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Sean Heavey Captures A Once-In-A-Lifetime Photo

December 13, 2010 Nature, Profile & Interviews, Techniques 8 Comments

Written by: Charlie Borland

All photographers search for that once in a lifetime shot. Something guaranteed to be a one-of-a-kind image that will reap windfall sales and global exposure. For some the pursuit of that ‘career image’ is realized and for others the search continues.

But for a lucky few it happens from being at the right place at the right time.

That is the case for Montana photographer Sean Heavey who joined some ‘storm chaser’ friends when they came across a developing super cell storm near Glasgow Montana. What Sean captured was nothing short of breathtaking and the image was shown in the 2010 National Geographic Photo Contest and has essentially gone viral across the globe. We caught up with Sean to ask about the image and the experience capturing it.

The Mother Ship (C) Sean Heavey

So you have friends that are Storm Chasers and they talked you into going with them and this is the result?

When I first moved to town I meet one of the lead forecasters at the local NOAA office.  Her husband is a very good meteorologist himself and we have been talking for many years about going chasing together.  This storm was our first.

These storms can be dangerous. Was there any danger to you guys or did you fear for your life at any point here?

Not really… The only real concern was getting struck buy lightning but this storm was not very active in that regards.  There was however a moment before the storm rolled into town that it paused to regroup.  It started rotating and getting low to the ground and I remember saying “please don’t drop a tornado on town”.  Instead it lifted back up and started raining again.

Is this an HDR image?

Quite a few people have asked me this very question and the answer is no.  I have tried to do HDR of clouds in the past but the problem is clouds move and when you try to merge the images in the computer you are left with gaping holes.  I also think HDR’s can be easily overdone.  I do however apply a tone mapping plug-in to my images.  I find if you fade the filter and then paint back areas using the history brush you can quickly produce a nice subtle HDR effect.

This image has gone viral so to speak. Is your photo agent getting quite a few requests?

We have had request for all over the world and I do not know the full extent of it’s travels.  It’s has been a wonderful yet humbling experience.

You shot quite few images during this event?  How many many did you capture?

I did shoot quite a few images, over 400 to be exact.   Most of them are very similar but I like playing the odds.  If you only shoot 10 you have a 1 in 10 chance of getting that perfect picture, but if you shoot 100 your odds go up.  That’s the beauty of the digital process.  I also believe that the more images you take the better you can narrow in on what drew to your subject in the first place.

Can we have a look at a few others you captured?


Eye of God (C)Sean Heavey

Formation (c)Sean Heavey

Mushroom Cloud (c)Sean Heavey

To Close (C)Sean Heavey

Yellow Dwarf (C) Sean Heavey

You can view more of Sean’s photography here.

Please cast your vote for The Mother Ship in the National Geographic Photo Contest by clicking here.

Photo book on Storm Chasers:

Storm Chasers Photography

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Currently there are "8 comments" on this Article:

  1. These really are on par with some of the best storm images out there. And those who know me know I don’t say such things lightly.

  2. Stratocaster says:

    I have seen this spectacular image in at least two collections of Geographic images e-mailed to me (as PPS files) without any attributions to the photographers who made them. Hopefully Mr. Heavey (and colleagues) will be able to overcome its “going viral” to the extent he will be rightfully compensated for his work.

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