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Airplane

Airplane - Downtown Urban Phoenix Reflection

(click to view on black // canon 5d mark ii, tamron 17-35mm 2.8, 30mm, iso 100, f/4 // buy print)

You may know about my love for reflection photos like this one. What you may not know is that I’m kind of specific about when I shoot them.

Like, if someone empties their swimming pool and it floods the street…I don’t rush outside with camera gear in hand. That just doesn’t get me going at all.

But what does motivate me are storms. Of course right? And when it comes to reflections…I like the puddles of water leftover after a good rain. And even more specifically…I like to shoot them at sunset or in the early, cloudy morning. And finally…I need to be in the downtown, urban environment. I could have taken some shots in my driveway this week, but I wasn’t as inspired until I found myself in an abandoned parking lot. Don’t ask me why, it’s just the way it is.

It’s kind of a weird thing to shoot too. You wonder if people are looking at you funny. You are just walking around, tripod in hand…staring at the ground. From 100 feet away, I’ll bet it looks goofy as heck. I love it!

Now I love this shot I posted today, but honestly I think the plane makes it and I never even intended for it to be there. I just liked the pattern in the cement and the glimpse of some powerlines. But as I was bracketing the shot, this plane flew overhead and turned an okay image into some a bit more special for me.

And the reason I like shooting after it rains is the stormy clouds that you usually have and that awesome texture you get in the reflection. Swirls of light and dark…adds an element you can’t really control.

Cloud to ground

(click to view on black // canon 5d mark ii, tamron 17-35mm 2.8, 24mm, iso 125, f/7.1, 30 sec // buy print)

I recommend clicking on the image…it will put a black box around it and fit it to your screen size…just in case your monitor isn’t giant like mine isn’t.

Haven’t posted a lightning strike in what feels like AGES, which is probably far from the truth. Anyways, this was a towering strike that I cropped to fill the entire frame. The original capture had it a bit more to the left than I liked. When shooting lightning, sometimes you don’t aim in the right spot and almost miss. So cropping is a fantastic way to recompose the image to get your bolt looking awesome.

In the realm of weather, a lightning strike that hits the surface of the earth is technically called “Cloud to Ground” or CG. These are the kind I of course go for. There are very, very rare occasions where “In Cloud” lightning creates an awesome image.

I have one of those rare ones that I’ll post at a later day. One of my favorites.

War of the Worlds

(click to view on black // canon 5d mark ii, 50mm 1.4, f/5.6, iso 100, 30 sec // buy print)

It’s Movie Title Wednesday here on the bloggity blog blog, and this week we have a remake of an old classic, which was an adaption from one of my favorite books of all-time.

War of the Worlds. The recent remake version starred Tom Cruise and was just okay for me. I love those kind of sci-fi, end of the world type disaster films, but they just didn’t do a very good job with it. The original version (at least, I think there are only two, I’m not doing any research here…there might be hundreds, who knows) was considered the “classic”, but all I remember is being disappointed at how different it was from the book.

Now…the actual book was brilliant. Written by H.G. Wells, I read it in high school and I was so sucked into the story, I remember looking over my shoulder a few times while I read it in my bedroom. If you’ve never read the book, then ignore both movies I mention above and go pick up a copy. In fact, I may read it again.

So why did I choose this movie anyways? Well…the lightning above….it reminded me of the Tom Cruise version with the tall, slim robotic tripod alien beings walking over the cities destroying everything around them. In fact, I don’t know how you look at the image above and don’t at least get some impression of a giant, spindly creature towering over Chandler, Arizona. Kind of creeps me out actually.

I have to give some credit for the title of this image to my friend Scott Wood. Not the title itself, but the idea of finding “things” in lightning. Sort of like looking at puffy clouds and seeing a dog, or a car, or whatever. Scott posted an image called The Skater” and it made me realize how much fun it is to look for familiar things in a lightning strike. It’s definitely not always easy.

But this one was a no-brainer.

