Perfect Storm: How an Intrepid Storm Chasing Photographer Captured a Spectacular Shot

©Mike Mezeul

It’s not Photoshopped. She’s standing there.

For years, photographer Mike Mezeul had wanted to come up with an image of extremes, one that showed both severe weather and a human element—call it a beauty and the beast setup, pretty much like the one you’re looking at.

Mezeul’s been photographing severe weather for 16 years, but it’s not his main line of photographic work. He accepts being called a storm chaser, but considers himself “more of a storm photographer.”

In either case, he knew his imagined image would be a stretch. “Photographing a tornado itself is a daunting task for a lot of reasons,” he says. “You can go out a dozen times in a tornado season and not see one. Then there’s the problem of finding the perfect storm for the photograph: one that’s far enough away, that offers an escape road in case it turns, and ultimately does no damage and hurts no one.”

Not to mention finding a person to stand in front of the tornado.

“But last year my friend Elisabeth wanted to come along chasing, and she actually brought up the idea. She thought it would be cool if I could get a picture of her in a dress in front of a tornado. When I heard that, I said, ‘Well, let me tell you about an idea I’ve had.’”

The woman in white is Elisabeth Brentano, a photographer, writer, and blogger with a strong sense of adventure. The photo was made in late May, 2016, about 10 miles south of Dodge City, Kansas, when all the needed elements presented themselves.

“It was a very slow-moving storm, which allowed us to safely intercept it,” Mezeul says. “We got close enough, there was good visibility and contrast, and a good road that gave us an option south so that if the tornado turned, we could get away from it. Everything had come together, and I had time for 13 or 14 photographs before we had to leave.”

Most important, the dramatically photogenic tornado did no damage.

“I would never use the image if that tornado took lives or caused any destruction,” Mezeul says. “There’s a beauty to photographing severe weather when it’s out over an open field and all you see is nature at work. But when you start seeing lives and property lost, it’s a different mentality. You go from being overjoyed and excited to angry and scared. I’m a trained CPR and first-aid responder, and if destruction happens, chasing is over, photography is over, and I go in to help.”

In the circumstances Mezeul seeks out, destruction can happen quickly, so this is where we tell you that Mike Mezeul is an experienced professional who has a background in atmospheric science. Simply, he knows what he’s doing, and we offer this story and this image only to be appreciated, not imitated.

Examples of Mike Mezeul’s landscape, lifestyle, and other photography, plus information about his upcoming workshops, is at

Tech Talk: The image was made with a Nikon D810 and an AF-S Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8G ED lens. The camera settings were 1/320 second, f/5, ISO 200, manual exposure, and Matrix metering.