Our next installment of the Titans Hotseat is here, and this time we are asking Joel Christopherson to take a seat and talk about his passion!
Joel is a chaser and photographer from North Texas, and has been chasing for the past couple of years. As a newer chaser and a skilled photographer, he’s got a lot of great things to convey!
Let’s get this started the only way we know how: Introduce yourself! Who are you, where are you from, how long have you been chasing, and what was the thing that made you go ‘I want to go take pictures of water vapor’?
Joel: Well howdy! I’m Joel Christopherson, born and raised in the general DFW area, although I spent a good portion of my childhood outside of city limits… I’m a country boy at heart. I attended my first storm spotter training when I was the ripe old age of 10, sponsored by our local ABC affiliate, Channel 8, where a local TV meteorologist spoke. My mother instilled in me the love of a good storm… She taught me and my siblings that life has cycles and seasons, and rain is like pouring redemption on the earth. When I was 24 I attended another storm spotter training class, which reignited my passion for weather and dynamic skies. If I’m able to get a single good photo on a chase day, it’s not a bust in my opinion. I love the hunt.
When it comes to chasing, what is the philosophy you roll with? Do you intend to get close, are you further back? What’s your ideal chase strategy?
Joel: Well, my chase strategy is pretty simple: The best views with the least people in my way. If that means hanging back and capturing some incredible structure, I’m content to do that. If that means driving up underneath the meso, I’ll carefully do that too… Provided I can confidently stay out of harm’s way. With a family at home, safety has been and always will be my priority. No photo is worth my life.
What kind of gear are you shooting with right now?
Joel: I’ve always been a Canon fan, and that holds true today. Currently my arsenal includes a Canon 5d Mark 2, a Canon 60D, an old Canon Rebel XTI that I use mainly for time lapse photography, and a GoPro that I recently purchased(and have been thrilled with thus far).
— Joel Christopherson (@tjoelchris) May 18, 2015
What is the best part of chasing to you?
Joel: Honestly, and this is just me here… I’m a Christian, and I believe God created every single aspect of creation. The best, most rewarding part of chasing for me is to be out in the middle of nowhere, on some backcountry road, with just me, God, and a raging, powerful supercell in front of me. Ultimate adrenaline, and yet, ultimate peace.
Describe what a typical chase season looks like for you? What’s your range, where do you chase, and how much?
Joel: Typically, since my chase vehicle is an almost-20-year-old Nissan Maxima, I’m rather limited in my chasing range. I’ll typically stay within about 3 hours from home(home is Fort Worth, Texas). I should add, though, I’ve been blessed with some fantastic chase buddies who will occasionally have an open seat with them, so we can get out further when we can all pitch in together.
During the peak spring season, which usually runs from late April to late May, I’ll chase virtually every setup that I possibly can. I’m still relatively new to the game, so my goal the past two years has been to find a chase strategy and workflow that fits well with my schedule and life.
As a guy who oftentimes takes some incredible photographs, what advice do you have for anyone wanting to improve their storm photography?
Joel: The biggest thing I could recommend is to find a few photographers whose work you admire, and ask all the questions they’re willing to answer. I’ve been blessed to meet and work with some of the most talented photographers in the industry, and every chance I get, I ask any question I can think of. Most of us who photograph weather on a regular basis are very willing to share knowledge and advice… And trust me, no question is too dumb to ask.
What’s the biggest ‘photography sin’ you try to avoid?
Joel: Shooting a photo simply to shoot it. You really need to be able to convey an emotion or a reaction through each photo, and if you don’t feel it in the moment, your audience will never feel it. I’ve been caught in the “I should document this” mindset too often, and thus have hundreds if not thousands of frames that end up being deleted. Make your shots count, and work on every aspect of each photo.
It’s pretty hard to narrow this down, but we want to know: What is your favorite moment in chasing ever?
Joel: Oh goodness, that’s actually pretty easy for me. I haven’t been chasing too long, so I don’t have to choose between all these epic tornados that so many other chasers have seen. For me, it would have to be on April 26th of this year, 2015. I chased with my brother near Dublin, Texas, and caught one of the most photogenic supercells I’ve ever seen. We found a terrific vantage point overlooking a gorgeous green field, and we shot photos for almost 25 minutes as the storm churned towards us. I get chills thinking about it… It was incredible. I felt honored to just be there.
What one piece of advice would you give anyone who asked you about how to start storm chasing?
Joel: The biggest advice I would have would be to learn everything you can about storms and the weather before you even think about driving out alone to go chase. There are so many great sources of information, like the storm spotter classes held by your local NWS office, books, online videos, and so many chasers who would love to let you pick their brains. Ask to go on ride alongs with experienced chasers (and always pay for your share of gas costs! Haha), and you’ll find most are very willing to share their knowledge with you.
Finally, tell us what you are going to be up to over the next year!!
Joel: I’m looking forward to hopefully documenting a few winter events(here’s hoping El Niño gives us some exciting weather!), and of course, I’m always looking forward to next spring. Throughout 2016, my hope is to create an extended time-lapse video with some highlights of my chase season. I’m excited to share my work with you all!
We want to thank Joel for taking the time to answer our questions and we look forward to our next guest on the Titan’s Hotseat! Be sure to follow Joel on Instagram and Twitter to keep up with him over the next year and beyond!