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Morning on the Apache Trail

Saguaro Morning
(please click to view larger on black // canon 5d mark ii, canon 35mm f/1.4 l, f/5.0, iso 200, 1/800th // buy print)

Sometimes it’s hard to believe I live in a state with scenery like this. You take it for granted. I know I have at times.

This image was shot along the Apache Trail in the Superstition Mountains on the way to Roosevelt Lake in late December. I cannot recall a time I ever drove down this road. And it’s not a true road after awhile…the pavement ends and it’s dirt for the next 20+ miles. It was stunningly beautiful, especially on this morning. It was after an overnight winter storm and these clouds were being created “orographically” and ended up dropping snow in the higher elevations during our drive. We even got pelted with a bit of tiny hail further into the hills.

The light was fairly amazing as it poked out from all the clouds and there is nothing more beautiful than Saguaro cactus in the early morning hours.

Snowy December Morning

Snowy December Morning

(please click to view on black // canon 5d mark ii, canon 17-40mm f/4 l, 29mm, iso 100, f/8, 1/50th // buy print)

Haven’t had a ton of time in December to just go for drives on stormy days, so it was awesome to end the year with a nice road trip with the kiddies. I have to say, our little almost-11-month-old Eli joined Lyla and myself for the first time ever and he rocked. Never cried, just had an awesome time and I couldn’t be happier for what that hopefully means in the coming years!

This is a shot of the Superstition Mountains with some snow you can see in the higher elevations. One of my favorite spots in Arizona. A gorgeous, cloudy morning…was well worth getting up at 5:45 and dragging the kids with me.

The Superstitions just before dawn

(click to see an extra larger than normal version to really fill your screen)

Back in April we had some good rain on the 9th, so the morning of the 10th I planned to get up waaaaay early and head out to the Superstition Mountains to shoot a beautiful sunrise with gorgeous clouds, cactus and all kinds of juicy stuff.  I was also meeting by buddy Ken Peterson out here and we’d hit the Apache Trail together.

You can imagine the slight disappointment you get when you are praying for awesome clouds in the morning and this is what you see above.

As is always the case, however…nature turns your sour lemons into lemonade by giving you something unexpected and just as beautiful. I sat at my favorite spot along Lost Dutchman Road waiting to meet Ken. And so I sat there watching the sky behind this mountain turn beautiful shades of morning colors. Normally I hate skies without clouds, but I loved all the solid colors here…dark silhouette with these gradient shades of purple and orange.

Plus you have Venus up there (at least I’m pretty sure it was Venus) adding just a hint of something extra.

For those that live in Phoenix, even a silhouette of these mountains is probably easily recognized by most people. I love that about some places…you can just see an outline or a shadow of something and know it instantly because you live there. It’s makes it something special.

(exif: canon 5d mark ii, tamron 17-35mm 2.8, 35mm, f/10, iso 100, 5 sec)

Waves in the Desert

(click to view with a dark border and sized to fit your monitor/resolution)

I’m pretty tired right now. I get back in town tomorrow afternoon, but will be back here in Vegas all next week. Long days, focused work…draining. I’ll be a happier man once vacation gets here in mid-May. I can’t wait to see some of our family living in Memphis.

This is another photograph from last Sunday morning’s trip along the Apache Trail in search of those wonderful morning-after-a-storm pictures that I love. The scene has a lot of crazy elements to it, including a solo Saguaro cactus, low-lying foggy clouds hugging the valleys between mountain ranges, snow on the Four Peaks on the left horizon and some absolutely gorgeous clouds creating an ocean-like waves in the sky.

My love for this time of day is growing. Up before dark, headed out somewhere just waiting for the sun to rise…and just exploring the place you are at, looking for something unique and interesting. It’s always an adventure.

(exif: canon eos 5d mark ii, tamron 17-35mm 2.8, 17mm, iso 100, f/16)

The Man on the Hill

(click to see the man larger in lightbox)

It’s April and the high yesterday in Phoenix was around 55 degrees. The snow level dropped to 4500 feet and the mountains east of town had the white stuff on them after the crazy “spring” storm we had over the weekend. It was really a last gasp of winter for us, which was insane considering we’ve already had a 100 degree day in 2011.

The storms hit on Saturday, so Sunday morning I met my buddy Ken Peterson out in Apache Junction to shoot the sunrise and see what we could see. It was amazing. 15 minutes before sunrise, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. Suddenly they just started appearing, even if they weren’t as much as I would have wanted.

