Braving The Elements

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Weathermen Brad Colman Cliff Mass.  Photo by John Keatley in Seattle, WA.

Cliff Mass

Brad Colman

Clouds I can handle, but it’s the rain that drives me crazy when I am supposed to be shooting outside. Thankfully I was photographing weather experts for this assignment, and it turns out they know a thing or two about predicting the weather.

As I was packing up to head out for what I knew would be a long day at “the office” I began to feel a little nervous about the dark clouds hanging over Seattle. After checking weather.com, my nervousness began to change into a good case of anxiety because they were predicting rain by 9:30am, and that was just two hours away.  Maybe I could beat the rain and get in at least one outside portrait.  The problem was I had to photograph one subject in the morning, and the second one in the afternoon.  At the very best it looked like I would only get one of the subjects outside, but the show must go on.  I headed over to the University of Washington where I would meet up with my first subject, Cliff Mass.  My assignment was to photograph Cliff and Brad Coleman in studio for the opener, and get an environmental portrait of each of them individually.  The thing that made this all really interesting was I could not get them both in studio at the same time or place.  I had to set up a studio at UW in the morning, then tear it down, and set it up again, exactly the same at NOAA to photograph Brad.  I had been planning this shoot for a couple of weeks including some minor styling and location scouting.  This was an assignment I was really looking forward to, and I would have been really bummed if the rain forced us inside for the environmental shots.

To give you a little background on the men in the photographs.  Cliff Mass was mentored by Carl Sagan while in undergrad at Cornell University.  He is the author of “The Weather of the Pacific Northwest”, he runs a very popular blog, Cliff Mass Weather Blog, he is a weekly guest on KUOW radio, and he is a professor of atmospheric sciences at the University of Washington.  To quote a UW press release, “He has published dozens of articles on Northwest weather and leads the regional development of advanced weather prediction tools.”  Many people in the Pacific Northwest plan their weekends around Cliff’s predictions.

Brad Colman is the meteorologist-in-charge of the Seattle Weather Forecast Office.  “A meteorologist-in-charge is the front line officer carrying out the National Weather Service’s mission of serving the American public by helping protect lives and property,” said Brig. Gen. David L. Johnson, U.S. Air Force (Ret.), director of NOAA’s National Weather Service.  “NOAA’s National Weather Service is the official source of weather data, forecasts and warnings for the United States and its territories.  The National Weather Service operates the most advanced weather and flood warning and forecast systems in the world, helping to protect lives and property and enhance the national economy.”

Back at UW, it seemed like it would start raining any minute, so I asked Cliff if we could change the schedule a little and shoot the environmental portrait right away because I was nervous about the rain.  Embarrassed as I am to admit, it never occurred to me that I was working with one of the top experts in weather. When I told Cliff we should try to shoot outside while it is still dry, he promptly responded, “It’s not going to rain.” “It’s not?” I asked. “No. The cloud cover will begin to burn off at 10:30, and by 11:30 we will have clear skies.”  And he was right.  Take that weather.com!  Once we finished at UW with Cliff, it was off to NOAA to photograph Brad.  By the time we got there, the skies were opening up, and it looked quite different than just a few hours before, as you can tell in the pictures.

From this point on, I will include a weatherman on all of my bids.  First assistant, second assistant, makeup artist, stylist, and a weatherman.  Oh, and a falconer.  I recently learned about the benefits of having a falconer on set.  If nothing else it can be very entertaining, but that’s a story for another time.

A fun fact I learned on this assignment is Houston, New York, Miami and Boston all get more average annual rainfall than Seattle.   We win the prize for most cloudy days though…  Bummer.

Special thanks goes out to Robyn and Seattle North Face for the clothes.  And also to Mandy for painting some amazing clouds which were not used in the final.

This is a video of Cliff explaining some weather basics.  I like how he explains things in terms anyone can understand.  Plus he has soothing voice.