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Isolated

Impact
(please click to view on black // canon 5d mark ii, canon 50mm 1.4, iso 200, f/6.3, 25 sec // buy print)

Last summer I decided to take a few of my favorite, semi-isolated lightning strikes and turn them into a black & white, “square” collection just for fun. I’ve seen another guy’s work where his lightning strikes are almost solely square crops and I dig that style.

I’ve posted a few already since the monsoon season ended in 2012 (click here to see the others), but I think this is my favorite of the bunch.

I am not sure I can really tell you why either. I know that I love being up high and seeing lightning strike between mountains. That is something I always strive for. It gives a sense of distance and power. But what I also love about this one is the clouds above the strike. I would have a hard time describing to someone the specific kinds of clouds I like when I storm chase, but there is something about these coupled with the strike that I find awesome.

This was from east of Mammoth, Arizona last year…that single storm churned out about three of my favorite lightning images from 2012.

 

The lonely road

Distant Thunder
(please click to view on black // canon 5d mark ii, canon 50mm f/1.4, iso 200, f/6.3, 25 sec // buy print)

There is a sister image that goes along with this one. That one was shot about four minutes after this one and included a lucky capture of car tail lights along with five bolts of lightning. Loved it.

I liked this shot too even if it didn’t have all the drama of the other one. In a way though…the empty road lit up by lightning is dramatic in of itself. This isolated, solitary road on the way to Mammoth, Arizona…kind of gives you the feeling I had that night. Pulled off in-between merging highways, 11:15pm…in the middle of nowhere. Sometimes chasing storms and lightning late into the night (or even early morning hours) can get lonely. I mean, I love it…and prefer it this way…but there are times when you stop, look around and realize how much you are alone in a strange part of Arizona.

A few more lightning images left from last summer…they will be trickling out as we near the start of the monsoon in June!

 

Morning on the Apache Trail

Saguaro Morning
(please click to view larger on black // canon 5d mark ii, canon 35mm f/1.4 l, f/5.0, iso 200, 1/800th // buy print)

Sometimes it’s hard to believe I live in a state with scenery like this. You take it for granted. I know I have at times.

This image was shot along the Apache Trail in the Superstition Mountains on the way to Roosevelt Lake in late December. I cannot recall a time I ever drove down this road. And it’s not a true road after awhile…the pavement ends and it’s dirt for the next 20+ miles. It was stunningly beautiful, especially on this morning. It was after an overnight winter storm and these clouds were being created “orographically” and ended up dropping snow in the higher elevations during our drive. We even got pelted with a bit of tiny hail further into the hills.

The light was fairly amazing as it poked out from all the clouds and there is nothing more beautiful than Saguaro cactus in the early morning hours.

Fork

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

I’ve been trying to do some housekeeping this month since it’s been a bit slow and the crazy amount of weddings I have through spring haven’t started yet. I’m a lot better about deleting photos I know I’ll never work on. As time goes by, your feelings change and what you like now might mean you don’t like shots you took then. I’ve gotten last year pretty much cleaned and so I went back to 2011.

And found this little guy sitting there with 4 stars meaning I intended to edit it someday and never did. At the time the reason was that I already had two other shots from this angle that were downright rad. But when I saw this one…I was like, this guy is rad too, why did he get left out?

Processed it over the weekend and am dropping it now. This is on Gilbert Road south of Hunt Highway taken on September 10th, 2011. The lightning was super intense on this storm that battered Chandler. Was an awesome night.

Top to bottom

(please click to view on black // canon 5d mark ii, canon 50mm 1.4, f/6.3, iso 250, 20 sec // buy print)

One of my favorite kinds of lightning shots are from a distance when you can see the entire profile of a thunderhead. If you can capture the strike coming out from the cloud and then hitting the ground…well, it’s just a fantastic display of nature. I’ve seen quite a few of those floating around from my storm chasing friends but I never have quite been able to capture it that way that I wanted.

This one is about the closest I’ve come to it. A twenty second exposure, you can see the one strike on the left actually originate near the top of the thunderhead, curve to the left, burst through the ceiling of clouds and then hit the ground. Was an amazing storm to watch as it crossed interstate 8 from the north. The mushrooming clouds were absolutely sick and I kept praying to get a great shot.

Taken on September 4th, this was a week before the season ended. I kind of miss it already, but am loving being neck deep in family and wedding photography right now!

 

 

A barrage of lightning over Phoenix

The amount of times I’ve stacked lightning images to create one mega-photograph can be counted on a single hand. And this is the first time I’ve ever posted one.

