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An Arizona supercell

An Arizona supercell
(please click to view on black // canon 5d mark ii, canon 17-40mm f/4 l, 17mm, iso 400, f/8, 1/160th // buy print)

Wow. What a day yesterday. A rare one that will remember for a very, very long time. I drove through some of the most severe conditions I ever have before in this state. Rain blowing sideways, gusts of 50-60mph…almost zero visibility because of the heavy rain…it was crazy.

Cells began to develop around the Tucson area and west of it around 1-2pm, moving towards Phoenix, so I piled the kiddies in the car and we made our way down. Unfortunately on this day I wasn’t streaming live video because one of my cables was broken. What an epic fail!

Regardless…when we got down to the Red Rock community, I started seeing little shelf clouds on a few of the cells. To my west was an insane line of storms, but to my south was a massive storm exploding over the north side of Tucson. We went west a little but got blocked by water on the dirt road (which was a HUGE blessing in disguise), and we were forced to turn around.

I got back to this farm land and decided to start timelapsing the little shelf cloud I saw…and while I was doing that, the thing evolved and turned into one of the most epic storms I’ve EVER seen in Arizona. I would compare it to either the giant haboob of 2011 or earlier this year when I caught the hail core down near Douglas.

The timelapse, when completed, will give you an idea of all the movement…the dust, the rain, the shelf cloud that explodes from out of the storm, the lightning…it was crazy. This image above was actually made possible by my Nero Trigger, which up til now hasn’t been awesome…but WOW, I’m thankful for it today. If you are wondering why I had the ISO cranked up to 400 instead of trying for the least noise possible…I really wanted the lightning to stand out if captured by the trigger.

I don’t know if you can call this a supercell or not…but there was weak rotation on the storm and…well…just look at it. This is the closest thing to a supercell I’ve ever shot in Arizona!

In the hunt for more structure like this, I ended up going west on I-8 instead of north on I-10…which caused me to miss a fairly large haboob that rolled into Phoenix…but no worries, everyone in town had it covered!

I have 1-2 more shots from this storm, including a VERY close strike and the timelapse…stay tuned.

A dance at sunset

Arizona Monsoon Lightning
(please click to view on black // canon 5d mark iii, canon 50mm f/1.2 l, f/10, iso 160, 8 sec // buy print)

Two nights ago I was incredibly frustrated with the futility of capturing lightning. Storms were popping up everywhere, in bad spots, I couldn’t get to them in time and even when I did, they died out before any shots were had.

Last night…wow, what difference a day makes.

I sat in one spot for nearly two hours and captured hundreds of strikes. I am not even sure what to do with them all. I’ve never been on a storm that produced that much electricity over a general area for so long. And I’ve never come home from an evening storm chasing with that many photographs of lightning.

There was so much that I started experimenting with using my 70-200mm at full zoom to capture the bottom thirds of strikes just for fun to see how it looked. That never happens. Usually you are in such a hurry to capture whatever you can before the storm dies out that you don’t get to play around too much.

This was just one of the images. Five strikes to the ground in an 8-second exposure. The sunset behind it…the powerlines giving scale…the strikes themselves…definitely one of my all-time favorites already. I rarely do these panoramic crops, but it felt like it was called for here.

More to come!

 

Lightning near Booker, Texas

The Leading Edge
(please click to view on black // canon 5d mark ii, canon 17-40 f/4 l, 17mm, f/6.3, iso 500, 1 second // buy print)

Chasing storms in Arizona as compared to the plains is just so different. What I love about the plains is how you can chase a storm for long time…it evolves, moves, recycles and can cover a lot of ground. In Arizona…the build up, die and rebuild somewhere else from outflows. You aren’t actually “chasing” individual storms as much as you are trying to stay ahead of the next convection.

When we finally got on the Booker supercell (timelapse here), it was 6:07 pm. This was taken an hour later and it’s the same storm…just losing energy and gusting out. But it was such a blast to just stay ahead of it and keep shooting the different stages it went through. Even this one, towards the end, was absolutely beautiful.

I’m already dying for next spring haha…I’m definitely hooked again and can’t wait to get out there.

