British photographer Ryan Hopkinson has always been fascinated by tornadoes. “This got me thinking about ways of taking weather elements out of context and bringing them within a controlled environment and ultimately into my own work,” he says. And since you can’t exactly grab a tornado by the hand and drag it into the studio, he decided to make his own.
That’s right. These oddly delicate shots of one of the most destructive weapons in Mother Nature’s arsenal are not Photoshop jobs. They depict real, live tornadoes, manufactured in Hopkinson’s studio using wind and psychedelically colored smoke, then captured on camera for your viewing pleasure.
“They’re created using a large industrial extraction fan rigged from the roof, the blades’ rotation helps create a vortex, the smoke then gets lifted and caught up in the vortex,” he tells us in an email. Which sounds simple enough. Except that any slight change in the studio’s winds enervates the vortex, breaking it down into an amorphous plume. “The surface area needs to be large for the tornado to form,” Hopkinson says. “There also has to be a low roof to control the air flow.” After lots of trial and error, Hopkinson managed to generate 20 twisters, each about 4 feet tall and “all with their own personalities and weight.”
All of which made for some extraordinary photography, yes, yes. But what we, loyal children of Hollywood that we are, want to know is this: Did any of the tornadoes work too well? “The tornadoes aren’t very powerful,” he assures us, “so there’s no worries of getting taken away.” Bummer. We bet whatever is on the other side of Hopkinson’s tornadoes is leaps and bounds trippier than Oz.