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The Cottonwood Meso

Seeing something like this in Arizona is super special, because sculpted mesocyclones like this one are kinda rare. It was amazing to watch this storm spin off the mountains, split apart and suddenly see this gorgeous meso that looked like something you'd see out on the plains during the spring.

What a day this one turned out to be. Definitely one of the top scenes of the summer for me in Arizona. I had been chasing around the Camp Verde area earlier and saw a little rotating storm, then headed north of Cottonwood to watch this one roll off the mountains. It was a bigger cell earlier but as it came over the mountains, it split into two and the left side suddenly became this brief but gorgeously sculpted mesoclyclone. I was freaking out at the time and I have the entire genesis of the storm on time-lapse (which you can see in my Monsoon II film).

This was a shot with my third camera and a lightning trigger…you can make out the bolt there on the right side of the cell.

Hoping to get lucky and see more of this kind of thing next summer!

Rapid City III

Another lightning bolt from that beautiful supercell on June 1st over Rapid City, South Dakota. The storm was dying out at this stage, but the lightning was incredible, especially viewing it from up high. So thankful again to my buddy James Langford for guiding me up to the top via cell phone.

Another lightning bolt from that beautiful supercell on June 1st over Rapid City, South Dakota. The storm was dying out at this stage, but the lightning was incredible, especially viewing it from up high. So thankful again to my buddy James Langford for guiding me up to the top via cell phone.

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Clear Air

Sometimes it's obvious where you aim your camera when you photograph lightning in Arizona, mainly near the rain shaft is generally where you'll see the most. But when one fires behind it and it's super close...you turn your camera and hope to get lucky again. I caught two more, this was one. A gorgeous, clear air strike out over the dry lake bed near Willcox, Arizona on July 11th, 2015.
(click to view on black // canon 5d mark iii, canon 35mm f/1.4 l, iso 100, f/9.0, 10 sec // buy prints)

Sometimes it’s obvious where you aim your camera when you photograph lightning in Arizona, mainly near the rain shaft is generally where you’ll see the most. But when one fires behind it and it’s super close…you turn your camera and hope to get lucky again. I caught two more, this was one. A gorgeous, clear air strike out over the dry lake bed near Willcox, Arizona on July 11th, 2015.

More to come from this past summer!

The Growler

Probably my favorite photo from spending 14 days on the plains in the spring of 2015. This intense, nasty looking supercell was approaching Lamar, Colorado with a tornado warning and huge hail. This was an image I didn't even edit or remember I had taken until well into the summer. What a surprise to stumble upon it.
(please click to view on black // canon 5d mark iii, canon 16-35mm f/2.8 l, iso 100, 16mm, f/5, 1/50th // buy print)

Sometimes an image is so important to you, so special, that you almost never want to share it. Fear maybe? That you will be the only one who loves it? Or once you share it, the rest of your current work waiting for the light of day just pales in comparison?

For me, it’s both. And maybe some other, more personal reasons. I never want to tell people how to feel about my photos. I want them to discover it on their own. So I rarely try to build up an image as one of my best or favorites.

But this one. This one. I didn’t even know I had it for awhile. It didn’t jump out at me at first because it was a quick snap from the road as we stopped for a second to evaluate things. I knew I took it for a reason, but on my computer, the RAW file was flat. One day late this summer, I saw it again and stared at it and was like…how did I miss this??

These are the images I want to capture. A storm’s raw emotion. It’s anger. It’s beauty. The textures, the motion, the crazy colors…and the simple landscape.

This is why I love what I do. I hope you enjoy this one. It’s the best thing I’ve done this year.

(South of Lamar, Colorado, May 24th, 2015)

PS. I will be doing a screencast soon on how I edited this one, if you subscribe to my newsletter, you will get notified when it’s available. Do that right here.

Thor’s Landing

An early morning thunderstorm over the Superstition Mountains on July 3rd delivered a couple of magical lightning strikes. This one in particular is one of my favorites...a single, powerful bolt landing at almost the highest point of the mountain. I'm a huge comic book fan and if anything looked like the arrival of Thor from Asgard, this is it.
(please click to view on black // canon 5d mark iii, canon 50mm f/1.2 l, iso 160, f/9.0, 10 sec // buy prints)

An early morning thunderstorm over the Superstition Mountains on July 3rd delivered a couple of magical lightning strikes. This one in particular is one of my favorites…a single, powerful bolt landing at almost the highest point of the mountain. I’m a huge comic book fan and if anything looked like the arrival of Thor from Asgard, this is it.

Inferno

Inferno
(please click to view on black // canon 5d mark ii, canon 16-35mm f/2.8 l, 16mm, f/10, iso 100, 0.5 sec // buy print)

I’ve made quite a few trips to the Grand Canyon this year and last, but never have I seen the color and sky like I did a week ago. I went up there of course hoping for lightning, which never materialized…but this blazing sunset was such a treat it made up for everything!

Someday I’ll get the storms I want over that place, but in the meantime…I’ll take a sunset like that!