 

Storm of the Apocalypse

Storm of the Apocalypse
(please click to view on black // canon 5d mark ii, rokinon 14mm f/2.8, iso 640, 1/50th, f/8 // buy print)

No one is more amazed than I am at the way my timelapse of the Booker supercell took off. For me personally it was a huge moment to capture a storm like this. So I was crazy proud. But I had no idea it would be something that soooo many people would find utterly awesome and want to share it everywhere. Even over a week later it’s continuing to be shared on various blogs and websites, and still going strong. As of writing this it has almost equaled the number of Vimeo plays as the July 5th, 2011 Haboob video of mine that also went viral.

It’s been an insane ride once again. Thank you all for the love.

So of course I will be posting various views of the storm over the next few weeks since we observed it over the course of 30 minutes and WOW do storms like this change quickly. It’s simply unbelievable to watch how it evolved over the course of 24 minutes or so.

I love this one in particular. I chose to create a print out of this capture mainly because of how it looks like a tornado or something has appeared on the right side. I had a meteorologist email me and he believes this was actually a tornadic storm and while we couldn’t see a clear funnel, a tornado  touched the ground at some point.

Either way…it was mesmerizing and amazing to watch. The orange sky behind it was creating this spooky backlight. What I also loved…was not only did the clouds and rain and dirt all look hellish…the ground itself was a field of plowed (or cut down) corn stalks…it looked almost like a landscape from the end of the world.

More images to come from this storm…can’t wait to share them all!

A supercell near Booker, Texas

The Booker Supercell
(please click to view on black // canon 5d mark ii, rokinon 14mm f/2.8, iso 640, 1/50th, f/5.6 // buy print)

There are no words really to describe the moment we saw this storm. We (My buddy Andy Hoeland and I) had been driving through rain and hail, always on the wrong side when we finally make a gamble to just push south through the storm and get on the far side if we could. When we finally left the rain behind and had a clear look to our west…our jaws dropped. We stopped on top of a hill, got out of the car, set up the cameras and started recording this monster.

Seeing something like this has been a longtime goal of mine. This was my fourth year chasing in the plains and I’ve never come CLOSE to this kind of structure. Pictures don’t do it justice. This was with a 14mm lens. It seems like it’s far away and safe, but in reality it was crazy close and we were ready to bail at any moment.

When I finally had all the cameras going and sat back to just take it all in…tears filled my eyes. I yelled with joy at the top of my lungs, I gave Andy a big hug, thanking him for picking this spot almost a week before as our target location. We heard other chasers nearby hooting and hollering as well. It was a magnificent moment.

This image is actually about 20 minutes or so after our first stop. We never could stay long in one place because the rain was just to our right and bearing down. This was when the supercell started really spinning at the base and pulled up dirt from below.

I will never…in all my life…forget this day.

Different views of this thing, a timelapse and a lot more to come from our trip!

 

The cotton fields

The cotton fields - monsoons arizona

(please click to view on black // canon 5d mark ii, tamron 17-35mm 2.8, 17mm, iso 100, f/16, 1/125 // buy print)

If you ordered a copy of my Stormchasing Arizona book, or happened to see my Best of 2011, you may have seen this image already.

But it was one of my top five probably from last year’s monsoon season, so I felt like it was owed it’s own blog post. Right?

Am I the only one that believes his images have feelings and would feel shunned if they didn’t get their own blog time? I mean, yes, this one made it into the book, but they all know the blog is the shiznit. The place you want to be. Where the magic happens.

So ANYWAYS, this is from north of Tucson overlooking a huge cotton field. Awesome storm on the horizon dropping rain. Nothing I like more than a wide vista or landscape with a distant rain storm.

There was also a timelapse to go with this.

I humbly apologize to this image for taking so long to give it the honor it so richly deserved. You weren’t forgotten. Just lost in the shuffle. I wont let it happen again.

The Arizona Twister

The Arizona Twister or Dust Devil

(please click to enjoy a view on black!)

If dust devils were tornadoes, Arizona would be the capital of the world. During these hot summer days, you can drive down the long interstates through the desert and see these towering twisters of dust almost anywhere.

They can be tiny things, barely 10 feet tall and they sputter out after minutes. Or they can be long-lasting, tornado-like vortices that sometimes make you do a double-take to just make sure it’s not an actual twister.

While out stormchasing on Labor Day, my buddy Ken and I spotted this elephant trunk-like dust devil that lasted for quite awhile. It had to be hundreds of feet up in the air. Usually when you see a good one, it’s only going to last minutes so it’s not always easy to capture them. And even harder to get a backdrop like we got here. I’ve actually never photographed a dust devil quite like this before.

