Compound Eye

Compound Eye

The many facets of science photography

A Field Guide to Hurricane Photography


The taxonomist in me can't help but notice that photographs of Hurricane Sandy, now bearing down on the Atlantic coast, fall into distinct categories. So I've made a helpful guide to 10 common storm images, complete with identification tips.

1. The Satellite Overview

Hurricane Sandy approaches New Jersey. Photograph by NOAA.

Diagnostic traits: white, swirly, often accompanied by a NOAA stamp. You wouldn't be able to take these with your cell phone. Unless you're an Astronaut. Which is unlikely.

Other examples: (1, 2)

2. The Rising Tide

Flooding at the Virginia Institute of Marine Sciences' Eastern Shore Laboratory. Photograph by Mark Luckenbach.

Diagnostic traits: water in places it really shouldn't be. If you look out your window and see something like this, you should probably think about moving to higher ground.

Other examples: (1, 2, 3)

3. The Concerned Politician

President Barack Obama receives an update on Hurricane Sandy. Official White House Photo by Pete Souza.

Diagnostic traits: furrowed brows, telephones, bureaucrats. I'd give the above looks-of-concern 7 out of 10.

Other examples: (1, 2)

4. The Oddly Empty

Times Square, normally NY's busiest station, abandoned before Hurricane Sandy. Photo: Metropolitan Transportation Authority/Aaron Donovan.

Diagnostic traits: whatever the venue- subway stations, roads, grocery store shelves- it's got an unsettling amount of open space. If you're a storm photographer averse to doing anything dangerous, here's your genre.

Other examples: (1, 2)

5. The Intrepid Journalist

Hurricane Katrina, 2005. Photo by Jim Reed.

Diagnostic traits: expensive equipment, windswept clothing, general chaos. High potential for self-inflicted damage.

Other examples: (1, 2)

6. The SandBag

The New York Stock Exchange sandbagged in preparation for Hurricane Sandy. Photograph by Eleazar David Meléndez.

Diagnostic traits: Preparatory barriers and supplies, often with neighbors pitching in to help, or a child and/or family pet waiting for the storm. The pinnacle of this genre would be neighbors laying sandbags under a dark, stormy sky while a kid and her dog stand by.

Other examples: (1, 2)

7. The Obligatory Wind Shot

Hurricane Dennis hits Key West, 2005. U.S. Navy photo by Jim Brooks.

Diagnostic traits: Objects more sideways than usual. These scenes sometimes attract Intrepid Journalists.

Other examples: (1, 2)

8. The "Are you insane?"

"Surfing Irene". Photograph by G. E. Long.

Diagnostic traits: subjects apparently unaware there's a hurricane going on.

Other examples: (1, 2, 3, 4)

9. The #Instacane

"The calm before the storm" by Instragram user ivankatrump.

Diagnostic traits: Artful vignetting, hashtags in the caption, may be interspersed in a social media stream with moody photos of food.

Other examples: (1, 2)

10. The Wreckage

Winds from Hurricane Katrina knocked over this tree crushing this Mobile home. MARVIN NAUMAN/FEMA photo.

Diagnostic traits: Trees where houses should be, houses where trees should be, unruly debris.

**Update. And how could I miss:

11. The Blatant Fake

On a more serious note: if you are in the path of this hurricane, please be careful! Pay attention to official advice and act accordingly.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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