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Windmills and Lightning

Windmills
(please click to view on black // canon 5d mark iii, canon 16-35 f/2.8 l, 23mm, iso 200, f/8.0, 1/20th, lightning trigger // buy print)

On a day with only a “see text” chance of severe storms, I decided to risk it hoping I’d at least see some lightning and perhaps some cool structure. I followed storms for hours, as they started in southeastern Colorado and slowly moved to the northeast into Kansas.

The main cluster I first encountered and stuck with, ended up being the storms of the day in our neck of the woods. After awhile a shelf cloud appeared, lightning started getting more intense and the fun started. This is a photo east of Leoti, Kansas…I stopped here so I could timelapse it moving by with windmills in the frame, and with the other camera I started testing my new Lightning Trigger. I was stoked to look back later and saw I captured a bolt. I have to say, that trigger is worth every penny.

Lots more to come from my trip!

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.

Legends of the Fall

A sea of wheat -

It’s another Movie Title Wednesday around these parts and this one was admittedly kind of hard to match with a film. And if you think, Field of Dreams, already used it. My unwritten rule is to never use the same movie twice, which is getting harder and harder.

Thus today we have Legends of the Fall, it kind of fits this image, although I can’t really tell you much about the movie itself. I usually try to stick to films I love or at least enjoyed, but I don’t remember either way on this one. Brad Pitt before he was Brad Pitt…Aiden Quinn, Madeline Stowe…all that is from memory. And of course, Anthony Hopkins. They lived out on a farm, there was a love triangle I think and yeah, that’s all I remember.

Now…this was another “farmex” image shot this past May, whilst in Kansas, stormchasing non-existent storms. I probably could have forgotten all about the weather and just shot this kind of stuff if I hadn’t been out there for the reason I was. Regardless, as I drove aimlessly through these old farm lands, I was subjected to a feast of abandoned beauties everywhere I looked.

The wind was breezy, which provided some kind of cool motion in the wheat fields that extended out forever in all directions.  I wouldn’t have minded getting a little closer to this old barn, or farm, or house or whatever it was…but it was kind of creepy out there and I also didn’t want to upset the neighbors, not to mention I was actually out chasing weather.

As it was…I kind of liked it from this spot.

(canon 5d mark ii, canon 50mm 1.4, f/3.5, iso 100, 1/1600 – buy print)

OneQuestion: Scott Ackerman

ElectricSupercellMO - Scott Ackerman

Next up in my OneQuestion guest blog series is Scott Ackerman, my stormchasing buddy from Kansas. You knew I had to include a weather guy, I mean, come on! I love his work, I’ve seen some great strides in his processing and composition in recent months and I’ve been blown away by the images he’s taken. I mean, look at this giant thunderstorm in the photo above (click on it to enjoy the visual with a nice, dark border), with gorgeous light on the anvil and lightning exploding on the horizon. LOVE IT. And without further ado…ScottyAck.

What do you have a passion to photograph? What would make you forego much-needed sleep

because you just can’t help but get out and take more pictures?

 

Follow Scott Ackerman: Twitter | Website

Big thanks to Mike for asking me to take part in his little mini series of guest blog posts. I consider Mike to be a premier photographer of all areas of the craft and I know my skill has greatly improved from his knowledge.

Mike recently asked the question: “What do you have a passion to photograph”. For me, this was an easy answer. Growing up in the flat plains of southwest Kansas there really wasn’t a whole lot of scenery to take in. No mountains or lakes to speak of. But every spring, the storms would begin rolling in. Amazing, beautiful storms that would test the heights of the atmosphere and roll with astounding momentum. Frightening and beautiful in the same moment. Each with their own unique structure and strength. From a very young age I was always mesmerized by these acts of nature. We had our fair share of tornadoes, lightning, hail of all sizes and wind that at times felt like it would relocate the house down the block.

Now it wasn’t until after undergrad that I decided it was time to take a crack at capturing these beauties. I can remember spending many hours trying to capture bolts of lightning with very little success. At this point I turned where every one turns, to the internet. I consider myself a self-taught photographer but I have definitely spent a great deal of time reading instructional material and watching many video tutorials. And once you capture your first lightning bolt, you’re hooked.

Getting back to the question at hand, it doesn’t matter if I’ve had a long tough day at work, if there is the slightest chance to capture an amazing storm structure or a complex bolts of lightning I’m there. There’s been times when a storm will sit in one spot and just put on a show for hours. Capturing that show is some times tough, and you may spend hours trying with little luck, but capturing that once in a lifetime shot makes it all worth while.

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)

This Old House

An old, scary house in Kansas

(looks scarier with a dark lightbox around it. Click image to scare yourself)

A little more “farmex” straight from my recent stormchasing trip to the midwest. This image was taken a bit south and west of Wichita, Kansas.

I dig creepy places and shooting them, but unless I got a buddy with me, I’m not sure I could go much closer than this. Wind was blowing, creaking sounds were coming from the house and the surrounding trees…it was definitely giving me goosebumps.

I passed so many places like this. Old, abandoned farms, silos, houses, sheds…it was amazing. Highly recommend Kansas if you are looking for this kind of subject.

(exif: canon 5d mark ii, canon 50mm 1.4, iso 100, f/16, 1/80)

 

The Fellowship of the Ring

It’s a stretchy-stretch Movie Title Wednesday…meaning the exact correlation between the image and the film may not be completely obvious. And perhaps, it’s totally misnamed. I debated this one, but I honestly couldn’t find too many films that dealt with trees or have trees featured prominently in them.

