Student Spotlight: David Mayhew
David Mayhew specializes in photographing severe weather.
And his first-ever exhibit at the Notebaert Nature Museum in Chicago included 27 framed photographs showing some of the Midwest’s most breathtaking storms. In some, severe “supercell” thunderstorms hover over defenseless barns, while in others, tornadoes roar over quiet prairies, rousing a sense of awe and danger in the viewer.
“Most landscape photographers don’t pay much attention to the beauty of the sky, despite the sky generally occupying a large portion of each of their photos,” he said. “My approach is to seek the sky I want to photograph and then seek a subject that may enhance the scene, or I simply frame the sky and cloud formations. The severe weather of the Midwest plains provides the best opportunities for me each spring, and it takes me anywhere from Texas to Canada.”
Traveling far to find the right sky to photograph is no hindrance for Mayhew. Since he left his father’s farm in rural Suffolk in his native England, he has traveled throughout the world, stopping in Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, Hawaii, and even making a hitchhiking trek across Canada.
He has traveled up to 1,000 miles in a day searching for supercell storms – often the cause of tornadoes – from Mexico to South Dakota with a College of DuPage storm-chasing class led by meteorology professor Paul Sirvatka.
Before becoming a professional photographer, Mayhew worked as an engineer after earning a Bachelor of Engineering in Product Design. An engineering job did bring him to Chicago, where he met his future wife, Jennifer. Working and living in the Chicago area also brought him into contact with COD and Sirvatka’s storm-chasing courses. Investigating those courses led to other discoveries.
Mayhew made the transition from engineer to full-time photographer. He's now in Fort Collins, Colo., still chasing storms but also focusing on the mountains and the scenic Southwest. His work can be found in a half dozen galleries across the U.S. and was used in the May 2012 edition of American Scientific magazine.
He's also been a finalist in a National Geographic Travel contest, received Honor Mention twice in Santa Fe Workshop photo contests, and witnessed what he called "the widest ever recorded tornado" at 2.6 miles in El Reno, OK, on May 31, 2013. Twice he has won the Best in Show for Photography in Park City, Utah – in 2012 and 2014. He is also a juror for the “It’s Amazing Out There” photo contest for the Weather Channel, which he has now done for three years. And Red Bull used his images to accompany a weather article.
His work is now extending to the Northern Lights in Iceland, coastal scenes and night photography. He gives much credit to the college’s Photography program, formerly headed by retired professor and coordinator Jeff Curto.
“The program for photography was very complete and in-depth, and the class size was 20 per class if not less. So you get that one-on-one attention that you would not get anywhere else,” Mayhew said. “Any question you have, you will get it answered.”
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