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Hillside

(please click to view on black and fit your screen // canon 5d mark ii, canon 85mm 1.8, f/7.1, iso 200, 8 sec // buy print)

We had some winter storms blown through the state last night, and there was even lightning strikes south of Phoenix in Casa Grande. Needless to say, it got me impatient for the monsoon season to arrive this summer. So I dug up this shot from last July. For those that have a copy of my stormchasing book, you’ve likely already seen it!

It was one of my first experiences shooting lightning down in Tucson and especially the Catalina Mountains. The strikes are just so intense there.

I love this shot. Depending on your monitor and how it’s calibrated…you’ll either see the lower right cactus really well, or not that well. I loved all the layers I got, starting with the Saguaro, then going to the mountain, the strikes, the lower clouds and the flowing ones at the top.

I said it above, but sometimes that text it’s hard to see. These portrait compositions on my blog are HUGE, so click on the image to have it fit your monitor!

Good morning, Kansas

(click to view on black // canon 5d mark ii, canon 85mm 1.8, f/8.0, iso 100, 1/400 // buy print)

Please click on this one to view in the lightbox, I think it looks a lot more accurate.

This photo represents such a beautiful moment for me, it’s an image I’ve held back for awhile, for whatever reason. I took it on the open roads of Kansas the second day of my stormchasing trip to the Midwest this past May.

I had landed in Denver the day before around noon, drove to Nebraska’s northwestern corner…then into South Dakota…then hovered around those two states until maybe 11pm. I knew at some point I had to head south because storms would be popping in southern Kansas the next afternoon and it was about a nine hour drive.

So I was up until around 4 in the morning driving into Kansas. I slept in the back of the car until the alarm went off at 6am. And so I kept driving. It was still a bit dark out, but the light was coming up.

And for some reason…it was hazy almost my entire trip out there.

I’m driving down this road headed for the interstate when I see the sun start rising off to my left. I’m tired. I hadn’t talked to another person in quite awhile. There was this overwhelming sense of freedom deep inside me. I had no rules to follow, no one telling me where to go. I just woke up and started driving.

And then I see the sun outlined against this hazy, Kansas sky. I know we all touch up our photos for color, etc., but all I did here was a tighter crop and some contrast in Lightroom. The sky just looked like it was painted on by an artist. And the silhouette of the wind mill is just what Kansas is about to me.

You’ll notice some faint lines stretching across the image. To the right of the image was a very tall antenna of sorts, with these cables keeping it tied firmly to the ground. I dunno…I didn’t mind them much.

I can’t explain too well the feeling I had while taking this picture…but I know it will stick with me for a long, long time.

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.

The Dark Knight

Lightning West of Sedona Arizona

(please click to view on black and so it fits your screen)

The holiday on Monday totally threw me off, so you’re getting the lesser known Movie Title Thursday this week!

Boom. The Dark Knight. Probably my favorite superhero movie of all-time. Watching Heath Ledger play the Joker is something I never get tired of seeing. The guy was amazing. Anytime I’ve turned this movie on, I’m automatically sucked in the second I see him on the screen. Coupled with Batman Begins, these have to be two of the best comic book movies ever. One can only hope the third and final entry from Christopher Nolan and Christian Bale leaves us wanting more.

I captured this lightning strike back on July 10th west of Sedona on Highway 89A. I’ve shot a lot of lightning this summer, but this is one of my favs. It’s been the background image on my iPhone ever since I processed it. I don’t know why, but it’s just so beautiful. Dark, menacing clouds at the top…a slow, curved strike and a dark silhouette of a foreground. It’s just perfect to me. And I don’t mean the photograph…I mean nature itself…the strike. The way it looks.

So many times we see a strike with our naked eye, we exclaim “wow!” and then it’s gone. We never see it again. I think that’s why I love this kind of photography. We get to capture something that will never be seen again and you never know what it will look like when it happens.

(canon 5d mark ii, canon 85mm 1.8, f/5.6, iso 200, 30 sec – buy print)

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)

The Hills are Alive

Lightning over the Catalinas

Man. It’s been awhile since I’ve been that sick. Strange abdominal pain. 103 temp. Trip to the ER. Almost 10 days being completely away from the online world. And the whole time with the iPad on my lap re-watching Battlestar Galactica. God bless Netflix.

Happy to report I got through all 76 episodes. And yes, it was awesome as always.

Anyways, despite being sick, it was a nice break from everything. Cleared my head a bit, stopped thinking about what I’m usually obsessed about(photography) and just laid around, soaking up up some time off. Felt good.

Also feels good to be back posting again. This particular image was shot on July 30th down in Tucson over the Catalina Mountains. My buddy Ken Peterson and I left around 1-2pm and spent the day timelapsing and waiting for the sun to go down so we could shoot some lightning.

