Editor’s note: Jonas Piontek is a professional storm chaser and photographer. One of Jonas’ greatest assignments, the Gewitterjagd project takes him tens of thousands of kilometers through central Europe and across the globe each year to get the perfect shots of severe storms and diverse landscapes, often leaving the road to reach unexplored areas for new composition opportunities. Here he discusses the backstory to a collection of his shots. Find Jonas’ work @j.piophotography.

1

The Storm

My storm chasing and also my photography journey basically started with this shot. It was back in August 2011 when a severe storm was clearing its way through the highlands of Germany, leaving a path of destruction with 160 kph winds and 7 cm-sized hail. After making this remarkable experience I knew that I wanted more and I knew that I was eager to chase more storms in the future and share my experiences with the world.

2

Swallowing

2012 was the first year I started touring around the whole of Germany to chase the storms that would make for great compositions. In July we stood somewhere in the Sauerland-Highlands when we saw two lines of storms moving toward our position. The first one didn’t really work out to be as pretty as the impression on the radar would suggest, but it fired some close lightning strikes around us, with one of them transforming a tree maybe 2-3 m left of the car into a glowing pile of coal. The second line did its job though and came crawling over the mountains with a beautifully tattered shelf cloud and a great lightning show.

3

Faint

Sometimes your plan just does not work out. We made this experience on the June 9, 2014 — a day that will be remembered by almost every citizen of the Rhine-Ruhr area as the “Day of the Storm," where a line of extremely dangerous storms caused the death of six people, injuries for hundreds and damage in the billions. We messed it up, when we positioned to far to the south, because the southern part suddenly disappeared giving the whole system an enormous drag to the north with us remaining in some heavy rain without any activity. But this didn’t make us quit. We left the line that was moving with more then 120 kph and went back to Hessen where the parameters for some more isolated storms were looking great and we were rewarded with this tiny but very photogenic supercell below the starry sky and an amazing long-lasting light show later on.

4

Light Burst

People often ask me how we spend the time in which we are waiting for storms and I show this picture to many of them. After supercell one and two of the day have begun to slowly diminish we waited for the third one approaching while we searched for a nice spot to shoot the sunset that was going to be extremely intensive. On the upper left side you can even still see the remaining fractions of the second storm’s mesocyclone that was still spinning above us but has already started to wither.

5

The Blaze

This shot is very special to me, not only because the lightning strikes are amazing but also because it was the end of a 15-hour storm-chasing day with 3 beautifully structured supercell-storms and a long-lasting light show at night in the prairies of N-Bavaria. After enjoying 3 or 4 hours of amazing lightning, we were ready to pack our gear and leave for the 400-km drive toward home but I double-checked radar and found a small isolated cell in mid-development, so we decided to wait for a couple of minutes. Suddenly a bright flash blinded us all, followed by a loud bang that underlined my decision to stay. We put the cameras back on the tripods and captured the bright flashes that were hailing down in front of us before we finally left toward Hessen.

6

Rainbow City

This was shot in Gruenberg, my old hometown. The setup did not look great at all but we tried anyway and one can clearly see that the storms don’t have to be predicted very strong to create an amazing atmosphere to work with. We had to take a couple of close strikes on top of the hill in front of the town but when the storm finally came through the sun came in from the back and created a magical scene with a bright rainbow behind the well-organized updraft along with some amazing structures. It's those days I especially enjoy, those days when you just try and hope for the best but still keep your expectations low. Those days, when the low expectations turn out to be wrong and you are rewarded with a scene that leaves you stuck in the moment for an endless time.

7

Clear Air Boomer

As a storm chaser it was a dream for me to travel to Venezuela, since Maracaibo Lake in the northwest of the country is the place that houses the most frequent lightning on Earth. I was accompanying a Japanese documentary team that needed me for photos of the so-called “Catatumbo Lightning” and I was overjoyed to join them on this adventure. When we arrived storms started firing up and lightning was just everywhere. I was going for the strikes that blow down straight from the top of the 20-km clouds and I was lucky to catch one that struck just next to the storm. This is probably my most-shared picture by now that has reached over 50 million people on Instagram already.

8

Zulia's Pearl

"3 Minutes of Catatumbo Madness," that’s what this shot is about. The amount of photogenic lightning strikes I caught in this image is unbelievable to me, even now. Venezuela is different from Germany, you don’t have to travel thousands of kilometers to experience the storms, you just grab a chair, sit down at the beach, enjoy some beers until the storms fire up in the evening, night after night. I really enjoyed this but missed the endless driving and the search for the perfect foreground spot. Still, to get to the lake spot is not easy at all. You have to cross half of the lake by boat, and especially because of the storms in the morning, the 2-hour ride was full of bumpy waves and strong winds.

9

Split Second

I was talking to Alan, owner of the Catatumbo Lightning Camp in Ologa, and he told me that he really enjoys pictures with a tiny eye-catcher in them; two hours later I came and showed him the shot I just got and he probably still hates me for it. Not only the flying fox itself but especially the fact that during the bright lightning strike it was exactly in front of the small part of the cloud that covered the leader, makes this one of my favorite shots from Venezuela, maybe even one of my favorite shots ever).

10

Galactic Storm

Needless to say that the last thing you would probably expect on the Arctic Lofoten archipelago in Norway is storms and lightning. We were so extremely lucky. We went to shoot the last light of the decaying sunset and wait for auroras to brighten the sky over Uttakleiv, a famous spot on Lofoten, when a bright storm cloud emerged from the torn shower clouds. I got my shoes completely drowned in the ocean in search of a good foreground and in -10°c that’s probably the last thing you want to happen but I was so flashed by the storm I didn’t pay it any attention.

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