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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.

A Nebraska supercell after dark

Nebraska supercell after dark

(Click to enjoy the storm a little bigger, almost like you were there. Okay, not really)

Whew. It’s around 9am right now and I just landed in Phoenix a bit after 7am after flying out from Oklahoma City this morning. A long trip, I added around 2200 miles to the lovely Hyundai Santa Fe I rented and slept in the car two of the three nights for a total of five hours. I did actually rent a hotel on Tuesday night and it was some of the best sleep I’ve had in awhile.

The bottom line from the trip was that I didn’t really see what I wanted to see. I was hoping for beautiful, isolated supercells with gorgeous cloud structure. Ehhh…not this time. That’s okay though…I had a blast, got to spend a day with an awesome stormchasing photographer named Shane Kirk that I’d never met in person before and I saw so many beautiful places I’d never seen before.

I have a ton of stories, and a video I’ll be putting together of my few adventures…but right now I’ll talk quickly about the photo above.

The photo above was taken in the NW corner of Nebraska on Monday night. The beautiful storm clouds you see in this shot had just passed over this road from the left side. This was a fairly intense supercell that was tornado warned and had a vortex signature on it. The fun part was I had come down this road doing about 95mph so I could not be slaughtered by the thing. Basically it was akin to walking really slow across some railroad tracks as a massive locomotive comes barreling down at you. The train barely misses you, but you get slammed with all the wind anyways.

As I was coming down the road at one point, I thought I saw stuff blowing across the road up ahead and figured it was a funnel and I was screwed. But it was just some nasty RFD (rear flank downdraft) that rocked my car all over the place.

When I finally got to a safe spot, I turned around and aimed my camera at this cell. It was just gorgeous. The photo can’t do it justice. The thing was flashing non-stop and it was something to behold.

I have a few more lightning shots I may post down the road, but this was one of my favs. The first good shot on a crazy stormchasing trip.

(exif: canon eos 5d mark ii, tamron 17-35mm 2.8, 17mm, f/5.6, iso 200, 8 sec)

The big Stormchasing Trip of 2011

It’s Monday morning and if you are reading this, it’s likely I just posted it before boarding a plane for Denver, Colorado as I am off on my 2nd Annual Stormchasing super-duper adventure.

This could lead to two things: 1) I am way too busy to post any blogs until maybe Friday and perhaps not even then…or 2) I will see some amazing stuff and will be unable to control myself and HAVE to post something.

Last year I did this for basically a single day. Flew into Denver at night, drove to Nebraska, crashed at some hotel and then chased that late afternoon, stayed over night and drove back to Denver and flew home. All told, it was around 900 miles driven and no tornadoes or supercells that I really wanted to see.

THIS year…I am planning on three days chasing.  Land in Denver again, but at 8:45am this time. Driving to the Nebraska-South Dakota border and chasing some big storms this afternoon. I’ll then start heading south to the plain states of Kansas and Oklahoma. Not sure how Tuesday looks yet, so I’m hoping to get lucky along the way. That night I may meet-up with an awesome stormchasing photographer named Shane Kirk and shoot some lightning with him. The next day is supposed to be a huge outbreak of severe weather all the way from north Texas to Kansas. That’s the money day. Then I come home first thing Thursday morning.

I can’t even begin to explain my excitement for this. I couldn’t sleep on Saturday night. My brain wouldn’t shut off. I’m writing this blog post Sunday evening and I’m curious how this night is going to go (update: I slept).

The miles I’ll rack up on this trip is probably going to be mind-boggling.

Needless to say, I’m hoping to get a lot of great shots this trip. It’s so unpredictable though…you have to get lucky and be in the right place at the right time. I’m all geared up…two camera bodies, tripod, a lightning trigger, two shutter releases, Flip HD camera, lenses, laptop, GPS, AC converter and weather band radio.

The unique thing about a trip like this…I have no idea what’s going to happen. I have a general idea of where I’ll be today, but that could change. I could end up anywhere. I could see anything. Or nothing.

It’s just so awesome:)

Oh yeah…the image above was shot during last year’s trip and I’ve posted it before. I love the photo, but it’s a bit overprocessed for my current tastes. The fact is…with that amazing backlit-sunset happening, it would have been very, very tough to shoot this scene without HDR.  So much dynamic range.

So wish me luck…still haven’t seen an actual tornado in person, so I hope to end that this trip. And if I do, my buddy Bryan Cox is going to regret not going for the rest of his life!

A closer look at the Ogalalla feed mill

A week or so ago I posted a much wider shot of this feel mill located in the small town of Ogalalla, Nebraska. It just stood out from the town like a place beckoning me to photograph it. It was old looking, boarded up and left alone…but somehow the whiteness of the silos and buildings made it feel alive somehow.

This was a hand-held shot and my only wish is that I had more practice in with the lens I had rented for the trip…a 16-35mm Canon. It just wasn’t as sharp on the wider apertures.