I was never a fan of stacked lightning shots until I saw an amazing one by Dan Ransom and then Justin Terveen’s image from Dallas. Suddenly I was like…okay, they CAN be interested in the right context.

For me personally…this image is the result of all the individual shots being kind of boring. I’d never post one by itself because it lacked awesomeness.

But together…they kind of show you the power of a monsoon thunderstorm. This is a stack of 12 images over the course of 10 minutes. Looking north from 7th street near McDowell.

 

Back to the Future II

(please click to see on black // canon 5d mark ii, canon 50mm 1.4, f/6.3, iso 200, 25 sec // buy print)

I wanted to do a Movie Title Wednesday, but since I released the new website/branding yesterday, this post got bumped until today. I’ve already used Back to the Future as a movie, so I believe this is the first time ever I’ve gone with a sequel!

Usually when there is lightning to photograph, I’m out and about in the early evening getting to where I need to be. But on Monday night, I didn’t leave the house until almost 9pm. We had chilled with friends for dinner and when I got home, I realized a pretty substantial outflow was marching northwest from southeast Arizona.

I expected to be shooting around the Tucson area, maybe south of it, but as I got near, the storms to the east were going nuts and everything south was dying. I ended up traveling along highway 77 through the town of Mammoth for the first time ever. And basically followed this storm all the way back north-northwest to Superior.

Ended up not getting home until after 2am. Was a fun night. Especially when you get a shot like this.

This is a single 25-second exposure. The route was pretty low on traffic, so the odds of snagging some light trails along with five bolts in one frame must have been crazy high.

I figured Back to the Future II worked here…the light trails being like fire trails, and the lightning strikes providing 1.21 gigawatts of awesomeness.  Huge fan of those films. Although #2 is kind of the weaker one IMHO.

A lightning strike near Eloy

A lightning strike near Eloy, Arizona

(please click to view on black // canon 5d mark ii, canon 50mm 1.4, f/16, iso 250, 5 sec // buy print)

July 3rd felt like the first real day of storm chasing. We were out late in the afternoon, watched a cell build up and drop a bunch of rain near Casa Grande, even helped some people who flipped their car they hydroplaned on Interstate 8.

Yeah, that accident was a bit surreal to say the least. We missed it by roughly 10 seconds, and by the time I pulled over to help, the couple was crawling out of their vehicle. But their Honda was upside down in the median. Crazy. The girl called her mother first, so I called  911. They were totally fine.

Later on, the sun went down and the sky got dark. I had planned to hit Tucson, but the storms right here in Eloy were perfect. Finally was able to shoot some lightning via long exposure for the first time this year. Always a good feeling.

Got a couple of okay images, nothing earth shattering, but here’s one from the night.

Hoping to get a few more days in before Sunday when we hit our week-long vacation to Missouri.

A little Colorado mothership

(please click to view on black // canon 5d mark ii, canon 50mm 1.4, iso 200, f/8, 1/250th // buy print)

When it comes to stormchasing, one thing that Arizona lacks 95% of the time is iconic storm structures from supercells. Don’t get me wrong…they are beautiful and fun to photograph. But in Arizona, our storms tend to build up, drop a ton of rain and lightning, and then die out. If you don’t know what a supercell is…sometimes a storm cell is so intense and powerful, that it almost becomes it own entity. It’s rotating, pulling in gobs of moisture…and most of all, it moves across the land like a low-flying spaceship.

Which is why every spring/early summer I try to get out into the central plains to chase these unique storms, because the structures are just so amazing.

This past Saturday I flew to Denver along with a couple of buddies…Matt Granz and Andy Hoeland. We had a whirlwind two-day adventure which saw us drive almost 1500 miles across three states. We started on Saturday in Colorado where severe storms were set to explode over the eastern portions of the state.

We got lucky enough to see the storm above. We waited patiently for it to get closer to us, because the roads out there were a bit scarce. It was overcast and a bit gloomy, so it took a bit of time, but finally the cell we were watching on radar emerged from the dark and we got a good view of it. You can see in the center portion of the image…clouds that look like striations from right to left, going upwards. That indicates rotation in the storm. Also, below those striations is a low hanging cloud…probably just the base, but I think there is a little wall cloud in there too. Hard to tell.

For me…this was the kind of thing I have been trying to photograph. It wasn’t monstrous or epic…but it was fun to watch. I also have a timelapse of this entire scene…so stay tuned for that. You’ll get to see the rotation I’m talking about, and also how the cloud kind of flies low across the ground.

In the upcoming months I’ll be showing more images from this day and the next!

 

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.