We were on the Apache Trail and pulled over when the clouds began that transition to pink and orange. We ran up to the top of a hill and almost died from being out of shape with temps around 40 degrees.

Ken decided to climb the next one and shoot down into Canyon Lake. After seeing his images later, I wished that I had gone with him, but I also would have missed out on this shot.

I just loved the silhouette of Ken with his camera on the tripod, not to mention the clouds that look like they were painted onto the sky.

(exif: canon 5d mark ii, canon 85mm 1.8, iso 100, f/10, 1/200 second)

Serenity

(Click to view larger and sexier in lightbox)

I’m been on a Firefly kick the last few weeks, so it makes complete sense that when I looked at this image tonight, the name of the movie came flying at me.

For those that don’t know, Firefly is an awesome, awesome sci-fi TV show that the Fox Network brutally, and without just cause, canceled before it had a chance to really find legs. They only aired about 10 episodes and all told there were 14 made which you can see on DVD now.

It had such a big following that the ended up making a movie to essentially give the TV series a rightful ending. It was called Serenity, which is the name of the ship in the movie/series. The lead in the show was Nathan Fillion, the captain of Serenity and you may know him from the current show Castle (which I love mostly because of him). It’s hard to describe what is so appealing about the show to people. I mean, it’s basically like a sci-fi western set in space. It doesn’t sound too great.

The writing was amazing though. It was so unique and had its own style and language…it was brilliant. And the entire ensemble cast meshed so well together from day one that you instantly fell in love with them all. Fillion was excellent though…he’s one of my all-time favorite actors now.

All I can say is to go rent the DVDs and then cry when they end and you wish for more. Then watch the movie and cry again that is over. You’ll love it.

NOW, the image above. I’ve been holding onto this thing since the end of January. I have a lot of love for this photo and at times never wanted to post it. The motion in the clouds is so beautiful to me. The single yucca stem rising from the ground gives this feeling of peacefulness and solitude. More to the point of using the title from the film…it’s serene. It’s also a desert setting, which you see a lot of in the movie/series.

This was on a rainy morning of course and to me, there is nothing more relaxing than watching storms drift by and the occasional drops falling on the roof.

What’s fun about photography is the unexpected shot. I climbed this hill because I saw a ton of Ocotillo Cactus peppering the landscape behind me. After all this effort to get up there, I hated any of the compositions I came up with. Instead, I turn to leave and spot the scene above. I go for the forest and end up with the opposite. Ironic.

(exif: canon eos 5d mark ii, tamron 17-35mm 2.8, 17mm, f/16, iso 100)

Anduril

(click on the image for a nicer view in lightbox)

Sometimes getting the right shot is all about being there.

I’m not going to brag about this photo being some kind of amazing composition…because in reality, it’s pretty simple. At the time I was actually wishing I had something better to get into the frame than just a few saguaros. Like maybe a glacial lake in the Himalayas (whaaat?)  But sometimes all it takes for me is a killer sky. And killer skies aren’t always easy to come by.

I remember seeing photographs and always being jealous that they somehow lucked out to get that beautiful sunrise or sunset.

The fact is…they were there to get it. That’s all it takes really.

I’ve grown to love getting up before dark, packing my gear, grabbing a coffee, some snacks and heading out down some desert road to see where the morning finds me. Sadly, it just isn’t something I can do all the time. On this particular morning, it was around 33 degrees out, I was bundled up, hiked down a short trail and waited for the sun to peak over the Superstitions.

If you ever are wondering how you might decide whether or not there will be cool clouds the morning you decide to do a trip like this (esp when it’s dark out still), usually times during or after a rain storm can be perfect. Yeah, it might be raining, but it will likely break here and there and offer stunning shots. In this one above, you can see rain falling on the left horizon, headed my way. You can also look at infrared radar to see if the skies are cloudy around your area before you head out.

Of course, a lot of this is based on Arizona. I know in places like Oregon or the east coast…just because it stops raining doesn’t mean the skies wont stay gray.

Then again…if you aren’t out there waiting for a spectacular moment…you’ll miss it.

Oh, if you are wondering about the title…it’s from Lord of the Rings. If you figure out what it means, it kind of fits the image perfectly.

(exif: canon 5d mark ii, tamron 17-35mm 2.8, 18mm, f/16, iso 100)

Foundations of Stone

(Looks nicer in lightbox…just click on the image for a larger view)

– Usery Mountains, Apache Trail, Superstitions

One thing becomes evident when you explore the mountains and cliffs of the Arizona desert: The stuff under the ground appears to be made from jagged rock and rising stone. Everywhere you look, you see giant precipices bursting out of the earth…and you realize that the soil is hiding some amazing beauty that we may never see.

