New Mexico Tech Doctoral Candidate Keeps his Lens Focused on the Sky
(Note: all photos in this article were taken and provided by Harald Edens.)
SOCORRO, N.M., October 31, 2002 -- New Mexico Tech doctoral candidate Harald Edens has been keeping a close watch on the sky.
Since he's a Ph.D. student studying atmospheric physics at the state-supported research university, the very nature of his discipline often requires a lot of sky-watching.
However, Edens' interest in atmospheric phenomena isn't confined solely to the scientific realm: Edens also harbors a passion for weather photography -- an avocation which takes him out in the middle of lightning storms, when most people opt to run for cover.
"What it was that started up my weather photography hobby back when I was about 12 or 13 years old, I still do not exactly know," Edens says.
"I think my interest in it was triggered by lightning, if you'll excuse the pun," he adds with a smile.
As a small child growing up in Holland, Edens can remember being initially terrified of the thunderstorms that would roll across the Dutch landscape in the spring and summer months.
His parents attempted to dispel Edens' keraunophobia -- or, fear of thunder and lightning--by having him and his sister watch one of the lighting displays from the safe vantage point of their home's second floor.
His sister would marvel at the intricacy of the lightning discharges, which she thought looked like flowers, but Edens would only see bright flashes.
It wasn't until several weeks after Edens and his sister had watched that storm that Edens forced himself to watch another storm on his own and only then was able to discern the marvelous spectacle of lightning channeling up from ground to cloud.
Soon after, he began to ponder whether he might be able to record these ephemeral atmospheric events, using the photographic skills and techniques he developed under the tutelage of his father, an avid amateur photographer.
"Well, I found out I could photograph lightning," Edens says, "but it was not easy at first, and it kept me trying to improve my methods."
"Eventually, I became interested in photographing other weather phenomena," Edens relates, "starting first with clouds, since I was learning to fly sailplanes at the time. Later on, I began taking pictures of sunsets, mostly because of their pure beauty. . . . It was, I think, during a period of volcanic activity somewhere around the Earth, and the ash and other aerosols added to the atmosphere at the time intensified the sunrises and sunsets."
Lightning, clouds, and sunsets -- all are basic subjects of most weather photographers, Edens admits, but he wasn't content to just photograph them -- he wanted to know more about them.
His thermal soaring required that he know something about meteorology, he says, and when he combined that with his penchant for photographing lightning, it only seemed natural that he would eventually pursue a higher degree in atmospheric physics.
In the meanwhile, while still an undergraduate in Holland, Edens developed an Internet website devoted to exhibiting some of his more striking photographs, which can still be accessed at www.weather-photography.com.
"I had originally thought I might be able to start up an online business with my gallery of weather photographs, and decided to buy that particular dot-com address," Edens explains.
"However, it soon became apparent that my plans were a bit too ambitious," he adds. "Running an online business is a full-time job, and can become so time-consuming that it would have taken too much time away from my research."
Appropriately enough, Edens' current research for his doctoral dissertation at New Mexico Tech focuses on -- you guessed it -- lightning.
"I am working with the New Mexico Tech Lightning Mapping Array, a lighting detection and measurement system developed here at Tech that enables researchers to obtain very accurate three- dimensional, real-time observations of lightning as it's occurring within storms," Edens says.
In fact, Edens' work was featured in a recent issue of the prestigious journal Science, but it wasn't his research that received mention. Instead, it was his weather photography website that got noticed.
And though spectacular shots of lightning fill up a large portion of his online gallery, Edens admits to expanding his
horizons beyond weather photography.
"I'm also a photographer of astronomical objects, as well as of atmospheric optical phenomena, such as rainbows, haloes, glories, and the Northern Lights," he says. "Sometimes I go small-scale and photograph things like snow crystals, ice flowers on a window, or the colors of soap films. Other times I lie down flat on a street to photograph a road mirage, or go out to hunt the sun's elusive green flash."
During a typical week, Edens goes through about two or three 36-frame rolls of film, pointing his Nikon FE ever skyward.
For those who might aspire to take their own pictures of lightning or other atmospheric phenomena, Edens suggests starting with a manual 35-millimeter SLR camera equipped with a zoom lens and a bulb shutter-speed setting, a tripod, and a cable release.
"After that, I would suggest you learn at least a little bit about the weather phenomena you will be photographing," he adds.
"It is somewhat like playing an instrument. It is an art, which you can't do unless you practice; and you can't practice if you are not really interested. . . . So, start by getting interested in the weather."
More tips about weather photography, as well as hundreds of Edens' best photos, can be found on his website, but he cautions visitors that the website is still "a work in progress" and hasn't been updated in several months, since he is working on a complete redesign.
He hopes to have the updated version of his weather photography website up and running by mid-December.
"I never get bored with weather photography, because I'm seeing something new all the time," Edens says.