Either way, we’re stuck with Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. And in reality, I could think of a bazillion worse movies to be stuck with. In fact, this trilogy (or one giant movie as I like to think of them) is my favorite of all-time. As a kid I read the books for the first time and was blown away. I don’t think I understood a lot of it until I read it a second time years later. Then I got it. And since then I’ve read the books maybe 10 times. Not coincidentally, also my favorite books ever.

So when the movies were being made, I was so stoked and could only hope they’d be decent. And of course, they were awesome. Amazing films, they captured the essence of the books so well, I felt like what I had imagined in my head so many times was suddenly out there on the big screen.

Now that’s all interesting, but what does it have to do with a big tree on a hillside? Well, if you’ve seen the film or read the books, you know there is a giant…massive “Party Tree” where Bilbo celebrated his birthday and made his infamous farewell speech. For the movies, director Peter Jackson found the absolute perfect tree and setting to represent The Shire, Bilbo’s hobbit hole and the Party Tree. Photographer Trey Ratcliff traveled to New Zealand not too long ago and got a shot of this epic scene, which you can see right here.

I took this picture while on my “stormchasing” trip in Kansas, and as you can see, there are no storms in sight. I did crawl under and over two sets of barbed wire to get this shot though, so there was some “excitement” and “danger” involved…haha.

(exif: canon eos 5d mark ii, tamron 17-35mm 2.8, 19mm, f/22, iso 100, 1/20th)

A tree in the wind

(click to see a bigger tree with a nice black border)

Time for a nice little break from all the storm photos! So sometimes you get shots on purpose and most of the time it seems they come from unplanned moments or complete accidents.

While I was in Kansas awaiting a line of storms to move into my vicinity, I sat at a pull-out and took a nap. I hadn’t slept but two hours in the last 30, so I was beat. I woke up about 30 minutes later and of course had to use the restroom. There was a lot of traffic on the road, so I wandered away from my car around some haystacks to find a little privacy. Yeah, I took my camera. I dunno why, I think I wanted to make people driving by think I was actually out taking pictures, not trying to relieve myself.  Maybe because there was a gas station across the street, but I was just too lazy to drive over there. Who knows. I had just woken up!

Either way, I wandered around a bit and saw this tree moving with the wind. It was just a tree along this recently cut wheat field, but I think it was the way it looked swooshing around in this strong breeze that caught my attention. I also had my 50mm on the camera and opened it up to f/1.8 and focused on the nearest leaf to me, leaving the rest of the tree falling off into bokeh-ville. I saw it on my screen after shooting it and fell in love with it.

There is something beautiful to me about the sound of a tree blowing in the wind. I think I sometimes link it to the approach of a coming storm…where it’s been quiet, but the wind picks up, the leaves start rustling around and you know something is on the horizon. I watched the tree for a few minutes before moving on.

(exif: canon eos 5d mark ii, canon 50mm 1.4, f/1.8, iso 100, 1/1250th)

Forrest Gump

(Click to see the spooky house larger in all its spookiness. Looks better with a nice, dark border)

For any new readers, it’s Movie Title Wednesday on my blog, where I try to link a photograph I take to a movie I’ve seen…and enjoyed.

Definitely up there in my Top 10 All-Time Movie list is Forrest Gump. Heck, it’s impact on our culture was big enough to warrant an actual sign on the highway that Forrest Gump “ran” on during the movie (see Kristi’s photo). It was a movie where I felt like I kind of sat there with my mouth open at times, completely sucked into the story that was unfolding before me. I think the first time I saw it was at the same time that a new theatrical sound system had been released and I just remember the auditorium rocking with all the big moments.

If you haven’t seen the film, I would be shocked. But if you really haven’t, go check it out…Tom Hanks is amazing, the writing, the acting, the story…it’s brilliant.

I was a bit curious when writing this up on how many people would know the way this relates to Forrest Gump without me connecting the dots. Take a guess and then read on.

If you recall, Jenny was abused as a child by her drunk father and years later returned to her old home…an old house on a farm completely falling apart. She starts throwing rocks at it and afterwards Forrest has it bulldozed to the ground.

It was always an important scene in the film and it’s one of the first things I thought of when I passed this abandoned farm house out in Kansas last week. I knew right away that I’d process it in a creepy way to really bring home that scene in the film and how it might have looked to Jenny standing there so many years later.

(exif: canon eos 5d mark ii, tamron 17-35mm 2.8, 27mm, iso 100, f/16)

A Kansas sunset

A sunset in a wheat field in kansas

(Click on the image for a larger-than-normal view…also makes the wheat field a bit more visible)

There was something special about this sunset. I don’t know what it was, but when I was crouching down in front of this wheat field, I was in awe. Here I was, in western Kansas, in a place I’d never been before, in the middle of nowhere, not a sound but chirping birds, not a car to be seen…witnessing something beautiful.

The irony is that this was our last gasp for a storm on Wednesday before it was time for me to go. My buddy Shane and I had seen these things popup out of nowhere, so we turned the car around, drove up this highway and waited. After the sun went down, these clouds got closer and closer…and even though we knew deep down inside that there was a 1% chance we’d get a storm from these…we watched until the bitter end.

Despite the symbol of failure this final chance gave us…it was also incredibly moving. The little journey I went on somehow led me to this place to see this thing.

I’m glad I have some images like these to look back on. Most of you know how disappointed I was afterwards when I didn’t go out there to get what I wanted.

But perhaps I got what I was supposed to get?

(exif: canon eos 5d mark ii, canon 50mm 1.4, f/16, iso 100, 1/20th)