Witnessing lightning over these mountains is something to behold. I assume the people living down there are used to it, but the sheer power and frequency was amazing.

Normally to get these many strikes in one shot takes a long exposure, maybe one around 30+ seconds. This was only 10 seconds. That’s it. Five strikes. And this is actually cropped a bit, losing another strike that was off camera left.

(canon 5d mark ii, canon 85mm 1.8, f/7.1, iso 100, 10 sec)

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)

Last Gleaming

The Rainy Rock - Sunset Sedona Arizona

The last time I was in Sedona, Arizona, was a drive-by I did on my way back from Williams on a work trip. It was the middle of the day, harsh light and not a cloud in the sky.

Yuck.

Since Saturday afternoon we’ve been enjoying the beautiful red rock country and it’s been refreshing. The temperatures have been downright chilly at times, especially after a good rain. And there has been lots of storms up here.

But this place is just beautiful. My struggle is to capture something that no one else does. I make that my main goal anytime I go anywhere. I didn’t have a ton of time on this trip to take long hikes and explore places that not many people see, so I just tried to look at all the usual stuff in a different light.

I love silhouettes in general and the setting sun provided some gorgeous light against rainy clouds and these peaks surrounding the town. Plus I’m really digging my 85mm 1.8 for these kinds of shots. It makes me really want a 70-200mm where I can really zoom into something and get unique compositions. The cliffs and peaks around Sedona provide some amazingly cool shapes.

(exif: canon 5d mark ii, canon 85mm 1.8, f/16, iso 100, 1/25)

Waking up from a dream

Arizona Monsoon Lightning Sedona

 

(click to see larger with a nice, dark border. Canon 5D Mark II, Canon 85mm 1.8, f/5.6, ISO 200, 30 sec)

I rarely post a blog without a picture and even though this one is meant to be a recap of sorts of the events of last week, I had to include an image of a lightning strike I captured Sunday night. Actually, as I’m writing this in the wee hours of Monday morning, the strike happened less than an hour ago.

We’re on vacation in Sedona, back on Tuesday early morning, late last night I saw a storm popping up on radar, I could see flashes from our condo, so I blasted west on 89A and had a field day.

Where to Begin?

Because of the events of last week, not only was my website slammed with traffic and unusable for me, I was also so busy that I had no time to even think about what was happening. I almost see the website being down as a blessing in disguise, because now I’ve had a lot of time to think about what it all meant to me.

But if you know me well enough, you’ll remember that I love to write, I love to blog, so not being able to do so has been killing me. So let’s get down to business.

For those that don’t know, my video of the Phoenix Haboob/Dust Storm from last Tuesday night went viral in a matter of hours (along with my cohort Scott Wood’s video). From that moment until the weekend, my life became some kind of weird surreal dream that almost feels like never happened to me.

I don’t want to write lengthy dissertation here, but I do want to kind of recount what happened, answer some questions and generally share my feelings on all of it.

The Storm

As with most things that go viral, it’s all about being in the right place, at the right time and getting lucky. I was already shooting a sunset timelapse downtown when someone sent me a Twitpic of the duststorm hitting the East Valley. I’ve been wanting to capture a dust storm or lightning over downtown Phoenix from my favorite spot on 7th ST. and I-10, so I packed everything up and drove down there.

It was after I setup that I realized this dust storm was something different. I didn’t have enough tools to capture it correctly. I wanted a wider lens. A second HD video camera. Another camera with a fisheye. I knew what I was seeing was absolutely amazing.

I even thought to myself…”This might even make it on The Weather Channel if I do it right.

I’d like to clear up one thing though, for those that care. I’ve gotten a teeny bit of slack out there from people in the comments on blogs, etc., about not capturing the dust actually HITTING me, but instead bailing a few seconds early. In reality, the dust cloud was a lot closer to me off camera to the left than it was in front. After I took the last shot, it was literally five seconds before I was enveloped in complete darkness.

Here is an Instagram shot I took from the inside of the car right after it hit:

If I had stayed in that cloud of dust, opening and closing my shutter, it might have wrecked my Canon 5D Mark II. That’s the reason I bailed early. I use the camera for weddings, portraits, events…and it’s not that cheap to replace it *grin*

The Aftermath

I went home afterwards and put together the timelapse. Scott had already posted his before mine and had already gone viral on his own. The @BreakingNews Twitter account that has 2.7 million followers and RT-ed his video. Wow. Then Gizmodo picked it up. Went nuts.

