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The Dance

Symmetry - Arizona Monsoon Lightning

(click to see on black // canon 5d mark ii, canon 70-210mm f/4, 205mm, f/5.6, iso 400, 30 sec // buy print)

The one fun thing about stormchasing…whether it’s photographing monstrous thunderheads, dust storms, or lightning strikes…is that it’s always different. Something new, something exciting…something you learn.

For instance…lightning strikes. They are never the same. Which is why I love it so much. And even when two lightning strikes almost appear to be mirror reflections of each other, they are still different. Like in this photo.

But it’s still kind of interesting to look at from a sort of “un-microscopic” eye. These two bolts really appear to be doing some kind of dance together…mirroring each others moves. Almost perfect symmetry.

Intensity (A beautiful mistake)

Intensity - Arizona Monsoon Lightning

(click to see this even more intensely)

There is almost nothing about this capture that was done correctly.

First off, you are looking at a crop of the upper-left third of the original RAW file. Meaning, I didn’t aim too well. This was my first time using the new (old) 70-210mm and this was shot at a focal length of 205mm…so I ended up being a bit closer than I wanted, plus I totally misjudged what I was seeing in the viewfinder, so I was too far down-right.

Secondly…and I’m not sure where the mistake happened, but this was shot at ISO 400. Either I had been using ISO 400 before on some less intense strikes elsewhere and forgot to change it, OR I figured shooting lightning from so far away might need me to boost the ISO up to capture it better.

Either way, the reason the strike is so completely thick and blown out is because I should have been down around 100-200.

All that being said, I LOVE the way this turned out! All summer one of my goals has been to somehow find elevated ground to capture scenes where you can actually SEE the strike land instead of it just being off on the horizon somewhere. I mean, there is something a lot more scary about seeing the exact spot it hits. Maybe you wish you could just zoom in and see if it was some cactus that got wiped off the face of the planet.

My buddy Scott Wood and I were talking the other night out on Bush Highway about how much lightning we’ve captured this summer. Been epic so far. After a subpar year last season, I hope this doesn’t mean next year will be a downward curve again.

(canon 5d mark ii, canon 70-210mm 4.0, 205mm, f/5.6, iso 400, 30 sec)

The Dance of the Light

It's Alive - Light over Cave Creek

Being sick for the past 11 days or so, I hadn’t really taken any pictures, to say nothing of actually doing any stormchasing. Somewhat lucky for me, the weather was fairly quiet during most of the time I was couch-ridden, so I didn’t miss much.

But I’m back to normal now and just in time. Last night Arizona had a walloping of storms explode across southeastern portions of the state and the weather moved into Phoenix by early evening. Most of the bad stuff stuck to the east valley, but we got a nice dust storm/haboob and then a great lightning show later on.

To go along with my 5D Mark II, I have a 17-35mm, 50mm and 85mm. That’s it. My focal range isn’t awesome. So earlier this week, I discovered a nice little Canon 70-210mm f/4 that was built in 1988 and the reviews spoke of the high quality of the glass. Yeah, no IS and the zoom was of the telescoping variety, meaning you point it up or down and you’ll probably watch the lens slide around.

Either way, I wanted more range for lightning and it was $118. No brainer. And it arrived yesterday in the nick of time.

With my daughter in tow, we watched the sun go down and then saw some storms developing just north of Bush Highway. We headed up there and were welcomed with some amazing lightning, some of which ended up crashing all around us as we huddled in the car.

A bit later I ran into my buddy Scott Wood and then Bryan C. Snider, another twitter pal. So we hooked up and just shot together the rest of the night. So great to run into those guys and awesome to finally meet Bryan. He’s a solid photog.

This was one of our final spots. I’ll remember it always because the strikes were awesome, but the massive pile of 1/4 inch ants I upset likely will leave a scar on my leg. Ouch.

I have to say, that lens was perfect. This was taken at 160mm and there was no other way I could have shot it. No roads to get us closer to the storm. It was either zoom or watch from afar.

I’m gonna have a lot of fun with that thing.

