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Sunset on the Beeline

Sunset on the Beeline
(please click to view on black // canon 5d mark iii, canon 17-40mm f/4 l, 17mm, iso 100, f/10, 1 second // buy print)

I’m a storm chaser through and through…that’s just what I do. I have a hard time going anywhere and just waiting for something good to happen. I’ve wanted to do a few trips this year, one mainly to a spot on the north rim of the Grand Canyon, just to camp for a few days and get some epic shots.

But it’s not in me to do that. I love the chase. The unknown. What will I end up with tonight?

This photo is a prime example of that. It’s nothing earth-shattering, but what it shows you is that beauty can be found anywhere, even though you don’t expect it.

This was from July 6th of this year. I saw a big line of storms moving in off the White Mountains and thought I might get in front of them right when it got dark and could destroy some lightning shots over the hills. But as it neared me, the storms started dying, the lightning wasn’t coming my way.

As I sat there bumming, this glow slowly appeared in the sky…and I wasn’t expecting it. The clouds were so thick everywhere, I had no idea the sun could possibly make it all this way.

But then the clouds  ignited and I couldn’t believe the color. It was intense.

Sunsets are weird in a way. It’s like you know a storm is great because there is wind and thunder and rain, and you can “feel” it. A sunset though…it’s like something so amazing and powerful, but it’s utterly silent. You look up and see an explosion of color, but there are no trumpets playing, no orchestra…just quiet.

Makes it all the better.

 

Snowy Saguaro

Snowy Saguaro
(please click to view on black // canon 5d mark iii, canon 70-200 f/2.8 is l, 200mm , iso 100, f/2.8, 1/1250th // buy print)

Took a nice drive up the Beeline Highway today and ran into snow falling well before I thought we would. The level had dropped crazy low and it was amazing to see some of these Saguaro with snow on their needles all all around the desert floor.

I’ve been wanting a shot like this for awhile and I’m sure you’ve seen these dozens of times, but for me it was awesome to finally get some snow on a cactus like this. A wonderfully fun day driving around and playing in the snow with the family!

Trips

Trips
(please click to view large on black // canon 5d mark ii, canon 35mm f/1.4 l, iso 320, f/16, 1.0 sec, three image stack // buy print)

I feel like I’ve been converted this past summer. I used to be all purist-y and think most stacked lightning photos were unnecessary and took away from the beauty of a single strike. But they I saw a few ones that were well done. And then I found myself in situations where the single strike was incredibly boring but showing a bunch at one time was a heck of a lot more interesting.

Here is another one from this past summer. This was taken July 29th. The storm was moving left to right, so the bolts are actually in order of the movement of the storm over the span of 1:16. With the light I had going on, I was firing off 1 second exposures and got lucky enough to capture these three strikes over the course of 76 shutter clicks.

I liked the middle one by itself, but the other two on the edges were just a bit too far to the edge of the frame for my liking. So I tried a stack and loved it.

Definitely a fun way to enhance lightning photography.

 

 

Double Impact

(please click to view on black // canon 5d mark ii, canon 70-200mm f/2.8 is l, 70mm, iso 200, f/5.6, 25 sec // buy print)

Last year I was inspired by the photography of Drew Medlin, specifically his black & white work with lightning. He almost always sticks to a square crop which I thought was super cool and made it a goal this year to process a handful of my own lightning images with this crop.

So this is the first in my Square Series. First off I absolutely love what B&W does to a lightning bolt…creates a darker, mysterious scene…and the square crop to me adds an isolation to the entire frame.

I shot this back on July 23rd, early in the season, up along the Beeline Highway. There was an incredible show going on and strikes were hitting the mountains everywhere.

More to come!

Cholla at sunset

(please click to view image so it fits your screen // canon 5d mark ii, canon 17-40 f/4 l, 17mm, iso 100, f/22, 0.6 sec // buy print)

Way back in very early February I found a neat little hilltop filled with a mess of cholla cactus. The sun was setting, we had a bit of stormy weather going on and I captured some images of the cactus lit up by the final few rays of light that evening. Here’s a look at the other one I posted a few months ago.

