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Downpour on the San Tans

San Tan Downpour - Arizona

(click, see larger, dark background, you get the idea)

It’s kind of interesting if you ever go back to just wipe out old RAW files that you realize you’ll never, ever process, so may as well just recover some disk space. While I do usually end up deleting a ton of files, sometimes you discover those that you just plain forgot about. And at the same time, you may have improved your processing techniques enough that suddenly an image that didn’t “move” you before, suddenly speaks to you in a new way.

This shot is from waaaay back on August 17th, 2010, a full year and a handful of days ago. I had been lucky enough to capture this isolated thunderstorm dropping rain over the San Tan Mountains, which were close neighbors of mine until we moved downtown last October.

Snagging moments like this one are up there with my favorites…like lightning, or someday a tornadic supercell. That lonely, solitary storm dropping a heap of rain on a single spot in the desert. It’s kind of what the monsoons are all about out here. Sure, we can get walls of storms that are miles and miles wide…but a lot of the time it’s hit or miss.

(canon rebel xsi, tamron 17-35mm 2.8, 17mm, f/14, iso 100, 1/50th – buy print)

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)

Irrigation

(Click to view with a black background AND so it fits your monitor, unless you have a giant one)

What I love about stormchasing around Arizona is just the random places you find along the way. The farm fields you just happen to be hanging out by for an hour as you watch storms develop over the Catalina Mountains. I never really have plans on where I’m going, I just end up there.

On this day I was with my buddy Ken Peterson and we pulled off to shoot some of the cool clouds, and ended up sitting around at this spot for well over an hour. I shot a timelapse of an awesome downpour on the mountains, so we just hung out for a bit, waiting for the sun to get lower so we could start some lightning shooting.

This was a giant farm area in the middle of the desert, growing some kind of fruit we couldn’t identify. The irrigation canal was so full we couldn’t believe it wasn’t overflowing.

I love lines in my images and this shot was full of them. Powerlines, the canal, the edge of the farm, the road on the left. The main reason I took it was that I liked how it framed the cumulus clouds building off in the distance.

(canon 5d mark ii, tamron 17-35mm 2.8, 17mm, f/16, 1/100th)

The Tweezers

Downtown Phoenix Lightning - August 3rd 2011

(Clickity click…to view on blackity black)

So my daughter has been sick all week with a lovely stomach virus. Not napping well, not sleeping through the night, fevers…lots of good stuff. Apparently that transferred to me yesterday, and I was feeling darn lousy all day. I pretty much lounged around on the couch being a big baby.

Wasn’t even thinking of going out after storms. In fact, the forecast called for NOTHING in the Phoenix area last night. No need to worry right?

Suddenly storms just roll in from all over. I walk outside, look just north and it’s like some kind of epic battle going on with non-stop flashing in 10 different directions. I mosey back inside, lay on the couch and start whining to my wife. I know she’d rather me rest up. But she knows me only too well. After a few minutes, she says “Go out for an hour and then get some sleep.”

I was gone for two. Sorry honey bunch. You rock though.

I thought it was almost a useless trip after a bit, the lightning was just flashing in the clouds and doing a lot of cloud-to-cloud loopty-loos and just not hitting the ground much. I was packing up when I noticed some stuff firing to my south, so I went to the other side of the parking garage I was hanging out in and just watched a storm cross in front of me from right to left.

And finally it let loose with some strikes over the city and made my night.

As for the title…doesn’t the lightning strike look like it’s using a set of tweezers on the city where it lands?

(canon 5d mark ii, tamron 17-35mm 2.8, 26mm, iso 200, f/8.0, 15sec)

Lightning on the 89A

Lightning on the 89A - Sedona, Arizona

(Click to see the image smaller so it fits your screen, or enjoy it on your huge stinking monitor!)

At the start of the year, I had a sort of awakening. I had changed up the way I processed images and discovered the beauty of black and white. It was the work of Mitch Dobrowner that really spoke to me around that time and I vowed to myself that this storm season I’d use a lot less color in my storm photography. Even lightning.

Suddenly it’s the middle of the stormchasing season and I hadn’t done a lick of lightning in B&W. I’ll be honest with you about this. I was kind of scared. I really try hard to be proud and confident of my own vision and processing methods, no matter what people think. But I still hear it and listen when I wish I didn’t.

Some of the lightning I’d posted this summer has gotten nice feedback, but some that jumped out at me were comments like “I love the color” or “My favorite thing about lightning shots is the different colors you get.” Stuff like that.

Believe it or not, it made me do a double-take on a B&W conversion. Plus I tried it a few times and never liked the results.

Fast-forward to this past weekend and a comment I got on 500px from Drew Medlin. He said something along the lines of “you’ve got the lightning, now focus on composition, foreground/background elements…” Yeah, I was a bit bent at first. Sounded a bit too forward to me. So I visited his page.

And realized he knew what he was talking about. His lightning shots were amazing. And they were in black and white. Boom, it brought me screaming back to where I was at the beginning of the year. WHY was I afraid of this? Look at the beauty Drew was showing through his work. It just reassured me that my original vision in January was on target.

I have no problem in this business letting people know where I get the inspiration that changes the way I do things. I think it’s important to acknowledge things like that. The fact is, Drew gave me a kick to the gut and I’m forever grateful for that. Thanks man.

Please check out his website and follow him on 500px.

I ended up dabbling a bit in different processing methods until I got happy with what I ended up with. And I just dig it. I love the starkness and power you get from an image in B&W anyways, now throw in some lightning and it moves me.

Hope all that made some sense. This shot was taken back on the 10th of July up in Sedona, a bit west of town along State Route 89A.

