In a Snap: Storms, dramatic skies inspire local photographer

Los Fresnos-based photographer Daniel Sanchez’s photos are striking. The colors, textures, and beauty he finds in the deep South Texas landscape are a source of relaxation for the longtime artist, and the fleeting moments captured through his lens can at times appear almost surreal.

Sanchez is always on the lookout for inclement weather, monitoring various apps and paying attention to local weather alerts, something he says his family pokes fun at him for. And it does beg the question — what drives a person to seek out bad weather? To photograph when lightning strikes nearby? To have a camera at the ready when a bad thunderstorm rolls in, or even during a hurricane?

For those who photograph nature, the answer is simply a fascination with the beauty of the world in which we live, and the sense of excitement, peace, and presence felt by those photographers who appreciate and witness the Earth in action.

“There are little moments that happen. You never know what kind of photo you’re going to capture,” said Sanchez of his art. “I’m fascinated by the weather. Storms, hurricanes — we don’t get many tornadoes, otherwise I’d be out there chasing them, too.”

Whiles some might find his hobby out of the ordinary, the photographs speak for themselves. Last week when a post-hurricane lightening storm hit the lower Valley, Sanchez was outside, watching lightning bolts light up the sky across neighborhoods and farmland.

Asked how he is able to capture the strikes in time, Sanchez said he’s able to shoot manually, but recently purchased a device which detects flashes of infrared light as a strike develops. The device triggers the shutter, allowing him to get more shots.

He explained, “If you want to do it the lazy way and you don’t want to miss shots, that’s the way to do it. You hook it up to your camera. It’s a shutter release. This little device senses an infrared signal or discharge the lightning sets off.”

This image provided by photographer Daniel Sanchez shows lightning strikes during a a recent storm in Los Fresnos. The photographer edits the photos to make them most look how the moment happened, he explained. (Courtesy of Daniel Sanchez)

“If you get the camera on a tripod and just aim it towards the storm, you’ll hear the shutter click when there’s a flash of lightning. You just have to adjust your camera settings if it’s getting closer or brighter.”

On a recent Saturday, lightning was flashing so frequently that Sanchez opted to hold the camera to his eye, pressing the shutter manually. The photographer described the storm as a dream come true. “As soon as I would see a flash, I would take the photos. I had the camera set to take continuous shots. Lightning would flash and after I would have eight, ten photos,” he said.

Not all of the scenery of photographer’s collection is chaotic. Sanchez’s two-year battle with cancer has pushed him to make time to stop and appreciate these ephemeral, moving moments happening around us as life trudges along. He regularly wakes up at 5 in the morning to watch the sunrise on South Padre Island.

Currently, his social media pages are filled to the brim with photos sunrise at the beach. They are posted by both Sanchez and clients, who thank him for vibrant, colorful canvas-wrapped prints hanging inside homes and offices.

This image provided by photographer Daniel Sanchez shows lightning strikes during a a recent storm in Los Fresnos. The photographer edits the photos to make them most look how the moment happened, he explained. (Courtesy of Daniel Sanchez)

He says some of the most beautiful photographs come before the sun even breaks the horizon. Many of the images are shot in near darkness, and at the ocean, ghostly water is captured moving through the frame while the shutter is opened longer — a technique used to capture the flow.

“For me, photography gives me that awareness. There’s so much out there to appreciate and be grateful for — just looking out the window and watching the sunrises. It’s an amazing experience. It’s a way to get your mind off of all this crazy stuff that’s going on. I think connection with nature makes you more aware of the beauty that we’re surrounded by every day. We get so busy with everyday life that we overlook the little things,” said Sanchez.

For those interested in the technicalities of the work, Sanchez shoots on a DSLR — a digital single lens reflex camera, which can be adjusted acutely to fine-tune photographs and is compatible with many lenses. He captures images on manual, allowing him to adjust the ISO sensitivity, shutter speed, white balance, and the depth of field of each image.

After, he edits in Photoshop with images shot in RAW format, which means they’re uncompressed and can be processed with more precision and less data loss. Sanchez doesn’t edit heavily and instead aims to make the photographs nearly identical to what he saw in person.

Local photographer and storm chaser Daniel Sanchez is pictured Wednesday at Linear Park. Sanchez is known for his photographs of unique weather conditions in South Texas.(Denise Cathey/The Brownsville Herald)

This includes adjusting white balance, contrast, as well as saturation and vibrancy. Sharpness and noise reduction can be used as needed, but aren’t always necessary. “Each photo requires slightly different adjustments,” Sanchez explained.

“I try to get the settings as close as I can to where they look good right out of the camera. I then make adjustments to make the photo look as close as possible to what I saw with my eyes when I took the photo.”

Sanchez’s photographs are viewable in an online gallery at www.danielsanchez.shootproof.com

esheridan@brownsvilleherald.com