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War of the Worlds

(click to view on black // canon 5d mark ii, 50mm 1.4, f/5.6, iso 100, 30 sec // buy print)

It’s Movie Title Wednesday here on the bloggity blog blog, and this week we have a remake of an old classic, which was an adaption from one of my favorite books of all-time.

War of the Worlds. The recent remake version starred Tom Cruise and was just okay for me. I love those kind of sci-fi, end of the world type disaster films, but they just didn’t do a very good job with it. The original version (at least, I think there are only two, I’m not doing any research here…there might be hundreds, who knows) was considered the “classic”, but all I remember is being disappointed at how different it was from the book.

Now…the actual book was brilliant. Written by H.G. Wells, I read it in high school and I was so sucked into the story, I remember looking over my shoulder a few times while I read it in my bedroom. If you’ve never read the book, then ignore both movies I mention above and go pick up a copy. In fact, I may read it again.

So why did I choose this movie anyways? Well…the lightning above….it reminded me of the Tom Cruise version with the tall, slim robotic tripod alien beings walking over the cities destroying everything around them. In fact, I don’t know how you look at the image above and don’t at least get some impression of a giant, spindly creature towering over Chandler, Arizona. Kind of creeps me out actually.

I have to give some credit for the title of this image to my friend Scott Wood. Not the title itself, but the idea of finding “things” in lightning. Sort of like looking at puffy clouds and seeing a dog, or a car, or whatever. Scott posted an image called The Skater” and it made me realize how much fun it is to look for familiar things in a lightning strike. It’s definitely not always easy.

But this one was a no-brainer.

Those dark skies

Amidst the Rocks - Monsoon Sedona Arizona

(click to view on black // canon 5d mark ii, tamron 17-35mm 2.8, 17mm, f/16, iso 100, 1/15th // buy print)

I was hoping to post a timelapse tutorial today, but I’m on the road and have to get up very, very early Tuesday morning, so I didn’t have time to get all the information together like I wanted.

So instead, you get another stormchasing image! I highly suggest you click on the image today, it seems the WordPress-resized version makes the tree really, really dark, whereas the full-sized shows you a bit more detail.

This was shot back on July 11th west of Sedona. I made the wife and daughter go on a drive with me through Red Rock State Park during some monsoon thunderstorms to see what we might see. I loved all these trees out there, and I don’t know their name or type, but they have some evergreen properties despite being short and stubby.

Of course, you wont know the color of the wood or the leaves because I stole that from you with the monochrome conversion. That’s how I roll these days!

I loved this scene. An awesome tree, some cool rocky terrain, gorgeous, textured clouds and that fantastic monsoon downpour off on the left horizon. What more could this guy ask for?

Lightning. Yes. Wish there was a lightning strike in there somewhere. But ah well…can’t have everything.

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.

Life is Beautiful

(click to see on black // canon 5d mark ii, canon 35mm 1.3, f/1.6, iso 2000, 1/80 // buy print)

It’s that time of the week again…time for Movie Title Wednesday. When I looked at this image thinking I’d use it for the weekly film series, the first title that popped into my head was Life is Beautiful.

What’s kind of weird about that was I couldn’t remember a single reason WHY I connected a bicycle with that film. The movie came out in 1997, so that’s fourteen years ago and I don’t remember much about it at all. But then I Googled “Top 10 Bike Movies” and it was on almost every list. So obviously I remembered something from that movie.

So what I do recall about Life is Beautiful was that it was an amazing, powerful film. The first real movie I watched with subtitles. And I remember afterwards telling my wife that about a 1/3 of the way through the movie it suddenly felt as if you weren’t reading anymore…like you almost forgot it was in subtitles. And I remember it being sad and probably getting a bit of dust in my eyes at the end.

Of course, my bigger memory is the star of the film, Roberto Benigni (who won Best Actor), at the Oscars making his way to the front by walking across the chairs instead of the aisle. His acceptance speech was one of the most memorable in history. I’d love to watch Life is Beautiful again, but it’s kind of like Schnidler’s List to me…it’s always hard to re-watch those gut-wrenching Holocaust movies.

Now, about the picture…what is it about bicycles that are so interesting? When I was in Amsterdam, or anywhere in Holland or Belgium really…if I saw a bike, I wanted to take a picture of it. Old bikes against old brick walls…a hundred bikes lining a canal…an alleyway with…yup…bikes.

I saw this one outside the New City Studio gallery this past First Friday in downtown Phoenix and I had to shoot it. I really dug how the light was almost like a spotlight on the bike and then how it falls off everywhere else. Definitely had to crank up the ISO on this shot, but I love the feel.

Crashdown

(click to view on black // canon 5d mark ii, canon 70-210 f/4, 125mm, f/8, iso 200, 20 sec // buy print)

One of my favorite characters from the recent epic sci-fi series Battlestar Galactica was a guy named Crashdown played by Alex Quartararo Sam Witwer (totally got his name wrong last week when I posted this). I wont tell you how long he was on the show, or what his fate was, but I always remembered him mostly because I thought the actor was pretty cool. So I was thrilled to see him appear as one of the leads on SyFy’s new Being Human series, about vampires, ghosts, werewolves…stuff like that. I absolutely LOVE that show by the way, can’t go wrong with it.

And if you are a sci-fi junkie and haven’t seen Battlestar Galactica yet…take a chance on it. Anyone I’ve told about it has been happy they watched it.