(canon 5d mark ii, canon 35mm 1.4 l, f/16, iso 100, 1/250th – buy print)

Thunderstorms over the Catalina Mountains

Back on July 30th, my buddy Ken and I spent most of the afternoon and evening around the Tucson area stormchasing. On our way down there we stopped by this little agriculture field growing who knows what and watched the clouds building over the Catalina Mountains.

At first we just took pictures and tried to keep the bugs off our necks, but then I decided to do a timelapse. I think we hung around for another 45 minutes to an hour to capture the 1018 shots that went into this one.

I love the multiple downdrafts of rain you can see in this timmelapse…some of them moving, some new one forming and then dropping, it’s just so beautiful to see these things in fast-motion.

I love Battlestar Galactica in general but the music by Bear McCreary is just fantastic, so he’s always someone I turn to for my timelapses. I’m not including them in the video itself for copyright issues, but if you listen to “Under the Wind” by Bear McCreary from Season 3, you’ll get it 🙂

(canon 5d mark ii, tamron 17-35mm 2.8, 17mm, iso 100, f/16, 1018 images)

Irrigation

(Click to view with a black background AND so it fits your monitor, unless you have a giant one)

What I love about stormchasing around Arizona is just the random places you find along the way. The farm fields you just happen to be hanging out by for an hour as you watch storms develop over the Catalina Mountains. I never really have plans on where I’m going, I just end up there.

On this day I was with my buddy Ken Peterson and we pulled off to shoot some of the cool clouds, and ended up sitting around at this spot for well over an hour. I shot a timelapse of an awesome downpour on the mountains, so we just hung out for a bit, waiting for the sun to get lower so we could start some lightning shooting.

This was a giant farm area in the middle of the desert, growing some kind of fruit we couldn’t identify. The irrigation canal was so full we couldn’t believe it wasn’t overflowing.

I love lines in my images and this shot was full of them. Powerlines, the canal, the edge of the farm, the road on the left. The main reason I took it was that I liked how it framed the cumulus clouds building off in the distance.

(canon 5d mark ii, tamron 17-35mm 2.8, 17mm, f/16, 1/100th)

The Return of the King

Sunset on the Kansas Prairie

A few weeks ago I mentioned that I was going to have to find some image to use for the finale of the Lord of the Rings trilogy in celebration of the release of the Extended Editions on Blu-Ray. Well, that release happened yesterday, I received my copy and it’s sitting there looking pretty, waiting to be watched.

The first two movies have been used already, so it was The Return of the King that needed an image. And this is what I came up with.

It may not look like anything from the movie. In fact, I don’t know how to even lie and make you believe it came from it. This is the Kansas prairie. Doesn’t remind me of Mordor, or Gondor, or Rohan…or even the Fangorn Forest (nerd alert!).

But if you are just going off the title, I kind of dig it. For me there is this majestic, powerful feel to the sun bursting through the clouds. It makes the surrounding landscape feel small and trivial compared to this explosion of light. As if something awesome were making an appearance after a long sleep.

If I failed to mention it before, these movies are near and dear to me. The books made a huge impact with me as a young kid. I can’t explain it, but they did. And years later they decide to make real movies about them, and somehow they create a world on-screen that almost completely matched what I had imagined as a I read the stories. It was amazing.

I loved the originals, but once the extended versions came out, there was no reason to watch the shorter one. They just weren’t the “real” story anymore. So to finally have these guys in beautiful Blu-Ray, 1080p high-definition is awesome. Cannot wait to find time to watch these guys from start to finish.

ONE LAST THING…

I’m wordy today, sorry. This image is a bit inspired by my buddy Jesse Pafundi whom I admire big time. His work has changed this year and it’s been awesome to see. At the same time we both had been moving away from HDR being so involved in our workflow…him more than me. I think he’s done away with it entirely. I still use it a lot but with a different approach. But we’ve had long chats about this subject and how we’re changing.

The photo above…I tried it as a tonemapped image and it failed. I couldn’t get it right. And then I realized I didn’t need to. Why was I forcing it? I liked the composition, the clouds, the sun…it just needed a little weathering to look how I wanted it to. Took 20 seconds.

Anyways…don’t be afraid to leave something behind that used to be so dear to you. It was just part of the journey to get you where you are today.

(canon 5d mark ii, tamron 17-35mm 2.8, 17mm, f/22, iso 100, 1/50)