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Timelapse: Monsoon storm rolls into Phoenix

A couple of days ago we had a fairly epic looking storm roll into Phoenix right at sunset. The clouds were just amazing. There was a dust storm. You can see lightning on the left horizon towards the end of this video. The setting sun creating beautiful red tones was awesome. I’ve been torn lately between photographing things like this and doing timelapes, because I really, REALLY love seeing cloud movement afterwards. One of my favorite things in the world are timelapes of storm and cloud motion. Something we just can’t see too well with the naked eye looks so incredible sped up a bit.

That being said, I’m still learning. This particular one was an experiment in using Aperture Priority. I wanted to lock the aperture and ISO, but let the shutter speed vary. Well, turns out while my controller is running, AV mode doesn’t seem to change the SS unless I stopped the controller and started it again. Doh!

I’m figuring all this out as I go. I kind of like it this way. Making mistakes, figuring out why something didn’t work right. Reading up on new things and not being afraid to try them out. Makes me a lot more intelligent about it all instead of just having all the answers right up front.

My goal in all of this was just to have fun and put together a cool video at the end of the storm season with a bunch of monsoon storm clips so people can see how they look out here.

I hope you enjoy this one…despite some of the varying exposures you’ll get. The music is the theme to the recent Battlestar Galactica TV series because I’ve been dying to find a way to use it. The composer of that series, Bear McCreary, is one of my favs. He’s awesome.

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)

Independence Day

(click to view a tad larger with a black border)

Yup, it’s the middle of the week and that means Movie Title Wednesday!

Independence Day. Awesome film. Total summer movie popcorn fun. Will Smith taking down aliens. Jeff Goldblum mumbling and uttering cool phrases like “Forget the fat lady! You are obsessed with fat ladies!” Harry Connick Jr., Randy Quaid with his “Up yours!”…and just all kinds of good stuff. Perhaps the biggest, cheesiest part of the movie is Bill Pullman standing up in front of the men giving his Independence Day speech right before we figure out how to beat the aliens. Gotta love it.

I’m a sucker for a good alien invasion movie and I can’t help but like this one.

So the connection to this lightning image actually has to do with the Fourth of July. This is what I was out shooting  instead of watching fireworks this year. Well, at least, watching those man-made fireworks. This show was much, much better.

When you shoot lightning a lot, you’ll end up experiencing the whole “Wow, didn’t even see that one” moments when you get back home and are importing images. This shot was one of those. I don’t think I ever saw it. I probably was looking down at my phone at the radar and missed it entirely. It wasn’t until I scrolled back later through my camera did I go “Wooooahhh…where did you come from?”

I love those moments.

(exif: canon 5d mark ii, canon 50mm 1.4, f/4.5, iso 200, 20 sec)

Bucket List: Downtown Phoenix Lightning

(click to view in lightbox, a much better experience!)

Late last year, after moving to downtown Phoenix, I stumbled upon this special little parking garage when I was trying to capture a beautiful sunset one night. It’s where I shot the haboob video. I’ve been up there a bunch.

But when I first stood there, I knew I wanted to capture lightning over downtown from that very spot. It was a bucket list kind of photo that I just figured would be hard to get.

Turns out it only took a few weeks of monsoon season to make it happen!

Last night was epic. Lightning was exploding everywhere, striking at an insane clip. The only problem was all the rain and finding a good spot. I got a few shots earlier in the evening and was north of town a bit when I saw the lightning alert over south Phoenix.

I dunno how I made it. I was 17 miles away. I had to stop for gas. I only put in five gallons ’cause I was in a hurry. I finally got to the garage after 25 minutes. Didn’t expect any lightning to be still going on. And it had all been north of the garage. When I got there though, it died out. So I ran to the south side, for the shot over the city and within two minutes, lightning started hitting right where I wanted it to.

I definitely let out a loud, echoing yell in this empty parking garage, like I had just won the Super Bowl or something.

(on a side note, I wasn’t up on the top of the structure, I was one floor down, protected from the rain, which was huge)

Some of you who were on Twitter last night will probably remember me bragging about this bucket list shot being a triple-strike. I still have that, but this one hit a few minutes later and I like it the most.

I’ll end up posting the other one at a later date of course.

(exif: canon 5d mark ii, tamron 17-35mm 2.8, 35mm, f/8.0, iso 100, 20 sec)

From Within

Tucson Arizona Lightning

(click to view in lightbox…the border really adds a lot)

As I said at the start of the week, I had been planning on not really blogging since I have this awesome guest series going on right now. And on a side note, thank you to EVERYONE who participated and made it a success. Been so much fun. Can’t wait for tomorrow’s conclusion.

But anyways, I couldn’t help myself. Had to post today.

