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White Tanks

August 14th I was down in Tucson finishing up my second Monsoon Workshop of the summer, and after we broke camp around 11am, I hit Benson first and captured some daytime bolts near there, and then raced up to Phoenix for a nice line of storms moving down off the Mogollon Rim.

As the sun went down, the storms moved through town and I decided to skip all the buildings and blast to the west side to get in front of the outflow boundary. Sure enough, as I got here west of Buckeye, storms exploded over the White Tanks and put on quite a shot of bolts. Love this one, 30-second exposure with a bolt hitting on the east side and then one on the west side near Sun Valley Parkway.

Crazy enough, ended up back on I-8 east of Gila Bend around 1:30am still shooting. What a wild night. Miss it.

The end of the road

End of the Road
(please click to view on black // canon 5d mark iii, canon 50mm f/1.2, f/8, iso 125, 15 sec // buy print)

I love middle of the road shots…but rarely do I get a chance to have lightning bolts striking at the other end! I sat here for a good 15-20 minutes capturing bolt after bolt…and this turned out to be the best of the bunch.

This was back on August 18th out in Buckeye…a night I’ll always remember because of the amount of lightning that I captured in a span of two hours within a 10 square mile area. I barely moved the entire evening.

A dusty sunset in Buckeye

Dusty sunset in Buckeye
(please click to view on black // canon 5d mark iii, rokinon 14mm f/2.8, iso 100, 1/4 sec, f/who knows // buy print)

Nothing is better in photography than happy accidents and unintentional shots you dig. This photo is a big example of that.

As you may know, or not, I love road shots. I want to hunker down just a foot off the road and get an epic photo with a storm in the distance. Just something I enjoy. When you take pictures of storms, it helps to have good foreground elements and roads are usually the easiest thing to come by. But in this case, the road was busy. There was a beautiful sunset happening and a dust storm rolling across the mountains into Buckeye…so of course I wanted the middle of the road. But there were cars coming, so after I set up for a shot, I had to bail before taking a photo.

So I hurried over to the left shoulder, set up the tripod and snapped the shutter anyways. I wanted to get the color in the sky before it was gone. And I ended up loving it because the slow shutter speed added some motion to the truck, which is driving right into the storm.

This was taken back on August 18th in Buckeye along Highway 85. This was the same day an epic haboob rolled through Phoenix and I was way out here shooting a lesser haboob.

Lesser haboob. I love it.

Close

Close
(please click to view on black // canon 5d mark ii, canon 70-200 f/2.8 is l, 200mm, f/6.3, iso 200, 10 sec // buy print)

Rarely do I get to play around when I’m shooting lightning. Usually storms last only so long before you have to run to the next one. That being the case, I tend to try and get my best composition setup and hope for a great strike.

On the 18th though…there was so much lightning and I sat at one spot for so long…I started getting bored and decided to play around. Yeah, bored. Okay, not bored…I mean, it was AMAZING. But in terms of photos…I had enough from a few angles and with the 50mm and the 35mm…so I decided to instead slap on the ol’ zoom and see what happened.

I went to an extreme 200mm focal length and tried to zero in on where I saw some strikes landing. My entire goal here was to just capture the impact area and totally ignore the top 2/3rds of the strike. It’s not always easy to do that because you kinda have to get lucky with a strike in such a small zone.

But it paid off. In fact I have a few of these. I loved this one because you see one of the filaments of the strike off on the left, with no connection to the main bolt. It gives you an idea just how close we are here and also how much higher the bolt actually goes out of frame.

 

A dance at sunset

Arizona Monsoon Lightning
(please click to view on black // canon 5d mark iii, canon 50mm f/1.2 l, f/10, iso 160, 8 sec // buy print)

Two nights ago I was incredibly frustrated with the futility of capturing lightning. Storms were popping up everywhere, in bad spots, I couldn’t get to them in time and even when I did, they died out before any shots were had.

Last night…wow, what difference a day makes.

I sat in one spot for nearly two hours and captured hundreds of strikes. I am not even sure what to do with them all. I’ve never been on a storm that produced that much electricity over a general area for so long. And I’ve never come home from an evening storm chasing with that many photographs of lightning.

There was so much that I started experimenting with using my 70-200mm at full zoom to capture the bottom thirds of strikes just for fun to see how it looked. That never happens. Usually you are in such a hurry to capture whatever you can before the storm dies out that you don’t get to play around too much.

This was just one of the images. Five strikes to the ground in an 8-second exposure. The sunset behind it…the powerlines giving scale…the strikes themselves…definitely one of my all-time favorites already. I rarely do these panoramic crops, but it felt like it was called for here.

More to come!

 

A thundering sunset in Buckeye

Strikes at Sunset

(click image to view on black and so it also fits your monitor // canon 5d mark ii, canon 85mm 1.8, f/10, iso 400, 13 sec // buy print)

Two nights in a row an isolated thunderstorm just appeared over Buckeye…which is west of Phoenix. It’s just kind of a rare thing to see that happen, so the second night I didn’t let it go to waste.

I flew out there and arrived east of Buckeye to shoot this giant storm that kept dropping lightning everywhere. Normally I would get closer, but my goal was to capture not just the lightning, but hopefully the cloud above it. Especially because there was still some fading light from the sun to add to the composition. I decided not to crop this one because I liked the transition of color upwards and the way the lightning comes out of the base of the storm at the very bottom.

Considering this was on the shorter side…only 13 seconds, getting that many strikes was awesome. And there is also something cool about powerplants, powerlines…something electrical being framed with a lightning storm.

Over the Top

Over the Top - Arizona Monsoon Lightning

(click to see on black and for the image to fit your screen)

I knew when I saw this in Lightroom after dumping my card from that night’s excursion, this would end up being a Movie Title Wednesday.

The sole reason I know the song “Meet me Halfway“…is because of Over the Top. I haven’t seen the movie in awhile, but I can still picture Sylvester Stallone using that pulley in his truck to work out while driving across the country with that song playing in the background. I have no idea if critics thought the movie was good or not, but for some reason it left an impact on me. Not sure if it was the father struggling to connect with his son, the arm wrestling, the clips of guys drinking motor oil or eating lighted cigarettes…or whatever…but I remember loving it and even as a kid, getting a little teary-eyed at the end.

I captured this lightning on the evening of August 2nd, a sort of surprise night where I wasn’t even expecting to go out. It was the second night in a row that an isolated storm cell built up just over Buckeye, west of Phoenix. It was strange…because storms usually start in the high country to the NE, or in the SE deserts, and move towards us. Two straight nights a giant cell just pops up over Buckeye for no apparent reason.

I skipped it the first night, but not the second. I could see it exploding from the backyard, so I bolted west and setup with the 85mm to capture some pretty awesome lightning strikes. In fact, that night turned out to be pretty good and I think I ended up with over 20 decent lightning strikes.

This particular one has a little shoot “over the top” of the cloud, hence getting it’s movie name today.

(canon 5d mark ii, canon 85mm 1.8, f/10, iso 250, 30 sec)