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November 2001

Photographers focus on earth and sky

NCAR and UCAR are fortunate to have a number of highly talented photographers on staff, several of whom use their knowledge of the earth and the atmosphere to capture stunning natural images. This month, Staff Notes Monthly profiles four photographers. Caspar Ammann (CGD), Vanessa Carney (JOSS), and Jim Hannigan (ACD) are major contributors to UCAR's Digital Image Library, a collection of images portraying atmospheric science that will be posted on the Web early next year. Veteran photographer Greg Thompson (RAP) has sold images to several publications.

These profiles are just a sampling of the talent in the organization. We plan to highlight the work of additional photographers in coming issues. All photos are copyrighted by the photographer or UCAR/NCAR/NSF.

Caspar Ammann

Caspar started taking photos in high school. He uses a Canon F1 camera, an older single lens reflex that does not have many automatic features. "I just love to set up the pictures manually," he says.

Southern skies. (Photo by Caspar Ammann.)

Solar eclipse. (Photo by Caspar Ammann.)

Caspar's portfolio includes a scientific cloud atlas and striking photos of volcanoes and skies. He captured the southern skies at night with a six-hour exposure while doing fieldwork in Chile. "You can see the stars make almost a quarter of a turn around the South Pole," he says. "The picture shows the absolute brilliance of the sky over the desert of South America. You can see every detail."

He photographed a partial solar eclipse in Switzerland in May 1994, capturing clouds as well as the sun. "It was very close to sunset, so the sun was not overly bright," he recalls.

Caspar's goal in photography? "I am looking forward to taking a picture of our baby." He and his wife, Emily CoBabe, are expecting their first child in December.

Caspar Ammann. (Photo by Carlye Calvin.)

Vanessa Carney

Vanessa Carney. (Photo by Carlye Calvin.)

Vanessa still remembers getting her first camera at the age of six from her grandmother. Her father didn't let her early photographic mistakes get her down. "The pictures would come back with people's heads cut off or flowers that were blurry," Vanessa recalls. "But my father always said they were really good." She took photography classes in high school, set up a darkroom in her basement with her brother, and eventually began capturing high-quality images with a Nikon F camera that her father gave her, as well as a Nikon N70.

Vanessa looks for the unusual in landscapes. "My eyes will catch a certain odd shadow or color or just a weird formation, and I think that's a really cool shot," she says. "I like to think I see certain aspects of images that people don't see, and I want them to see what I see."

Coral. (Photo by Vanessa Carney.)

She captured a singular photo of underwater coral formations with a rented Sealife Reefmaster underwater camera when diving off Grand Cayman Island last year. The picture at Arches National Park in Utah also dates from last year. "The arch just looked so delicate right there," she recalls, "like you could walk across it and it would fall."

Arch. (Photo by Vanessa Carney.)

Jim Hannigan

ACD's Jim Hannigan (left) took this picture of the aurora borealis while traveling in Canada in April.

Jim became interested in photography as a teenager, when he started to develop black-and-white pictures in a home darkroom. Since beginning to travel for NCAR to such remote places as Antarctica, he has learned to pack along his camera. "I just make a point to always carry it with me and take a lot of photos of the interesting places I am fortunate to go to," he says. On a recent airborne project to study tropospheric ozone in the Arctic, Jim shot more than 35 rolls.

He has taken some of his best pictures when on vacation. Jim snapped the picture of lava in January when he and his wife, Wendy Saemisch-Hannigan, visited Hawaii Volcanoes National Park during their tenth wedding anniversary. In April, he captured an unusually magnificent display of the aurora borealis outside a hut in British Columbia owned by the Alpine Club of Canada. "It was dominating the sky," says Jim, who used a 20-second exposure to capture the phenomenon. "It was one of those rare events where at different times it filled the whole sky. There was a full moon at the same time, which made it even more spectacular."

Jim Hannigan. (Photo by Carlye Calvin.)

Jim primarily takes scenic and landscape shots using a Nikon F100. He likes photography because it "allows you to focus on the essence of ordinary things. There are so many things that are interesting and worth photographing that are all around us every day." He adds: "You are able to reveal the subtle beauty and nuance of the environment by how you photograph it."

Lava. (Photo by Jim Hannigan.)

Greg Thompson

Greg is among the most visible of NCAR's photographers, maintaining his own Web site and giving talks about weather photography. He caught the photo bug as a student at Pennsylvania State University when his professor, Craig Bohren, gave his class an assignment to photograph weather phenomena. "I like taking pictures of the extraordinary things the atmosphere does that many people don't notice," he says.

Supercell thunderstorm. (Photo by Greg Thompson.)
Greg Thompson. (Photo by Carlye Calvin.)
A storm chaser, Greg especially likes capturing images of tornadoes and unusual cloud formations. To an atmospheric photographer, "There's no such thing as bad weather." His goal: to capture a tornado, rainbow, and lightning in a single shot (without digital manipulation).

At a recent meeting of the Boulder chapter of the American Meteorological Society, Greg presented an impressive collection of photos of clouds, rainbows, lightning, tornadoes, and sunsets. He stressed a number of basic rules for aspiring photographers, such as learning one's neighborhood in order to incorporate church steeples and other interesting objects into pictures of the sky (the objects can also be used to block out sunlight), and taking as many vertical as horizontal pictures. He also urged the use of graduated neutral density filters, which can create more even lighting in high-contrast situations. But, he added: "I certainly advise occasionally breaking rules."

Fall aspen. (Photo by Greg Thompson.)

One of Greg's favorite landscape pictures is this 1999 hillside of aspens in the autumn, taken from an overlook on Highway 65 on Grand Mesa. Another favorite is the spectacular 1991 picture of a supercell thunderstorm in El Paso County.

Even when Greg hasn't been able to capture severe weather with his Pentax cameras (including an old K1000 and his newer PZ-1P and 645N), he picks out something of interest. While taking wildflower pictures during a recent trip to Texas, he couldn't get a shot of a storm-filled sky over a flower-filled meadow because the skies were clear for several days. Instead, he took a photograph of a sign that read: "Storm's"— the name of a Texas fast-food restaurant. The moral? "Look for humor."

• David Hosansky

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Last revised: Thu Dec 20 16:57:22 MST 2001