Stormchasing: A backlit Nebraska storm

Of all the things I saw during my trip to Nebraska to chase around some storms, this scene was one of the best. I don’t even know if the HDR processing can convey what it looked like in person, but it was breathtaking. The sun back-lighting the falling rain, the scud clouds moving quickly along the surface…the dirt road running into the distance…the grass was blowing, the clouds churning…it was a sight to behold.

Myself and another stormchaser were just standing here, talking, looking in awe and snapping photos. A good guy too, from the town of Ogalalla where I shot the feed mill photo posted yesterday. Love the people in Nebraska, just good, kind folk.

Technically this was just a hand-held, 3-bracket HDR using Photomatix, CS5, Imagenomic and Topaz.

An old feed mill in Ogalalla, Nebraska

I have a feeling that if you dumped me in Nebraska for a week, I’d still come home wishing I had snapped just a few more photos.

If you follow my work, you know I stormchased in Nebraska a few weeks ago. I drove from Denver to Ogalalla, Nebraska late at night to set up for the storms the following day. Never heard of this town, never been there before obviously, and it was just the next stop on the road with hotels and me dying for sleep at 2am.

The next day I had a lot of time to sit around waiting for storms to pop, so I drove around this little old area of Ogalalla. This feed mill was abandoned and awesome. The clouds of course made me giddy to snap brackets for some HDR photos and the mill itself was a beautiful white color despite some old, rusty areas.

I love the overpass behind it, a place I ended up wandering to after taking this picture. I also have a couple of other shots of the mill, a little closer with more detail.

An old Nebraska tree

I love all the bazillion kinds of ways to process photos. You can make something a simple black and white or go crazy with HDR or textures. The possibilities are endless.

I snapped this photo during my stormchasing trip to Nebraska. It’s doubtful that normal person would have realized those puffy, cute clouds would turn into a raging thunderstorm a few hours later, but that’s another topic. While I was there for storms, I couldn’t help stop over and over again to take photos of some of the beautiful Nebraska countryside.

It may be cliche or uncreative of me, but I do so love trees and when they are found isolated in cool settings, I dig that. I loved the bigness of the tree with the rolling prairie grass behind it and the fluffy clouds all around. It was almost a mission of mine on this trip to find scenes like this.

Technically this was processed simply by fading the color, overlaying a texture and applying some additional vignetting.

New look, new beginning

Chances are if you visit this photography site with any consistency, you’ll notice things look a little different today. This redesign has been a long time coming and I was finally motivated last week to get it done.

The old design was great, but I felt it was lacking in simplicity and focus. When you arrived at the frontpage, it was hard to determine just exactly what kind of photography I did. Better yet, I felt it led visitors to believe I only did outdoor, landscape images when in fact I do much more.

I love the new frontpage. The background texture is one I shot at a nearby desert recharge park in Chandler. The images on the slideshow give a quick overview of some of my best work and the style of photography I love. The blurbs at the bottom guide newcomers where they want to go. Moreover, it’s much easier to find a way to contact me on the site.

The information presented on the various pages for portraits, events and prints has been updated. My “about” page rewritten.

Above all, I feel like this is a new beginning for my photography business. Good things are happening around here and I want to stay ahead of the curve.

I appreciate and love all those who support me and my photography…I can’t tell you how blessed I am. Thank you for stopping by. Please take a moment to look around the new site and let me know what you think!

Also, a super special thanks to my amazing wife (of almost 12 years) for helping me put the finishing touches on the site. She helped me decide on the background, proofread my jibberish, twisted and turned them into coherent sentences, and I look much better for it. Simply put, she’s the best thing in my life and I couldn’t do any of this without her. Thank you Jina!

Stormchasing: More stormy skies

This is another photo from the Nebraska plains near the town of Mullen. The shot has an interesting feel to it, partly because of the HDR processing, but also the motion in the tall grasses.

Before this big stormchasing adventure, I hadn’t planned on doing much HDR photography because I figured when you were up close to this stuff, the high winds would really be a disadvantage to taking multiple exposures in rapid succession. Even doing them quickly can’t keep up with 40-50mph winds and clouds that seem to be only hundreds of feet above your head.

Photomatix is pretty good about eliminating ghosting from the movement of objects and stuff across multiple exposures, but I just felt it might be too hard to do here. I think I was wrong about that, hence the reason my series has changed to HDR for my last few posts.

Because of the blur caused by the motion in the grass and the rapidly moving clouds, this picture almost seems like a painting to me. Either way, it’s just another shot from my fun adventure out in Nebraska. Can’t imagine what next year will be like when I chase for 4-5 days.

Stormchasing: Scary clouds over the highway

My intention while I was out stormchasing was to get photographs that weren’t dominated by powerlines and other vehicles like a lot of severe weather photography is like these days. But I couldn’t resist the shot of these insanely crazy clouds over this road and the car of a few other stormchasers I was following along with.

These guys were great…they pulled over alongside me earlier and asked if I was chasing, so we chatted and kind of stuck together for awhile. Good guys and it was amazing to find out how friendly people were. I met another stormchaser while out there and he was just as nice a guy. Must be a fun fraternity to be a part of out there.