The title of today’s post is from the Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers soundtrack. Weird how just kind of browsing for a title helps find meaning in a photo.

This was taken back on January 30th on my lone day off before I started the new day job. I can’t even tell you how amazing that day was with the light, the shadows and the clouds. I was definitely blessed when I hit the road that morning.

What I do like about this shot is the fact I pulled out the 50mm for it. I tend to mostly shoot landscapes wide with the 17-35, but sometimes you want to get something different.

(exif: canon 5d mark ii, canon 50mm 1.4, f/10, iso 100)

Then the morning comes

Superstition Morning Sunrise Cactus Saguaro Arizona Desert

(Website note: My images are now clickable and displayed in a handy-dandy lightbox. Please check it out, let me know what you think!)

When you are advancing in your career or just going down the path of life, people tell you never to look back…just worry about what’s ahead. What’s coming. No need to relish on mistakes or even past victories…it’s all about the future.

I think photography may be the one place where that advice is completely wrong. I wont even get into the benefits (for me) of seeing where I’ve come from and how I’ve changed, but mainly want to stick to the physical implications of “looking back.”

There is a trail in the middle of the photo above. I ran up it quickly to get in place for the sunrise (in 34 degree weather…brrrr for this desert rat) because there was a nice cactus that you can see up aways AND it had a nice height to overlook the entire area. I spent some time there, I loitered, I got some shots…but then it was time to go because I wanted to look for some new scenes.

As I was leaving down the path, I remembered how often it’s paid dividends in the past…so I turned around. Obviously we all have our own ideas of good composition, but to me this was the one image I would end up taking away from stopping at this location.

Never forget the value of turning around or looking back when shooting sunrises, storms or landscapes.

I don’t know how to describe the mornings here in Arizona…especially the open deserts. I hope this image conveys it to you. As a matter of fact…and it may seem funny considering all the time I spend shooting out there…but this shot and this particular morning kind of restored or rebirthed my love for photography. Not that it had really gone anywhere…but it had been awhile since I’d been out in the middle of the cactus and rocks…shooting the still morning without a soul in sight.

Kind of like coming back to that one book or movie you never get tired of watching. It feels like home.

(exif: canon 5d mark ii, tamron 17-35mm 2.8, 17mm, f/16, iso100)

Cliffs of Insanity

Despite my absolute love for stormchasing, lightning and severe weather…a simple drive out to the Superstition Mountains before dawn when there is only a bit of rainy clouds in the forecast…can be just as beautiful and inspiring.

I love the awesomeness of a lightning storm. The adrenaline when I’m trying to get to a good spot for a tripod setup.

The morning I took this photograph wasn’t like that. It was relaxing. Lazy. Rolling clouds, some rain in the distance…but nothing thrilling or exciting. Yet I ended up having just as much fun as I usually do. I don’t believe I have ever been out on the Apache Trail before as the sun comes up. It was magical.

With a day predicted to have rain, you don’t even know for sure if the drive out there will reward you with a sunrise because the clouds could definitely block out any light. But not on this day. The clouds kind of rolled in after the sun was up…and the light and shadows were magnificent.

On a total side topic…this was my first day out with the 5D Mark II. I only had a 2gb card because the others I ordered hadn’t arrived yet. The RAW size is around 21-25mb, so the card could only hold around 60 images. Since most of the time I shoot six brackets per scene…I only had roughly 10 total shots I could take.

So of course I took my laptop with so I could dump photos to it as the morning progressed. Solution to the problem.

And of course I left the USB cable at home…so I couldn’t do anything. Problem remained.

I have to say…it ended up being an interesting experiment. What brackets were actually not worth keeping in exchange for a new scene I just found? Was the new scene better or worse than what I already had? Was I going to cry because I deleted one road shot for another?

I was a nice exercise in self-control. Usually we just fire off millions of shots during a photowalk or excursion like this (and I’m not saying we shouldn’t, I certainly wont stop), but it did teach me to take a bit of pause and make absolutely certain this was a shot I wanted.

ON YET ANOTHER NOTE, check out my guest blog post over on Justin Balog’s blog, Light as Magic! Thanks for asking me Justin to be a part of your Out the Front Door series…was a blast to write!

(exif: canon eos 5d mark ii, 50mm 1.4, iso100, f/10)