I got mine up a bit after he did. I posted on Vimeo and embedded it in a blog which turned out awesome (and bad). A SEO lesson to everyone out there…if a major event happens, the most obvious title in the world is going to work best. I called the post “Phoenix Haboob of July 5th, 2011.” Guess what everyone was searching for that night? I had Google search results in a matter of minutes. In fact, before midnight I had around 1,000 unique visitors looking for ANYTHING about the dust storm.

Then Gizmodo picked it up. I had posted the video on Vimeo and suddenly it was getting thousands of hits. A friend of mine in Seattle sent me a DM on Twitter saying he saw my name and video on his local news. Wow.

A good guy named Keith over at the Phoenix National Weather Service told me to get my video in the hands of the networks because I should be making money off of it. He helped search for things for me on where to post it. So as I watched Scott’s on TWC, gritting my teeth, I submitted the video to CNN, TWC and emailed some contacts at MSNBC. It was 3am when I finally laid down on the couch to catch some sleep.

I decided not to sleep in the bedroom because I thought if the phone rang, I didn’t want to wake up the wife.

Sure enough, CNN called at 5:15am.

July 6th

I honestly don’t know if I will ever have a moment quite like that again. Just over two hours of sleep. My phone never rings that early. I did the thing we all do when woken up with a phone and tried to pretend I was wide awake. I failed miserably.

But it was CNN. CN freaking N. Calling me. I honestly couldn’t believe it. All I did was submit it to their iReport website. I had been pretty doubtful they’d even notice it.

They did though. And that phone call was amazing. A guy interviewed me quickly about it and said it would be on in about an hour.

Then MSNBC.com called. An hour later my video was on their frontpage next to Casey Anthony.

From there things just got wild. A Skype interview with Today.com’s Dara Brown. Then The Weather Channel called to also setup two Skype interviews. Then Channel 3 had me and Scott come down to do an interview.  People were calling about getting permission to use it. NBC and the CBS nightly news.  John King, sitting in for Anderson Cooper, said my name on CNN.

At the same time, because the video being embedded everywhere had my contact information at the end, my email was out of control. New Twitter followers, Facebook friends, comments on my blog, on my fan page.

The website crashed multiple times. The traffic was overwhelming to my little host’s server. We created a single page and moved the website to another host as a temp fix.

I don’t even know how to describe that day. Barely any sleep and I forgot to eat until around 2pm. I was in a perpetual state of nervous energy/excitement all day. I’m a guy with a hefty fear of public speaking, and suddenly I had to do live interviews on TWC.

Every single moment of that day was a blessing to me and something I’ll never be able to forget. Although, in some ways, it was such a blur I’m surprised I remember anything at all.

What Stands Out?

As the week went on, the video spread everywhere, all over the world. People were telling me they saw it in Germany and all their friends over there were talking about. New Zealand. Australia. Japan. And as I said, it was on all these major networks, blogs and TV stations.

But to be completely honest, it was a lot of the little things that stood out to me as being the most impactful.

A teacher in the Philippines emailed me to let me know she had shown it to her class of children and they had watched it with mouths wide open. Wow. I got choked up reading that for some reason.

And my friend Josh said he out eating dinner at a sushi bar and some random girl sitting next to him was watching the video on her phone. That was the one story that made me understand just how many people were actually seeing this thing.

Of course, one little tidbit that wasn’t exactly small, was former Vice President Al Gore’s office emailing me with interest in the video for his presentations. He’d seen it and loved it. That’s insane.

There were a lot of cool opportunities presented last week and so the story isn’t over yet.

Final Thoughts

As I said in the beginning of this post, all of this feels like it happened to someone else. It already seems like it was just a weird blip that took place. News happens fast and within a few days, it’s not a story anymore. I was eager to get back to normal blogging and posting of photos.

But I am eternally thankful to everyone who supported me, who encouraged me to get the video out there, who called, emailed or showed up at my door with a napkin to jokingly ask for an autograph. There were so many of you who had such amazingly kind words to say to me about the video or about my work in general. A lot of new fans discovering stuff we have in common when it comes to photography. New followers on Twitter. New friends on Facebook.

I appreciate and am grateful to all the local networks, websites, blogs and news stations that showed the video and spread the word. A once in a lifetime opportunity. Thank you.

Thanks to Scott and also Blaine Coury (see his own timelapse here) for their support and friendship throughout this. And to Keith for giving me a kick-start.

But mainly to my wife Jina. I was essentially a non-participant in daily duties last week and into the weekend and she’s been amazing throughout the whole thing.  I know I gush about her a lot, but without her, this video would never have happened in the first place…and she knows it…and I know it.

And of all the places my video has appeared, nothing was better than Jina writing about me on the Hey Little Birdie blog she helps run.

If anyone has any questions about anything that happened, you can email me or ask in the comments below and I’ll do my best to answer it!

Again, thank you all!