“Cone of Uncertainty” keeps photographers jumping

"Cone of Uncertainty" keeps photographers jumping


When the cone of uncertainty meets the circle of confusion, anything is possible. So perhaps turning to Jimmy Buffett for advice is the way to go. His lyrics are a guide, “These changes in latitude, changes in attitude, nothing remains quite the same, through all of the islands and all of the highlands if we couldn’t laugh we would all go insane.”

Yes, it is September, hurricane high season. Photographing heavy weather is indeed a challenge, outlasting salt spray, wind-driven rain and storm surges can quickly swamp even the sturdiest of rain gear. But long before the cone of uncertainty reaches our shores, or hopefully way offshore, there is much work ahead. That is the circle of confusion.

A heavy cloud bank opens up for a brief look at the sun at the end of the day over Barnstable Harbor.

A heavy cloud bank opens up for a brief look at the sun at the end of the day over Barnstable Harbor.

A highly technical photo term for basically what is in or out of focus with any given lens attached to a camera. Thankfully the days when photographers draped a dark cloth over their heads to stare at an upside down image on a big view camera are gone, although this ancient art is still worshipped by some practitioners.

So waiting out the days of Hurricane Lee’s “uncertainty” are anything but the calm before the storm. There are many photographs to be made. Boaters hauling out, beach managers gathering up the lifeguard stands, battening down the bathhouses are usually the first wave. A major storm requires stocking up on food, gasoline and batteries to ride out several days off the grid. Now it is time for the “confusion” as boots-on-the-ground photojournalists work to game the storm.

When will it hit, is the tide high or low, what direction will the wind be coming from and where to go, north side, south side, Outer Cape, Lower Cape, Mid-Cape. If that wasn’t enough decision making, there are technical issues, when is deadline, usually earlier than normal on storm days, will the cell service be working and can a location safely be accessed? Great photos that can’t be sent out by deadline simply don’t make the paper or online if they can’t be sent.

So between “uncertainty” and “confusion,” trying to figure out what Mother Nature will bring and how the latest photo technology will perform in storm-force winds can quickly bring on decision fatigue. But as the late singer says, “If we couldn’t laugh we would all go insane” are words to live by.  There will always be another brewing storm somewhere out there in the Atlantic, but after the uncertainty and confusion, there is always that break in the clouds as a storm passes and the sun returns to our shores.

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This article originally appeared on Cape Cod Times: Photo Shoot: “Cone of Uncertainty” keeps hurricane photographers busy