Cape Coral Photographer Quinn SedamAug 26, 2019 05:45PM ● By Patricia Letakis
This storm chaser captures the ethereal beauty of Southwest Florida's thunderboltsSTORY BY ERIK ENTWISTLE
PHOTOS BY QUINN SEDAM
It’s a stifling, steamy, summer night in the Florida wilderness. You’ve been patiently waiting outside for hours and now it’s pitch dark. Mosquitos and no-see-ums constantly buzz; you use a flashlight to check for fire ants. No one’s around but you’re not alone. Multiple pairs of eyes stare from the water—gator eyes. And the thunderclaps tell you the weather’s about to take a turn for the worse.
Not to worry. It’s
just another night on the job for photographer and storm chaser Quinn Sedam, who
captures on film Mother Nature’s spectacular electrical displays. He’s been photographing
storms since moving to Cape Coral nine years ago. Using his extensive knowledge
of meteorology and a perfected, self-taught style of low-light photography, he
creates stunning images of lightning strikes. And now his work is gaining the
recognition it deserves.
Sedam’s father was a professional photographer, so the apple fell close to the tree. “Growing up, I thought every house was a three-bed, two-bath, one-darkroom house,” he recalls with a grin. But pursuing a career in photography proved to be anything but inevitable.
“After high school, I got away from it. … I just never found my passion with the camera. It didn’t spark my interest. … You really have to find the passion of what you want to photograph. Otherwise, it becomes kind of tedious. If you’re not waking up thinking about what you want to photograph, if you’re not going to bed thinking about what you want to photograph, it just becomes a part-time thing.”
The story behind Sedam’s re-engagement with the camera connects directly with his relocation to Southwest Florida. “I drove from Seattle to Cape Coral,” he recounts. “We did it in five days. We slept twice and the rest of the time we drove. So my first full night of sleep when I got here, I was absolutely exhausted.
“At 6 in the morning, this storm rolls through and I’m woken by a lightning strike that I’d never experienced before. And I kind of equate it to when you see little kids at Christmas, when they … look outside for Santa. That’s exactly what I did—I opened these plantation shutters and I’m looking up at the sky and I was in awe of this storm.”
That storm nearly a
decade ago turned out to be the catalyst that led Sedam to pursue what’s now
his passion as well as his livelihood. “I spent years figuring it out, getting
my own system down. … I wanted this to be my style and be very unique,” he
Crucial to Sedam’s success are not only his camera skills but his grasp of meteorology, which allows him to plan trips to locations where storms are brewing. “When I’m tracking storms in the afternoon waiting to see where I want to go, I’m looking at base reflectivity, vertically integrated liquid content, speed, distance, altitude—all these different factors that go into what that storm is going to do.
“Nothing kills a
storm like the sun going down. So that’s my biggest challenge: Is that storm
going to stay productive and active as the sun goes down and it loses its heat
Sedam achieves his desired results by working after dusk. “I always shoot after dark; 19 minutes after sunset is my first shot. That’s when the light is going down low enough for me to get a 2-second exposure.” But he points out he prefers a maximum exposure of 40 seconds, which allows him to capture any lightning strikes over that course of time in a single shot.
Shooting at night in remote locations comes with challenges and dangers. Sedam often treks long distances, with his heavy tripod, from parking areas to locations. He gets attacked by fire ants. Sometimes, storms get too close for comfort, leading to drenching downpours and lightning strikes in life-threatening proximity.
Nevertheless, Sedam persists. It helps that he receives a lot of encouragement along the way. “I have a really strong fan base of people that follow my work and love what I do. … Those are the people that actually motivate me to get out there and do this,” he notes, while reminding himself of the unpleasantries involved.
Timing is everything, and luck an unavoidable factor in getting that once-in-a-lifetime shot. Patience is the watchword; there’s lots of waiting for storms that may not materialize. It’s not unusual for him to return to a location more than a dozen times and still not secure the shot he wants.
“From mid-May to
mid-October is my storm-chasing season. I’d probably get, through that process,
about 1,000 lightning strikes total. Now I’m going to be pretty happy if six or
eight of those are show/exhibit quality. Obviously, every year they’ve got to
be better than what I’ve already got on exhibit; so it gets tougher and tougher.”
How does Sedam decide where to go, with all of Southwest Florida serving as a photographer’s potential playground? He explains: “This’ll be my ninth summer out there doing this. Each year, I try to do a couple different focuses on what I’m going to emphasize. … This year is going to be Cape Coral/Fort Myers south. So Estero, Bonita and Naples are where I’m going to be spending most of my time.
“Last year, my main focus was the coast from Venice to Tampa. But we had our environmental issues and after about a month of being out on the coastline, I got really sick. … Then I just refocused on going inland and doing more freshwater locations.”
By the time tourist season arrives, storm season is conveniently over, freeing him to focus on displaying and selling his work at various shows and galleries: “The Cape Coral Festival of the Arts is my favorite one; it’s my hometown show. This year, I took top honors in photography, which is very exciting. Last year, I took best in show—that was a huge honor.”
His mission remains focused on capturing that next spectacular display of nature’s awesome power, and transforming that flash in time into a timeless artwork. “The quest is never done. … Every bolt is going to be different. I could say after seven years I’ve done it all, but all of a sudden I got this shot last year—so I’m super, super excited.”
He proudly points to the aluminum photo he’s referring to, hanging on a wall. “The end result really excites me every time. I don’t foresee ever giving it up. I mean this is truly what I love, what I dream, what I think about.”
Sedam’s website is quinn-sedam.pixels.com. His work is on display in Fort Myers at Sweet Bean Coffee Café, 13251 McGregor Blvd., and in Cape Coral at Harbour View Gallery, 5789 Cape Harbour Drive.