This was my favorite from the day. I really dug the contrast of golden sunlight against the dark blue stormy clouds in the background. It’s also kind of amazing to be looking down and have the hilltop shaded, but the cactus still have light on it. Almost like you are observing the very edge of the sunlight disappearing.

A Superstition thunderbolt

(please click to view on black // canon 5d mark ii, canon 70-200mm 2.8 is l, 70mm, iso 320, f/16, 0.8sec // buy print)

The last time I chased a storm was a week ago. I needed the break anyways, I was getting burned out and had suffered a few “epic fail” kind of days. Needed some time off to rejuvenate and to process some of the massive amounts of images I took in the past few months.

This was taken back at the end of July along the Beeline Highway. I am not too positive, but that lightning strike could be coming down somewhere near Saguaro Lake along Bush Highway.  I don’t remember even seeing this strike, I had both cameras going in different directions with the shutter releases locked down in continuous shoot mode. Was stoked when I looked back to see this shot on only a 0.8 second exposure!

Our monsoon season ends here in a few weeks, so hopefully we’ll get a few rounds of good storms before it’s over. I have a little more chasing left in me before wedding season starts!

A crashdown of lightning on the Beeline

Crashing Down - Monsoon Lightning Arizona Beeline

(please click to view on black // canon 5d mark ii, canon 70-200mm 2.8 is l, 70mm, iso 100, f/6.3, 20 sec // buy print)

During the day on Monday I tweeted out something to the effect that I “smelled lightning” and knew it would be a good night. Honestly, I had no idea what I was talking about, but it had been three straight days of great monsoon action in a row with storms that died out quickly as the sun went down, leaving no electricity to photograph.

It was more of a hunch, but it turned out to be a good one.

It’s been awhile since I’ve seen a lightning show quite like this one up on the Beeline Highway. I set up along the shoulder of the road south of the Gisela turnoff. There is a huge valley there in front of you and it gives you at least a 270 degree view of all the mountains around you. Perfect for shooting this stuff.

The only downside is that there was soooo many lightning strikes, all OVER the place…you had to pick a few directions and hang tough. I have two cameras now thanks to all the weddings I shoot, so now I’m firing double barrels out there. Which should make it easier, but it’s a lot to manage when you’re rushing to get things aimed, focused, exposed correctly, etc.

I was also quite the amateur on this night and ended up with some slightly out-of-focus shots. Was bumming hard core when I was checking these out in Lightroom. I’m tossing out this one below anyways…which likely would have ended up being one of my all-time favorites, but it’s got a bit of a focus problem and so it may end up on the trash heap. But what a sick scene right? Almost looks like a clip from a movie with a giant electrical alien being walking over a mountain top.

 

Into the Wild

(please click to view on black // canon 5d mark ii, canon 17-40 f/4 l, exposure blend // buy print)

I’ve had a couple of friends lately tell me they miss Movie Title Wednesdays on my blog, and it kind of made me realize I do too. I haven’t done one in a few months now, but we’re back and better than ever!

If you haven’t heard about the story of Christopher McCandless, than I suggest you rent the film Into the Wild, starring Emile Hirsch. The movie is based off the book of the same title written by Jon Krakauer. I would highly recommend the book too, maybe even before you see the movie. It’s an amazing tale of a guy who sells everything, gives all his money to charity and hitchhikes his way to Alaska to live in the wilderness.

It’s a true story and one that will grip you until the end. He made such an impact on people along the way, that author Krakauer was able to piece together his journey from interviews with those people, plus friends and family. Check it out!

So my wife picked out the title today because the one I had before was horrible. She brought up a good point though about my struggle to find a good one: I shoot so many road shots, at some point, movie titles aren’t going to work as I don’t like to repeat them and never have before.

But for today…Into the Wild kind of fits here. This is a stretch of the Beeline Highway headed towards Payson. This long, downward straightaway into this valley has always been a favorite of mine as long as I can remember. It’s just kind of suddenly THERE when you aren’t expecting it.