So Tucson, Arizona, is where it’s at. Those of us in Phoenix tend to just wait around, maybe drive to Casa Grande on some nights to get lightning, but the storms just aren’t as frequent up here. A friend of mine on Twitter, Beth Allan, comes down once a year in August with a group of stormchasers to shoot lightning all week. And they base themselves out of Tucson.  And they rock it.

Only problem is that it’s about 100 miles away from downtown Phoenix. A long drive, lots of gas. I can’t do it everyday. But I definitely wanted to make it a point to venture down there a few times this summer. Last night was my first trip there and honestly, I should have gotten there a lot earlier in the day. Immediately upon hitting the town, it was like a fireworks show in all directions.

I also am unfamiliar with the city or where good high spots are, so I kind of got lost driving in some hilly areas. I stopped, watched the lightning over the town in the distance and that’s when I this cloud in the photo suddenly start dropping tons of rain. When you see a huge thunderstorm with a massive rain shaft…aim there. That’s usually where 90% of the lightning is going to show up.

It’s always fun to shoot lightning when I can use the 17-35mm lens, because that means it’s close and awesome. I still tend to cower down in the car, or huddle up next to the tripod to stay lower than anything else 🙂

This was the best strike of the night for me, in what amounted to a lot of driving for about 20 minutes of shooting. I love how it looks like two bolts exploded from within the cloud and go in different directions. Awesome.

(canon 5d mark ii, tamron 17-35mm 2.8, 24mm, f/9, iso 200, 10 sec)

Sideways

Sideways Lightning in Carefree Arizona Monsoon

Last Tuesday I teased about a lightning shot I was going to use for Movie Title Wednesday. Well, after everything that happened that Tuesday  night, I never got a chance to post this. Now that the world is back to it’s normal rotation, I finally have the chance.

Sideways starred Paul Giamatti, Thomas Hayden Church, Virginia Madsen and Sandra Oh. Two middle aged dudes take a tour through wine country and stuff happens. Saw the movie once, I don’t remember the plot too well, but of course I remember loving it. Giamatti is one of my favorite actors and he had a really huge run there for awhile with awesome movie after awesome movie.

Obviously I  chose this film because the title fits absolutely perfectly with the image today.

This was the first time I’ve ever captured sideways lightning in Arizona and it was awesome. There had been one before this that I missed while setting up and a third one AFTER this one that looked almost identical. Would love to know why they were happening a lot in this one spot, but I’ll likely never will.

I do remember a lot of yelling emanating from my immediate vicinity when I saw this thing flash across the sky. I knew I captured it and I knew it would look awesome.

Have been having a lot more fun shooting lightning this year so far…a lot more success in the early going. Tons more season to go. This coming Sunday or Monday is supposedly looking pretty nice for some wicked weather in the A-Z.

(canon 5d mark ii, canon 17-35 F/4L, 17mm, iso 200, 13 sec)

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!

 

My 2011 stormchasing trip in 7 minutes

(To view this video in HD, click right here to go to Vimeo…a lot better quality.

I had a different post set for today, but the clouds this morning and the humid-ish area has me excited for the monsoon season here in Arizona which could make an appearance as early as tomorrow!

I finally finished working on the video from my stormchasing trip back on May 9-11. Most of the video I shot was kind of boring since the a lot of the trip turned out to be a bust, but I put together the best clips I had. I think you’ll enjoy the lightning show the most…the second clip is pretty incredible in terms of the non-stop nature of the flashes. I apologize for my silly voiceovers!

All the video was shot with the 5D Mark II and I have to say, it was awesome. Next year when I do this though, I’ll bring along a 70-200mm. Being able to zoom around like that would have been nice, especially for some of the distant lightning.

Below are two images I captured along the way. The first one has a radio/cell/TV (whatever) antenna in it and I’ve always wanted to get a good lightning shot with one of these in the frame. Not the best lightning, but still fun!

The second one was shot after the final lightning clip in the video. As I’ve said before, I love up-close lightning that fills the frame, but there is something cool about seeing the entire cloud from far away.

The electric man

Lightning Photo in Memphis

You know how you look at clouds and see shapes and animals and people and anything else that somehow pops into your head?

I almost never do that, and when it comes to lightning, this would be the first time. But in looking at this strike I shot in Memphis, I feel like I’m watching some giant man walking right to left, with a bunch of spindly arms stretching everywhere. If only I had captured him before he walked behind the tree!

The monsoon season has “officially” started here in Arizona and while it’s unbelievably hot already (115 this week), it’s also crazy dry and no storms are in the forecast until at least the middle of next week. And that’s just an outside chance.

I’m getting antsy though. It’s hot. It’s blue skies. It’s unbearable to be outside. I haven’t shot anything non-portrait since the 12th.

I’m begging you storms…get here. I need the clouds, the sunsets, the rain, the lightning, the contrast with the Four Peaks…gimme, gimme, gimme!

Have a great Friday everyone!

(exif: canon 5d mark ii, canon 85mm 1.8, f/5.0, iso 100, 25 sec)