(canon 5d mark ii, canon 85mm 1.8, f/5.6, iso 100, 30 sec)

Sunsets and Strikes

Downtown Phoenix Monsoon Sunset

(click on the images to view in lightbox)

This season of stormchasing has been amazing so far. July is now in the books and yet the stuff I’ve seen already this summer has been just awesome. A lot of that has to do with just BEING out there more than last year, but I feel like there have just been some epic scenes that I’ve been lucky to witness. For example, last night I had planned to stay in town and just shoot lightning if it moved into Phoenix in the evening. Our daughter has been sick and Sunday was pretty rough. Not a lot of sleep for anyone in our little house. So when she finally went to sleep and I saw this massive storm approaching town, I was happy that I was in town and not out chasing in the deserts. Beauty exists everywhere, even in the middle of a giant mess of buildings and asphalt. I visited a new parking garage last night, a taller one with very friendly security guards who were more concerned that I get good shots than caring if I was up there at all! Almost a 360 view of Phoenix from the top, so I’ll probably check it out a few more times. I shot a timelapse of this sunset and will be processing it sometime soon. You’ve got some simply stunning colors, mammatus clouds, and a dust storm on the left horizon. I’m including a bonus lightning shot from last night because I’ve captured so much lightning already this year, there is no way I’ll be able to post them all this summer. Also, you’ll notice it’s in B&W and I plan on writing about that sometime this week. (top image: canon 5d mark ii, tamron 17-35mm 2.8, 17mm, f/8, iso 100, 1.6sec. bottom: canon 85mm 1.8, f/8.0. iso 200, 20 sec)

The rainy desert

Storms on Table Mesa - Arizona Monsoon

I love black and white photography. Earlier this year I made a promise to myself that I would endeavor to do a lot more B&W this summer during stormchasing. What’s kind of happened is that I’m really enjoying colors. I’ll try it without any color and will usually end up going back.

This one, however, I really liked with some harsh black and white processing.

Rain falling on the desert, some beautiful textures in the clouds…and a single peak (hard to see) on the left horizon shrouded in light from the sun.

It’s hard to beat capturing the stormy skies of the desert down here in Arizona.

(canon 5d mark ii, canon 17-40mm f/4, iso 100, 17mm, f/18, 1/40sec)

Kamp Two Guns

Old Campground at Two Guns Arizona

This is another image from our April 2nd trip to northern Arizona when we hit up the ghost town of Two Guns in the morning, then Grand Falls in the afternoon.

Two Guns was very close to this structure, but we’re confident it came well after that old town disappeared. “Kamp” used to be an old RV campground and you could still see the areas where those vehicles would park for the night. This building had restrooms in it and might have been the check-in office for the entire place. Now it’s a mess, with a lot of graffiti all over the walls, floors, ceiling and even a nearby empty swimming pool.

As I’ve said before, I love the clouds up in northern Arizona and we definitely got lucky on this day to have them aplenty.

(exif: canon 5d mark ii, tamron 17-35mm 2.8, 17mm, iso 100, f/13, 1/60)

Up in the Air

Clouds storm updraft airplanes

(Click to see the image full-sized or so it fits your monitor)

It’s another Movie Title Wednesday and this one comes from the sky and a Southwest Airlines window seat. I can’t tell you how lucky I was to sit on this site of the plane…the other side I believe didn’t get to see the action in the clouds that I did.

First off…Up in the Air. A fantastic film starring George Clooney, Vera Farmiga and Anna Kendrick. It’s such a brilliant film and really tells the story of what it’s like for some of these guys who are constantly and always traveling. It kind of resonates just a teeny bit with my frequency of work trips to Vegas lately. They never are home enough to even have a home, so their apartments sit empty aside from a few items and their main concern in life is how many miles they’ve collected. The job Clooney has is a brutal one and I can’t image ever doing that. I loved the film. Kendrick was brilliant as well, never really noticed her before until this movie. Check it out if you haven’t.

There is a memory I have from sometime in the past, maybe when I was younger, of being in a plane and suddenly passing by a towering thunderhead off the wing of the plane. There is something about your aircraft being 37,000 feet (or so) in the air and then passing by something that makes you feel so small. I’ve always remembered seeing that cloud and everytime I get on a plane, I’m wishing for that to happen again.

So of course, last week was awesome. The plane weaving through these treacherous skies, giant clouds exploding all around us. This one above was absolutely beautiful and could have been a supercell. Hard to tell from the ground, but the height was impressive.  I love this photo with just a bit of the wing making an appearance in the bottom right to get you an idea of scale.

Something that kind of befuddles me though. The shot is at ISO 100, but there is a lot of noise in the clouds. Might have been because of shooting through a window, but it’s still a bit strange.

I actually like the noise. And I’ve learned to accept a bit of grain in my images. I’ve noticed a few times when I’ve printed an photo with noise, it really doesn’t show up as much as it does on my computer screen. Also…using any noise reducer would have destroyed the gorgeous textures these clouds have going on.

(exif: canon eos 5d mark ii, tamron 17-35mm 2.8, 35mm, iso 100, f/8, 1/320th)

 

 

A lamp post in Winslow, Arizona

(Click to view larger or fit to your screen depending on your resolution)

This is set to be a crazy week for me. In Vegas for work until Wednesday night, then we’re off to Memphis for a family vacation on Thursday.  Lots of plane rides, driving…but I can’t wait to see the rest of our fam in Tennessee.

And who knows…maybe the failure to find storms last week will someone materialize while I’m in Memphis right?

This is another photograph from our trip up north to Two Guns/Grand Falls back on April 2nd. The clouds were just stupendous that day and they helped enhance almost any picture we took. We stopped by Winslow on our little trip and explored some random areas in town. I loved this lamp post, but mainly because of those fluffy white things floating in the sky.

(exif info: canon eos 5d mark ii, tamron 17-35mm 2.8, f/16, 27mm, 1/50th)