I’ve always wanted to do it justice and this day back on March 19th was perfect. We’d just had some winter storms blow through (in fact, there is snow falling on some of the distant mountains), the clouds were astounding and the fading sunlight mesmerizing.

It took some time to get this though…it’s a busy highway and finding a time with no one behind or ahead of me wasn’t easy. Luckily I had about 1/4 – 1/2 mile warning of oncoming vehicles, although when they are going 75-80mph, that’s not a ton of distance!

Equilibrium

Equilibrium - Arizona Monsoon Lightning

(canon 5d mark ii, canon 50mm 1.4, iso 125, f/5.6, 30 sec // buy print)

Please click to view on black!

One thing I try very, very hard to avoid is posting an image and then saying something like “OMG, this is my bestest, most favoritest photo I’ve ever taken in all the land!” I have many reasons for that, and if you want to know them, you can ask, but it’s just my general rule.

Yeah, gonna break that one today.

Before that though, it’s Wednesday and I haven’t done a Movie Title image in awhile, so here you go. Equilibrium. Christian Bale. It was really, really good. Check it out.

So this is my favorite lightning image of 2011. I didn’t sit down and look through all my photos and debate over which was best. This was always it. I knew when I saw it that it would be. And there are two reasons why.

(btw, those who bought my book have already seen this and thus know the story behind it already!)

First…the scene itself is incredibly unique. Two layers of clouds…a low one that is hugging the tops of mountains beyond the immediate horizon, and the upper one that is a boiling thunderstorm. Then you have a lighting strike running sideways between these two layers.  I didn’t shoot anything like it over the course of the last two summers and I don’t think I’ll ever be able to duplicate it. The only question I ask myself when I look at this is why I don’t have it printed and hanging in the house yet? I’m so bad at that.

The second and final reason has little to do with the actual picture. It was the work that led up to it. The effort. I had been in Tucson earlier that evening and as the storms were dying out, I decided to fly north and catch what was hitting Phoenix. But those storms were moving too fast. They were northeast of Phoenix by the time I hit town. For some reason though, I kept going. I blew through Phoenix and started up the Beeline Highway. I got almost all the way to Rye when I decided to turnaround. The weather were dying out, it was getting late and I felt like I failed after having just driven 180 miles with nothing to show for it.

But on the way back…a random storm popped up east of the highway. There was no reason for it, everything else had quieted down, but I saw it, I stopped and aimed my camera at the place I saw the flash.

This was the next shot that my camera captured.

It proved to me that what I was doing and the way I was doing it was valid. That my instincts were good and I was meant to do this.

And there was a lesson in that night for me. Simply put…when others stop, I should keep going. If I want a shot that no one else can get, then I need to be doing what no one else is doing.

It’s not easy…but you know what? I was all alone on that highway and the only one around to see this. And I’m so glad I was.

The Beeline Curve

The Beeline Curve light trails Arizona

(click to view on black // canon 5d mark ii, canon 70-200 2.8 is l, 185mm, f/11, iso 100, 30 sec)

One of my favorite roads in Arizona is the Beeline Highway. It takes you through some of the most beautiful areas of Arizona. You can see the Superstition mountains, the Four Peaks, Sycamore Creek and all kinds of other things. It allows you to travel from Phoenix to Payson, where the beauty and cool temps of the Mogollon Rim are only 90 minutes from the hot desert.

I’ve always loved this curve in the highway, but never figure out how to shoot it until last night. Our sunset shoot out at the Four Peaks was a bust because of the rain and low clouds, but the west horizon was beautiful and I pulled out the 70-200 to grab some silhouette shots of cactus against the sky.

As I turned to leave, I noticed a lot more cars traveling along the Beeline than you usually see. I figured a bunch must be coming home from Roosevelt Lake or seeing the snow up north. Already having the 70-200 on there made me realize I could get a sweet, compressed shot of this bend in the highway and the light trails of all the vehicles.

I urge you to click to view it full-sized on black, I think WordPress darkened the image up a bit when it re-sized it down to 960.