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Thunderstorm on Luepp Road

Thunderstorm on Luepp
(please click to view on black // canon 5d mark ii, canon 17-40mm f/4 l, 17mm, iso 100, f/9, 1/200sec // buy print)

One of the more beautiful areas of Arizona is this little stretch of highway on Luepp Road northeast of Flagstaff. You take it to get to Grand Falls, which is where I was headed this day.

What I love about this terrain are the smooth mountains that were former volcanoes in another life. You don’t really get to see them too well in this photo, but the left horizon is the start of one of these mountains. But the grasslands are still amazing and the scenery is beautiful. In various places roads head off into the distance as this area is also used as farm land.

Of course all of it is made better by a gorgeous little downpour from a monsoon storm. One of my favorite images from last summer.

The open heavens

The heavens opened - monsoon sunset arizona

(please click to view on black // canon 5d mark ii, canon 17-40mm f/4 l, 35mm, iso 200, f/5.0, 1/100th // buy print)

I love taking pictures of lightning…it’s one of my favorite things when it comes to weather photography. But I also just love the raw power of a thunderstorm. And the beauty they contain.

This rain shaft…was a powerful thing. As I was driving west, I watched the base of the cloud get dark, textured and nasty. Next thing you know a wall of rain is falling to the ground. Most of the time this is enough to be a gorgeous example of nature…but on a lucky occasion you get to witness something like this with fantastic sunset colors mixing into everything.

I’ve seen sights like this before and it’s always incredible how the light and color from the sun bounces around these clouds and rain.

I couldn’t take enough pictures of it.

The season is winding down here…in fact, today may be the last good day left. There might be some spotty, random days before the monsoon is truly gone, but we’re close to the end here.

 

A micro-dust-burst-haboob something or other

(please click to view on black // canon 5d mark ii, canon 17-40mm f/4 l, 17mm, f/9.0, iso 100, blend // buy print)

I was shooting a timelapse of the dust storm in the opposite direction when I turned to look behind me and saw this. A  towering monsoon thunderstorm, a strong downdraft (potential microburst) and an approaching dust storm/haboob all creating one crazy scene.

The dynamic range was intense though as you might be able to tell. The sun was hidden by clouds except at the top of that thunderstorm where it was so bright that if exposed correctly, made the rest of the image almost black. I rarely go into post-processing talk these days, but this guy was kind of tough. As I’ve gotten away from doing HDR, I am doing more blending using luminosity masking (LM). I use LM on almost all my processing these days (other than B&W), I find it a lot of fun with more natural results. But blending something like this was tough for me and I’m still learning how to do it correctly.

Whatever the processing method…it was still an amazing sight. Usually storms build up along the outflow of a dust storm, not way out in front like this one. So it’s rare to get a scene like this with an incoming dust wall and a large downdraft out ahead.

A Tucson strike at sunset

(please click image to view on black // canon 5d mark ii, rokinon 14mm 2.8, iso 50, f/16(ish), 2 sec // buy print)

After I took this shot, I gave a high-five to a Frenchman who was standing beside me who captured it as well. I met Dimitri up on Tucson’s A-Mountain last night (check out his website) and we had a blast hanging out for almost 2 hours. He was actually on vacation from France in Arizona for the sole purpose of shooting lightning. I mean…how awesome is that?

He had a serious setup…two full frame cameras each with a lightning trigger, plus a major HD video camera.

Anyways…we’d been shooting for a long time when suddenly this rain falling over metro Tucson started turning orange. A beautiful sunset was in store for us. And then the lightning started And while you may have a hard time seeing it because of the intense orange color of the sky, there is a rainbow in there running vertical alongside the right edge of that bolt.

I looked over at Dimitri and asked if this was his best shot since he got here a week or two ago…and he said yes. He was a lot like me…hooting and yelling everytime he got a great strike. Was so very cool to see the same passion I have in a guy visiting from France.

Good luck my friend, hope the rest of your trip rocks!

Also…on the full-sized image…you can make out where every strike lands…pretty amazing.

The Spreading Anvil

This shot may look somewhat familiar to some of my dedicated readers and followers…at least the bottom half. I posted another photo of this storm last week that mainly focused on the downdraft area of this cloud and the dust storm created from it. The photo above was taken about 5-10 minutes earlier than that one.

One of the most beautiful parts of a monsoon thunderstorm is the eventual spreading anvil as the top grows high enough to hit the fast moving winds in the upper atmosphere. This little storm cell was close enough to me that the wide end of my 17-35mm couldn’t capture the entire thing horizontally, and when I turned it vertical, it still required a panoramic of two positions to get as much as I could. Plus it was kind of moving towards me and to the left of the scene above, so it kept getting bigger and bigger in the viewfinder.

So this is a sort of vertical panoramic stitched together from two HDR photos, both of them made up of five brackets each.