vastly superior image quality that one of my friends had with his DSLR compared to my phone, and I became very interested in watching his technique when setting up his shots. So, with that said, I've decided I want to start saving up my money until I can get an entry-level DSLR of my own. What are some of the recommendations you more experienced sky photographers have with weather? How did you get introduced, and what did your first entry-level camera cost? I'm open to any and all suggestions!
There are several threads in the Equipment section that may help you make a decision in addition to whatever is said here.

I had always been interested in photography and photographing weather. I had several simple point-and-shoots, but once I saw what you could do with a DSLR in terms of taking pictures of lightning and the night sky, I was hooked. Being able to take beautiful, crisp pictures of lightning was probably my main reason for purchasing a DSLR.

Given this would be your first DSLR, I would recommend one of the entry level Nikon or Canon cameras. I'm not very familiar with the Nikon brand, but for Canon, look into the Rebel series. These are relatively inexpensive, but still good quality cameras. My first camera was a Canon Rebel T3, and I think it cost $300-$400. It was part of a kit, so it came with 2 lenses. I picked Canon because I like how Canon cameras look and feel. Also, most of my friends who were into photography owned Canon cameras, which meant they could teach me how to use my camera. There will be some that will argue that a certain brand is better than others, but each brand has its pros and cons. For lenses, I recommend having a wide-angle lens. This will allow you to fit more into a shot, which is great when it comes to taking pictures of storms.

No matter the brand of camera you choose, there are tons of online tutorials on how to use it. Since you are thinking about getting a DSLR, I would suggest that you use the manual modes instead of the auto modes. If you use the auto modes, you're not using the camera to its fullest extent. There are tons of tutorials on what settings to use when, but knowing what to use when comes down to practicing a lot.
As crazy as it may sound, camera bodies are probably not as important as lenses but ultimately it's the photographer and how they use those tools which makes the photo.

If going with canon, especially entry level gear, you can get some great lenses but you'll still be spending a pretty penny for anything wide angle.

For general photography with a Canon Rebel series camera which is using a cropped APS-C sensor (smaller than 35 mm film), canon uses EF-S lenses. Full frame cameras use EF lenses. The lens mounts look identical and you can put any Canon lens on any Canon camera but EF-S lenses vignette on full frame, and full frame lenses appear zoomed in with APS-C camera's.

That said full frame lenses are very robust and generally sharper than their non-full frame counterparts. However that said the sharpness is nominal, the real difference is speed, pro series lenses tend to have large apertures which require more glass but let in more light so you get better results in low light.

Generally speaking, entering the market as a new photographer it's best to get a rebel series camera (T4/T5/T6) as a kit with an 18-55mm lens . If you have the funds look for a good EF-S wide angle 10-20mm lens (you'll need that for weather/storms). Lastly, a 55-200mm lens is good for zooming into things like distant tornadoes.

You'll have to balance cost and desire but that's the best way to start.

Take your time and read about aperture, shutter speed, ISO, lens vibration, white balance (colour temp) and how to use the stabilisation on your lens.

Lastly, a good sturdy tripod is a must. Cheap aluminium tripods flutter in the wind, get a solid manfrotto that's heavy. It'll last and should you upgrade your gear you won't need to upgrade your tripod.

Best of luck!!


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Jeff Duda

EF6+, PhD
Staff member
Oct 7, 2008
Broomfield, CO
IMO, Canon vs. Nikon is like the debate between Mac and PC or between Android and iPhone or between Chevy and Ford: there isn't one side that is clearly better than the other in every aspect of the field. It's really more of a personal preference or choice of brand loyalty. Just get yourself an inexpensive DSLR, learn the basics like Tom mentioned (especially the aspects of ISO, exposure timing, aperture setting, and focal length), and then PRACTICE! You don't need to wait for a severe weather setup; the sky is always out there and there are always opportunities in plain sight to practice what you learn from reading photography guides. When specific questions come up, we will be here to help you out with them.

I wish you well on getting into the hobby.
Jan 14, 2011
St. Louis
All good advice on this thread. I would just add to check eBay for some used equipment. You could probably find something like a Canon XSi body and a couple of low-end lenses on there for less than $200 total. Add a cheap $30 tripod from Wal-Mart, and you'll be fully capable of shooting storms with decent quality for under $250-300. As you improve with your skills, you can upgrade to something better later on.
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If you're entering the field now I would seriously consider going mirrorless and getting into that ecosystem and not the soon to be extinct DSLR one. Just my opinion, but look at the Sony's. This is coming from a big Canon guy.

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Opening a can a worms Ben [emoji16]

I have an A7RII in my kit, it's a great camera, shoots wonderful 4k and works with my old FD lenses wonderfully.

However that said, even with native Sony lenses, as their top of the line mirrorless, it is very slow and totally unreliable with auto focus. The body design makes manual controls slightly more cumbersome to quickly switch.

The battery life is also absolutely horrid compared to any SLR. This is not a suprise since there's always a screen/monitor running which requires a backlight.

I don't see DSLR cameras going anywhere on a professional level anytime soon.

The trade-off between mirrored and mirrorless is size and weight, with the latter being much more ergonomically sized. The limitation is that airshows, close range tornadoes and things that have motion or require good and fast autofocus in poor light are out of reach.

So at an entry level, with any intention to pursue deeper forms of photography, especially for weather, I'd still stick with a traditional body.

If street photography or travel by plane is your thing and you're willing to forgo speed/battery life then go with mirrorless.

I have both to have the best of both worlds but I strongly feel mirrorless is still a long ways off from mirrored cameras.


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Mar 15, 2004
Tucson, Aridzona
As suggested, a competent used DSLR from any major brand can be purchased for under $200. Use it for a year and learn what you are doing. Then you'll be in a position to determine what sort of "upgraded" body you _really_ need, if any.

In the Canon world the T2i (AKA EOS 550D) is, AFAIK, the oldest camera that can make use of the "Magic Lantern" firmware hack. This will add an intervalometer and other handy functions to your camera.

Get a super-wide zoom. My Tokina 12-24 cost just ~$200 (used, in near-new shape) from Adorama and it works great.

Throw in an intermediate zoom, or a few 'prime' lenses, and you're good to go.

Don't skimp on a tripod. The Wally-World, Target, etc. $50 specials are largely junk. Get something solid and heavy. (The heavier the better - you don't want your rig blowing over!) Something like is a good start.

Tripod heads are a matter of taste. I like the grip+ball heads for general use, but tilt+pan heads can work well shooting weather.

Add a $15 remote switch, so you can lock the shutter open.