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Horizon

Flames on the Horizon

(please click to view on black // canon 5d mark ii, canon 70-200 2.8 l, 200mm, f/10, iso 100, 1 sec // buy print)

Back in December, we had quite a few winter storms blow through the state which left snow on the outlying desert peaks. On the evening I took this photo, I had met up with a bunch of photographer buddies, like Bryan Snider, Jon Stolarski, Chris Frailey and the awesome duo from Surefire Photos, Sean and Michelle Freeney.

We all were hoping for a gorgeous Four Peaks sunset. But the clouds were too low and never broke. So slowly everyone bailed to head home. As I was leaving though, the sky to the west kind of went supernova. I grabbed the 70-200 and went running through the desert trying to frame a perfect foreground against this epic sky. Nothing quite so beautiful as low, ground-hugging clouds and an Arizona sunset.

Processed this one using my VSCO Film presets and really loved the color I got from it.

A gaggle of Cholla

(please click to view on black // canon 5d mark ii, canon 17-40 f/4 l, 17mm, iso 100, f/22, 0.6sec // buy print)

No, a bunch of Cholla cactus grouped together isn’t called a gaggle. But I always liked that word and felt like using it today. Sure, it usually refers to a flock of geese that are actually not flying, but according to Dictionary.com, it can also mean an assortment of related things.

Feeling like that was a bunch of useless information and curious why I decided to share that with you?

Me too.

We’ve had an incredibly busy, stressful and amazing week. So much has happened with our pending adoption that we haven’t had much time to think, let alone rest much.

So when I saw the rainy clouds rolling into Phoenix yesterday afternoon, it felt like a perfect opportunity to take  a break, throw Lyla in the truck and go for a drive. The clouds weren’t actually dropping rain, but there was “virga” hanging off the bottoms, and I knew when the sun went down, all that virga would just get lit up like a Christmas tree.

Cholla cactus are notorious for capturing light in their needles. It’s one of the more beautiful things about the desert. And one of the most ironic. When they aren’t looking all gorgeous with light, those needles can bore themselves through your shoes, your jeans, your clothes and embed themselves right in your skin. And also they are quite painful.

But when they look like this…you just think…”awwww, they are so cute.

Anyways. This image is pretty tall on the blog, so clicking on it will make it fit to your screen. Also looks a bit better!

Happy Friday everyone.

The Three Watchmen

(please click to view on black // canon 5d mark ii, canon 35mm 1.4 l, f/22, iso 200, 1/4 sec // buy print)

There is something majestic about the Saguaro cactus. When they stand by themselves, or even in a group of three…they make me think of something ancient…guardians of the world. Almost like Ents from Lord of the Rings.

Ooops, there’s my nerdy side.

I was driving down this road chasing a gorgeous storm coming in over the Bradshaw Mountains when I spotted these guys. I just loved, loved, loved the composition with the storm in the background, so I set up and prayed that I’d capture a strike.

This was one of those “I hope I get lucky shots” where I had to employ rapid fire with the camera because it was still so light out.

Well, I did get lucky and couldn’t have asked for a better placed lightning bolt.

One of my favs from 2011.

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.

Before Sunset

(click to view on black // canon 5d mark ii, tamron 17-35mm 2.8, 17mm, iso 100, f/20, 1/5 // buy print)

Yesterday afternoon I had a  conference call that was scheduled to run to 5:30. I was praying it got over early, because the snow on the Four Peaks was amazing and I knew I had to get out there again for sunset.

As luck would have it, the call ended at 4pm and I was bolting for the door. Camera gear, Lyla…her stuff, her DVD player…all of it. We both flew up the Beeline Highway to meet up with my fellow photogs Chris Frailey and Bryan Snider (see Bryan’s pics from last night right here!). I ran into them on Four Peaks Road, but as we usually try to do when we meet up…we went our own ways so that we all don’t end up with the same images.

I had a feeling these low hanging clouds would just ignite with color when the light hit them right, and sure enough…it was one of those absolutely stunning Arizona sunsets. I was in the truck looking for a great spot when I saw this majestic Saguaro still being hit with light atop this hill. You can even see the spikey yucca on the right getting a bit of light too as the sun was almost level with the hill I was standing on.

And if you can’t immediately see them, the Four Peaks sit on the right horizon, covered in clouds and snow.

I love this area of Arizona and I never get sick of the snowy Peaks. I could shoot them everyday.

 

An evening out at Four Peaks

The last six weeks have been filled with nothing but photoshoots, which has been absolutely amazing and huge for me. I’m so excited about where things are headed .

But it also left little time for me to get out of the house to shoot other things. And I missed that. So on Monday when there were reports of snow on the outlying deserts, I packed up the car, including my daughter, and made a beeline for…well, the Beeline Highway. And the Four Peaks area.