So that was a whole lot of TV blabber just to say I wanted to use the title Crashdown for this image. This was taken this past Tuesday evening, the same as Purple Rain. I had been driving along 387 north of Casa Grande watching for the lightning to hopefully start up when I see it suddenly strike behind this radio/tv/whatever antenna. I saw the composition in my head immediately, slammed on the brakes, grabbed the 70-210mm and put that thing large as life in the frame.

I was just astounded at the number of strikes I got with this antenna in the composition. I’m also intrigued by the intensity of of the lightning I’ve captured over Casa Grande. Both times I’ve been here it’s been all kinds of powerful and epic. You may remember this other one called Chaos of Light.

Almost makes you wonder what that little city did to warrant God’s vengeance.

Speed Limit 55

Speed Limit 55 - Arizona Monsoon Lightning

What a day of stormchasing on Friday! All the way south almost to Tucson, when crazy lightning starts happening, but also a lot of rain and tough shooting conditions. We ended up heading back to Phoenix because newer storms were building west of it and we figured that was easier to intercept than chasing them south of Tucson.

Almost looked like this amazing night would turn out to be a bust because I hadn’t gotten a single lightning photo. Then we got to Phoenix and it was still looking grim. But I noticed a darkness growing over South Mountain and after that that skies opened up and we had lightning to shoot in multiple directions!

I found a dry spot just south of Hunt Highway on Gilbert Road, my old stomping grounds, and just fired away.

I have a few similar shots of lightning hitting beyond this road…but only this one has the speed limit sign lit up from a passing car.

(canon 5d mark ii, canon 50mm 1.4, f/5.6, iso 100, 30 sec – buy print)

The Dark Knight

Lightning West of Sedona Arizona

(please click to view on black and so it fits your screen)

The holiday on Monday totally threw me off, so you’re getting the lesser known Movie Title Thursday this week!

Boom. The Dark Knight. Probably my favorite superhero movie of all-time. Watching Heath Ledger play the Joker is something I never get tired of seeing. The guy was amazing. Anytime I’ve turned this movie on, I’m automatically sucked in the second I see him on the screen. Coupled with Batman Begins, these have to be two of the best comic book movies ever. One can only hope the third and final entry from Christopher Nolan and Christian Bale leaves us wanting more.

I captured this lightning strike back on July 10th west of Sedona on Highway 89A. I’ve shot a lot of lightning this summer, but this is one of my favs. It’s been the background image on my iPhone ever since I processed it. I don’t know why, but it’s just so beautiful. Dark, menacing clouds at the top…a slow, curved strike and a dark silhouette of a foreground. It’s just perfect to me. And I don’t mean the photograph…I mean nature itself…the strike. The way it looks.

So many times we see a strike with our naked eye, we exclaim “wow!” and then it’s gone. We never see it again. I think that’s why I love this kind of photography. We get to capture something that will never be seen again and you never know what it will look like when it happens.

(canon 5d mark ii, canon 85mm 1.8, f/5.6, iso 200, 30 sec – buy print)

The stormy skies of Arizona

Storming in Arizona - Monsoons

(Click to see larger on a black background)

There is no doubt that Arizona has some of the best skies anywhere in the country, especially during the monsoon season. The desert landscapes, mountains, terrain…they all work together with the clouds to create amazing views. Certainly we don’t get the awesome supercells that the midwest sees, but they get stuck with a lot of the same farmlands and wheat fields most of the time. The diversity of Arizona is incredible.

This monsoon season has been completely opposite of last year for me. I have just a sick amount of lightning shots, but not that many storm images. Last season I had all kinds of sunsets, storm clouds, silhouettes and other kinds of images that I just haven’t gotten this year. I think living in downtown Phoenix has caused that a bit…because last year I could leave just before sunset and be in the desert within five minutes, but now it takes over 30 to get anywhere without population.

Today though there is a great chance of storms and I’m planning on a long excursion starting around noon in southern Arizona to hopefully capture some awesome clouds and storm structures…and of course finish the day off with some lightning photography.

This image was shot back on July 9th somewhere between Phoenix and Sedona on a random dirt road. Although I love shooting lightning, these kinds of vistas are what I long for. Although I really love massive thunderheads…I still enjoy capturing dark clouds and rain falling on the deserts.

(exif: canon 5d mark ii, tamron 17-35mm 2.8, 17mm, iso 100, f/22, 1/25 – buy print)

Vortex of Electricity

We return to last Thursday night just above Casa Grande on highway 387 north of the city. A great spot for an elevated position over the city, the second I arrived and got setup, the light show went nuts. I think I have at least 3-4 keepers just from a 20 minute span here and that didn’t count a couple I got early on the south edges of Phoenix.

These first few shots I got here were kind of special though. Yes, the Chaos of Light I posted last week was pretty dang intense and probably the best of the bunch, but this shot has the early visual of the microburst going on with this storm cell. You can see the rain falling and a weird fog hovering over the city. That is either rain or dust, but I believe it’s probably a bit of a mixture. I also love the cone-shaped cloud that the lightning is coming out of…almost like some kind of vortex.

The photo below is a bit grainy, but you can really see what a microburst does. Rain falls out of the cloud with an intense downburst, and then the wind explodes in all directions. A microburst can create winds up to 100mph at times in a very isolated spot. When people ask how come we get all these dust storms in Phoenix, or what creates them…this is it. Downdrafts/microburst that create strong winds that kick up the dust and flow outwards for great distances. You get a bunch of these together and suddenly they form a huge wall of dust 70 miles long.

Last year I posted a series of images that was called “The Birth of a Dust Storm“…if you want to see a bit more.

Arizona Monsoon Microburst

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)