End of the Rainbow

A powerful thunderstorm that dropped heavy rain and pea-sized hail moves off over Dead Indian Canyon along the Little Colorado River. This canyon eventually connects to the Grand Canyon. As the storm departs, water runs through the desert and a stunning rainbow seems to disappear into the canyon itself.
(please click to view on black // canon 5d mark ii, canon 16-35mm f/2.8 l, 16mm, f/8.0, iso 100, 1/80th // buy print)

So many aspects of a storm are amazing to photograph and usually you get stuck wanting to always be in front of it for that awesome structure and lightning and whatnot…but sometimes the departing storm, where you have given up chasing but decide to watch it move off across the landscape…can be just as beautiful.

This was about 14 miles east of the Grand Canyon along the Little Colorado a few days ago. Specifically labeled Dead Indian Canyon on Google Maps…it’s a stunning location. I rode out a pretty good storm along this road, with pea-sized hail and heavy rain…I could see runoff draining through the landscape down to the canyon all over the place. As it moved by though…the sun came out for about a minute and created this beautiful rainbow…and seemingly disappeared into the depths of the canyon.

One of my favorite moments from this summer.

Wilaha

A distant thunderstorm rumbles and throws down tons of bolts west of the small community of Wilaha in northern Arizona.
(please click to view on black // canon 5d mark iii, canon 50mm f/1.2, f/5.6, iso 500, 25 sec, 6-images stacked)

I spent yesterday afternoon up in northern Arizona, hoping to grab some lightning at the Grand Canyon, but of course…that’s an elusive goal and once again it didn’t pan out. But I did see quite a few rotating storms, drove through a great hail storm east of the Canyon, then witnessed a beautiful rainbow over the Little Colorado canyon there, followed up by a gorgeous sunset from Moran Point and then this little isolated storm on my way home towards Williams. It blew up in the distance west of Wilaha, moved closer and closer to me, the bolts were great, but sadly no good west roads and it died out before I was hoping.

Decided to do a 6-image stack of this storm…because it was so distant and any single bolt didn’t seem to do it justice!

For Mary

This was a magical evening and I discovered later that perhaps there was a special reason for it. When I returned home after these storms died out...I discovered that a kind lady named Mary Kathleen Johnson quietly passed away around 5pm that day. This photo was taken two hours later. She was a lover of weather, of storms and of living beneath the gorgeous views of the Catalina Mountains. She was a huge fan of storm chasers and would watch myself and countless others as we live stream our chases. She was such a blessing to everyone. She would help us when we weren't sure of the road network near her house. But mainly she had sent me countless messages of support, not about only my work, but about me personally and my family. I'd like to think that as she left this place, her gift to me at least was this storm and this lightning strike. And so I dedicate this image to you Mary...man you rest in peace.

Last night was a magical evening and I discovered later that perhaps there was a special reason for it. When I returned home after these storms died out…I discovered that a kind lady named Mary Kathleen Johnson had quietly passed away around 5pm that same day . This photo was taken two hours later. She was a lover of weather, of storms and of living beneath the gorgeous views of the Catalina Mountains. She was a huge fan of storm chasers and would watch myself and countless others as we live-streamed our chases. She was such a blessing to everyone. She would even help us when we weren’t sure of the road network near her house.

But mainly she had sent me countless messages of support, not about only my work, but about me personally as a father and my family. Here’s one of her final messages to me, just a month ago:

“Hey Mike, Just wanted to say, 1st video that I had seen that you posted over on Vimeo back in 2011 or 12, took me by surprise & took my breath away. Had to watch it a couple of times,saved it then sent it off to Jeff Beamish.
My best captures could never compare to (if you ever made one) to your worst.

Can’t express enough to you the appreciation, not just me, but so many others of the stunning gifts you provide re nature via your captures.
Respect yourself, Jina and what you have been gifted with.

Thanks again kid, you’ve got it stay on course, pleased as heck for you.”

I can’t believe she’s gone just like that. I’d like to think that as she left this place, her gift to me at least was a beautiful storm and this lightning strike.

And so I dedicate this image to you Mary…may you rest in peace…with the occasional thunderstorm.

The Observer

An incredible, severe thunderstorm late in June, which is early for the monsoon to really get going, explodes over the Santa Rita Mountains. The storm itself looked like a plains supercell at times, even with a brief wall cloud. This lightning bolt is hitting on Mount Hopkins near the Lowell Observatory. The title comes from the little bird somehow flying up high in some crazy intense winds...seemingly having no earthly reason for being there.
(please click to view on black // canon 5d mark iii, canon 50mm f/1.2 l, iso 160, f/8.0, 15 sec // buy print)

An incredible, severe thunderstorm late in June, which is early for the monsoon to really get going, explodes over the Santa Rita Mountains. The storm itself looked like a plains supercell at times, even with a brief wall cloud. This lightning bolt is hitting on Mount Hopkins near the Lowell Observatory. The title comes from the little bird somehow flying up high in some crazy intense winds…seemingly having no earthly reason for being there.