(canon 5d mark ii, canon 70-210mm 4.0, 160mm, f/5.6, iso 400, 30 sec)

Snow on the Four Peaks

Snow on the Four Peaks Arizona

Back on the very last day of December, I posted a picture of the Four Peaks mountain range fresh after a snow storm hit them. You can see that one below. I didn’t process the one above for awhile after that, but eventually got around to working on it. I’m glad I did because it ended up being kind of cool for me to really see how fast things can change when viewing a landscape.

The top photo occurred exactly 7 minutes and 42 seconds after the one below. I moved spots between the two captures…going lower I believe for the top one.

It’s kind of amazing to see this back on frames instead of what you saw with your eyes. While I  totally witnessed this and knew what was happening…it’s hard to top a before and after pair of images.

Oh, and if I haven’t said it before…man I love Arizona.

(top – exif: canon rebel xsi, canon 50mm 1.4, f/14, iso 100) (bottom – exif: canon rebel xsi, canon 50mm 1.4, f/16, iso 100)

Snow on the Four Peaks Arizona

 

Cold Mountain

Arizona Desert Snow Photography

(please click on me, I look better a bit bigger with a nice, dark frame around me – sincerely, the image above)

Sometimes the movies I pick for Movie Title Wednesdays are ones that I absolutely love and would watch a hundred times over. However, on some occasions, I love them mainly because the title fits perfectly with the photo I want to use.

At the same time…you can always be sure I’ve at least SEEN the movie. That is my one rule.

So this week we have Cold Mountain, a film starring Jude Law, Nicole Kidman (pre-plastic) and Renee Zellweger.  The main plot revolves around Law’s character as a Confederate soldier during the Civil War and his trip back home to Cold Mountain. I don’t remember hardly a thing about the plot, but I almost always remember when I liked a movie and this one was pretty good.

You can forget the movie at this point (although I’d love to hear how many of you have seen it and liked it) because the title is really all that matters. This image is one I shot back in late December when we had some crazy snow storms blow through Arizona. Around noon that day I saw some pretty good storms building up the Beeline Highway so I dragged my wife and daughter out there and basically we roamed that area until sunset.

The light was incredible after every wave of storm went by. Such clear, crisp air allowed these amazing views. This was just a shot in the late afternoon after a big storm cell moved through dumping even more snow. I just love the hilltop coated with the white stuff in contrast with the desert below and the dark, menacing clouds in the background.

This kind of black and white processing is something I’ve worked on since the beginning of the year and cannot wait to use during stormchasing season this summer. There is something beautiful about the relationship between stormy weather and black & white. I just love it.

(exif: canon rebel xsi, canon 50mm 1.4, f/20, iso 100)

 

Sticks and Snow

Desert Storm Arizona Dead Tree Snow Weather

Lately the blog has been returning to more and more of my usual landscape and storm shots. We’ve had quite a few nice winter storms since December and it’s reignited my passion for this stuff. I was out last weekend a few times, and this weekend I went out Sunday morning to chase after some high desert snow, but it was a lot higher than I was hoping.

This image is from back in late December when we had daytime highs of around 36 degrees and some fun snow storms along the Beeline Highway.

One thing that helps your landscape or storm images is to have something interesting in the foreground. I can’t tell you how often that is a struggle for me. Not because the desert is devoid of interesting things, but mostly you worry about boring people to death with yet another shot of a Saguaro cactus with a storm in the background.

So when I’m out there running around, I do my best to mix things up. Find something else that will make a key element to the photo that people don’t normally get to see. That’s been a fun goal for me lately and has made me think twice about a lot of photos I might take.

Do I really need that scene? Is it a whole lot different than one I’ve shot in the past?

I loved this gnarled old tree skeleton. I’m not sure what it was when it was alive, but it was beautiful in death. The sun was lighting it up nicely against the dark, stormy clouds off in the distance. Really dug the contrast.

(exif: rebel xsi, tamron 17-35mm, 17mm, f/20, iso 100)

Two spikey peas in a pod

Desert Snow Storm Arizona Cactus Yucca

I’ve been having a ton of fun this fall/winter playing around with urban exploration, processing grungy images and discovering my love for shooting in downtown Phoenix.

But I absolutely miss the summer storms. Big time. I feel like I’ve learned something about the  kind of photography I want to produce when it comes to weather images and now I’m anxious to see that vision come alive in the upcoming monsoon season.

