AUSTIN (KXAN) - Local photographer Marco Gutierrez likened it to Chuck Yeager's 1947 experience when he broke the sound barrier -- when control operators radioed back to say, "Fix it."
"The celebration didn't really begin until you, after you find out what it was you did," said Gutierrez, 36.
The commercial photographer's talking about the money shot of a lightning photo he captured during Sunday's storm -- which then spurred a whirlwind of response on social media after his photo went viral.
"And of course we're in the middle of torrential downpour, lots of lightning everywhere. Back of my mind I'm just like, 'You must be absolutely insane for even wanting to do this,'" he said.
After scooping up thousands of dollars worth of camera gear when he spotted the first sign of the impending light show during his trip home from a movie, Gutierrez had climbed up in pitch darkness through the trail head leading up to the high cliff by the Pennybacker Bridge -- home to many an iconic photo shoot.
"I got here, and sure enough, I'm probably the only person dumb enough to be here during this storm," he said. "And got here ... and then, I just had to wait."
What came after 45 minutes of patience was a spectacular photo he sent in to KXAN News via the Report It feature, captured as part of a three-part series.
"I really want to thank KXAN because this sort of started as, you know, ever since KXAN's been offering the possibility to send your weather photos in," said Gutierrez. "I got to say that it was part of my inspiration to do it. I was like, 'This is the perfect weather photo.'"
He said First Warning Weather Chief Forecaster Jim Spencer showed the photo on air.
"I was beside myself when I saw the response to this photograph," he said. "I didn't expect that at all."
Gutierrez's Facebook page had 40 comments the night he posted the photo, where KXAN's Facebook page had hundreds when initially posting. The next morning, the comments were in the thousands. And on Gutierrez's page, his statistics on views was up some 4,000%.
"I understand it's a danger, but this is the risk we're willing to take as photographers. And that is the way we get images like this. Not everyone can get an image like this," said photographer Maryna Marston, who often works with Gutierrez.
He had already scoped out the area and that it was more of a question of the elements coming together.
Albeit drenched that stormy night, Gutierrez said he was excited when the sky finally lit up. Yet, his first thought after taking the photo: "Did I get the right exposure?"
"I guess you could say I didn't think of it as the money shot at the time," he said. "When I started processing the photo, I thought, 'Wow.'"
The humble, 17-year veteran photographer said he actually didn't think his photo was that great, though he did think it was "a fun one."
"So I posted it on my Facebook page, and my friends started commenting: 'Were you really up there in the middle of a lightning storm with a metal camera and a metal tripod completely exposed, being almost the tallest object out there?' I was like, 'Yes, I was,'" chuckled Gutierrez.
"I think I called as soon as I saw it, and I saw so many responses," said Marston. "I called Marcos straightaway, and my first question was: How did you survive the lightning?"
And at the end of the day, it's something Gutierrez admits he's more than willing to do again.
"I think it's part of the adventure," he said, adding that he would never take unnecessary risks. "I guess I would describe myself as a photographer that's always trying to push the limits of my own knowledge and just take techniques and take it to the extreme. I like trying new things."
Gutierrez said he's already had a lot of requests to do prints of that popular photo, the largest being 40 inches by 60 inches.
The origins of creativity
Gutierrez's experience with nature and risk-taking began during his college days in Massachusetts during a massive blizzard.
When the snow really began pounding on the layers outside, he bundled up with layers inside his dorm and headed out to photograph the first blizzard he'd ever experienced -- much to the dismay of his roommates, who were timing how long it would take for Gutierrez to head back to shelter.
"It kind of started a trend of getting these photographs that most people wouldn't try," he said.
One of Gutierrez's favorite times to shoot is during times where weather edges are present -- when a weather system is either arriving or leaving.
"It makes some of the most spectacular images because the clouds are doing crazy stuff," he said.
Also, people like to shoot during sunset, but there's a time just after that when the sky turns red and is a perfect time to shoot. It's called the Alpenglow, but you'll have to act fast because it only lasts about 10 minutes.
Tips on safety and getting that "it" photo
"It's that sense of pushing your own self-boundaries to keep evolving and becoming better at what you do. I don't think
a person ever stops learning. At the point where I say I know everything, then I know I'm in trouble."
- Be with someone who knows the terrain.
- Don't do it on your own.
- Expand your horizons: Don't think about the photography. Rather, get to know the world around you, and the rest will fall into place.
- Scouting: It's actually part of the fun of the work, getting to see new places -- even with objects that have been photographed plenty of times. There are ways to make it interesting and exciting.
- More than mechanics: A photograph is not just about the mechanics of composition but also about emotional draw. Add that extra element of surprise.
- Type of photographer : There are photojournalists, who capture mainly off of spontaneity and what's happening in the moment. And then there are commercial photographers, who plan their shots. Which one are you?
- Be deliberate: Shoot with a tripod. Shoot slowly.
- Secret to lightning: Slow exposure, about 1/4- to 1/2 of a second. Shooting in pitch darkness with something that's as bright as lightning is difficult to capture. Set the camera to get enough detail of the background without overexposing the lightning. From a technical standpoint, you have to find that balance.
"It is dangerous, but I think as being a photographer, you have to push yourself," said Marston. "You have to go beyond the limit of yourself. That way, you can actually get the images that nobody else would do otherwise."
For more about positioning yourself to capture a good photo, watch the video attached to this story.
High Dynamic Range photography
The result of something called High Dynamic Range photography -- a story covered by KXAN's Jim Swift -- the pictures will take your breath away, knock your socks off, blow your mind and stop you dead in your tracks.
It's a unique take on photography, and while Gutierrez said it's a bit of a fad, he is still exploring those new possibilities.
"I'm still playing around with it because I think there's a lot of possibility there," he said. "It's not really my style just yet, but I'm working on it."
While Gutierrez said it's a bit of a fad, he recognizes the art behind it and the fact that it provides an opportunity to shoot in really dark situations with high-contrast areas and situations.
Accessible technology and a 24/7 camera
Gutierrez said this is a very exciting time as far as photography is concerned, adding that iPhones have pushed the limit of these tiny cameras.
"Technology's come a long way, and what's exciting for someone like myself is that it opens up new creative possibilities. But for the average person, I think it's exciting that you have a camera with you all the time," he said.
Even still, Gutierrez said the photographer is going to be what determines whether you get a good photograph or not.
What's next in line for Gutierrez?
Gutierrez will be collaborating with Marston at a studio together.
The 29-year-old photographer from Europe said she's been in the business since she was young and picked up her mother's camera -- who also loved to shoot.
"We really do tend to push each other's limits to come up with creative ideas," said Marston, who noted the two tend to win awards when they work together. "We understand each other."
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