The sky was magnificent of course, the Peaks had snow, the desert was gorgeous and the air was a chilly 40 degrees. It was awesome to just be out in nature again after the six week hiatus.

So here are some shots from the evening. You will likely notice a different feel to these. Recently for my portrait/wedding work, I’ve switched my processing over to a toolset called VSCO Film. I used a few of their presets and combined them with my own tweaks to come up with something I just love. It’s been fantastic for all the photoshoots, I absolutely dig how my images are looking these days.

But I wanted to try that same kind of film style on these desert images. And I love it. Truly. It’s actually created a debate in my head on how I want to do this kind of thing going forward.

Regardless, I hope you enjoy them. I used three lenses for these shots below…the Tammy 17-35 2.8, Canon 35 1.4 and Canon 70-200 2.8.

(click to view these on black if you want, and roll through the slideshow)

The next two were taken using the 35mm 1.4 wide open…and I friggin’ love the subtle depth of field.

Had to include this shot of my daughter…bundled up, playing A-Breaker on the iPhone!

Four Peaks

Evening at Four Peaks

(click to view on black // canon 5d mark ii, canon 70-200 2.8 is l, 115mm, f/14, iso 100, 0.5 sec // buy print)

It’s been awhile since I posted a landscape or weather photo on the blog, and even longer since I’ve actually been out shooting that stuff.

But an early winter storm woke me up a bit and the reports of snow on the outlying areas of town Monday morning kicked me into gear. I picked up Lyla from the sitter just after 3pm and we made our way towards Horseshoe Lake, where I had seen snow earlier on the news. But it seemed to have mostly melted by the time we made it up to Scottsdale. At the same time, I could see the Four Peaks standing mightily, covered in snow…so we braved rush hour traffic to get all the way to the Beeline Highway.

There were some incredible clouds around before sunset, but sadly they moved off too quickly for me to get into this composition. But we were still left with those gorgeous peaks, a nice dusting of snow and of course, those stoic saguaro cacti.

I’m vowing to drive up to the top of those peaks the next time we get a good winter storm. Never been there, but I’ve heard it’s awesome.

Leaning

Leaning - Arizona Monsoon Lightning

(click to view on black // canon 5d mark ii, tamron 17-35mm 2.8, 17mm, f/22, iso 400, 5 sec // buy print)

The thing about wide angle lenses is that they give you the perception that things are far away. Like these lightning strikes. They probably were a decent distance aways, but I was hanging in there and hanging in there hoping to get a photo with strikes as big as possible. I was ducking down, hunched over as the storm crawled towards me and the lightning going nuts all over.

This was not just a normal thunderstorm…this was a severe warned cell down in Tucson and therefore intense. The clouds that I had just shot off to the left were some of the spookiest I’ve ever seen in Arizona and I’ll post those sometime soon.

The Saguaro on the left…that isn’t the fault of the lens, it was just a leaning cactus.

Probably one of my favorite images from the season. A mean, beautiful looking storm with unusual colors, gorgeous textures, lightning strikes and a well-lit desert foreground to display the awesomeness of Arizona.

A sunset near Tucson

Lightning Sunset in Tucson

(click to see on black // canon 5d mark ii, tamron 17-35mm 2.8, 18mm, f/22, iso 250, 6 sec // buy print)

Saturday was a blast. I left the house early in the afternoon, probably between 12 and 1. I headed south where I knew it was going to be an active day and sure enough…by the time I get down to Picacho Peak, I’m on the first severe warned storm of the day. Not only that, about an hour later, as I’m still chasing it…the cell gets tornado warned.

I never saw a funnel, but I had fun just following the thing, seeing epic lightning striking all around the desert, getting awesome views down into the valley north of Catalina and pretty much just enjoying a relaxing day in the amazing Arizona weather.

The above image was taken on the north side of Tucson right at sunset. Again, for a shot like this, with daylight left and no lightning trigger…cranking the camera to f/22, plus upping the ISO lets you take some longer exposures despite the time of day. And even with that, I had to take about 35 shots to get the perfect strike, plus wait for it to get closer and closer.

I loved the clouds and the way they are kind of like waves in the sky. This storm moving across Tucson had some pretty amazing cloudscapes that I’m not used to seeing in Arizona and I’ll post some of those at a later time.

On another note…Saturday was probably the longest chase I’ve done in Arizona. 375 miles. I was down south in Tucson when the storms started popping up in Phoenix, and dying where I was, so I raced all the way through Phoenix, up the Beeline when things really ended up dead. But I did end up with a single lightning shot from that long trip towards Payson that I’m pretty excited about.

All in all…worth the miles. And I gotta give props to Vera, my 4Runner…she’s been amazing the last few days!