I love this picture. It was shot during the cold weather that brought some snow storms to the deserts in late December. One of my favorite moments in weather is after a storm leaves. Lots of times you get awesome light, clear, crisp air and an amazing contrast between the storm leaving and what you see in front of you. This image is no exception. As the storm exits to the right of the image, you can see the darkness still alive in it. But here where we stand…beautiful sunlight casting long shadows…and a crisp, vibrant air that gives us an amazing clarity all the way to the snowy peaks on the horizon.

There is one negative to this image: It only increases my craving to get back out there. And summer is still a long ways off.

(exif: rebel xsi, tamron 17-35mm 2.8, f/20, iso100)

A new year begins

Well…here we go. It’s 2011 and time to forget whatever I did last year, start with a clean slate, try some new things and see where it all goes.

Okay, kind of hard to do if you realize I posted the color version of this photo on Friday, the last day of 2010. Where is the new? There is a reason of course, and I think a good one.

Last year I was inspired by Mitch Dobrowner’s storm photography. His work is absolutely incredible, powerful and spellbinding. He’s naturally become my favorite storm photographer. There is a picture in his Storm section called “Monsoon: Lordsburg, New Mexico, 2010″…there aren’t many words to describe how beautiful that work of art is to me.

The main inspiration I took away from his work is the power of the black and white storm image. After publishing my first stormchasing book last fall, I wanted the next one to be filled with powerful B&W storm photos. I have an incredible love for the style, but it’s hard to break the habit of naturally processing an image in color. Hence the reason I’m posting the above image twice…it’s a reminder to me to not be so focused on something that I forget my goal for this year.

I was prompted by a reader of my blog to do the image in B&W and I was thankful for the prodding. It reminded me of what I forgot I wanted to do. It was like the photowalk we did last Wednesday in downtown Phoenix. The night before I told my wife I was thinking of shooting with nothing but my 50mm 1.4. But once I got there, I had the Tammy 17-35 on there by default and almost forgot my mission until buddy Rick mentioned he was going to use his 50mm a lot. Slapped my forehead and wondered aloud how I could have let the plan slip my mind. Doh!

Same thing with this photo. Because while I enjoyed the one I posted on Friday, this one gives me chills. I would venture to guess this photo could end up being on the cover of the next book and likely a print on my own wall.

I’m excited to see where this year will go as far as stormchasing goes. Of course I have other passions…the urbex stuff is compelling, the portrait work, the weddings…I’m pumped for all of it. But photographing weather will always be in my blood, driving me and compelling me to keep chasing.

Snow storm on the Beeline

Unless you get a nice hail storm during the summer months, it’s really rare to see pure white downpours from storm clouds, hence it was a ton of fun yesterday seeing snow falling all over the desert.

I pulled over to the shoulder on the overpass at the Bush Highway/Beeline Highway intersection. Stood there for about 20 minutes watching this storm move from left to right as it slowly approached the Four Peaks off camera. Once it went by, we took off for the Four Peaks themselves and that’s when I got the image previous to this one.

I had a ton of fun just shooting yesterday, but it was also great to see all these other people pulling off next to me, or in other places…kids, families, everyone, just out looking to see some snow and take pictures. It’s a rare sight to see cars parked alongside roads just to snap a photo of a brief snow shower! Welcome to Arizona!

Trip up the Beeline

Last week I posted a photo of the Four Peaks sunset, one of my most favorite photos ever. However, that day was not just about the Four Peaks, but also of a little drive I took up the Beeline Highway whilst waiting for the clouds to clear the Four Peaks and the sun to set.

Here are a few of those shots!

This is a mountain just northeast of where the Beeline crosses the Sycamore Creek.

Another shot of that peak…the Beeline runs off in the distance.

A shot that I took while dodging traffic on the Beeline. I just loved the contrast of the road, the cactus and the stormy clouds.

The Bushnell Tanks near Sycamore Creek.

This sunset was shot right as I took the Four Peaks sunset that I posted last week.

Shot while driving down the Beeline and treated with an “old film” kind of style.

This is another shot while I’m driving and I did some mega-treatment to make it look old, plus layered it with a texture I took elsewhere.