A thundering sunset in Buckeye

Strikes at Sunset

(click image to view on black and so it also fits your monitor // canon 5d mark ii, canon 85mm 1.8, f/10, iso 400, 13 sec // buy print)

Two nights in a row an isolated thunderstorm just appeared over Buckeye…which is west of Phoenix. It’s just kind of a rare thing to see that happen, so the second night I didn’t let it go to waste.

I flew out there and arrived east of Buckeye to shoot this giant storm that kept dropping lightning everywhere. Normally I would get closer, but my goal was to capture not just the lightning, but hopefully the cloud above it. Especially because there was still some fading light from the sun to add to the composition. I decided not to crop this one because I liked the transition of color upwards and the way the lightning comes out of the base of the storm at the very bottom.

Considering this was on the shorter side…only 13 seconds, getting that many strikes was awesome. And there is also something cool about powerplants, powerlines…something electrical being framed with a lightning storm.

Speed Limit 55

Speed Limit 55 - Arizona Monsoon Lightning

What a day of stormchasing on Friday! All the way south almost to Tucson, when crazy lightning starts happening, but also a lot of rain and tough shooting conditions. We ended up heading back to Phoenix because newer storms were building west of it and we figured that was easier to intercept than chasing them south of Tucson.

Almost looked like this amazing night would turn out to be a bust because I hadn’t gotten a single lightning photo. Then we got to Phoenix and it was still looking grim. But I noticed a darkness growing over South Mountain and after that that skies opened up and we had lightning to shoot in multiple directions!

I found a dry spot just south of Hunt Highway on Gilbert Road, my old stomping grounds, and just fired away.

I have a few similar shots of lightning hitting beyond this road…but only this one has the speed limit sign lit up from a passing car.

(canon 5d mark ii, canon 50mm 1.4, f/5.6, iso 100, 30 sec – buy print)

Lay down your burdens

The Sofa -

(please click to view this nasty ol’ couch on black)

(title from the Battlestar Galactica soundtrack)

When I’m stormchasing, I can get very tunnel-visioned. I have a goal of where I want to get to and sometimes I’m unable to relax and just enjoy the stuff I see along the way. Of course, that usually depends on the situation, because other times I can be completely mellow and just go where the wind takes me.

This shot was from Labor Day and I believe my buddy Ken is the one who pulled the vehicle over. I was too busy being wishy-washy about whether we should run to Yuma or just hang out here.

Anyways…Ken took this big photography class from Mark Wallace not too long ago and one of his assignments was to do one big project on “something.” He decided to use me as his subject and basically created a little documentary/episode of the day in the life of a stormchaser.

So this couch. It actually doesn’t look that bad. But that doesn’t mean anything. It could be full of scorpions or God knows what. And yes…Ken wanted me to sit on it to get a posed shot for his project. I did it…but it was on the arm rest and I wasn’t very comfortable.

As for my photo…I love stuff like this. A desert landscape with something completely random throw into the mix to provide an awesome scene. Usually when I find some kind of “lost” element in my images, I really play with the tones and style of the image. I like to get crazy and give something like this a stark, post-apocalyptic look and feel.

What makes an image like this fun for me…it throws together two things I love: Weather and lost things. If you know anything about me, I rarely go out to shoot landscapes unless there are clouds, and mostly, stormy clouds. If it’s a blue sky, I wont even pack the camera. The other thing I love is urbex…farmex (gonna call this desertex for the fun of it)…stuff that has been abandoned or left for dead. So combining those into one image…well…that’s frakking awesome.

Have a great weekend!

(canon 5d mark ii, tamron 17-35mm 2.8, 17mm, f/16, iso 100 – buy print)

Over the Top

Over the Top - Arizona Monsoon Lightning

(click to see on black and for the image to fit your screen)

I knew when I saw this in Lightroom after dumping my card from that night’s excursion, this would end up being a Movie Title Wednesday.

The sole reason I know the song “Meet me Halfway“…is because of Over the Top. I haven’t seen the movie in awhile, but I can still picture Sylvester Stallone using that pulley in his truck to work out while driving across the country with that song playing in the background. I have no idea if critics thought the movie was good or not, but for some reason it left an impact on me. Not sure if it was the father struggling to connect with his son, the arm wrestling, the clips of guys drinking motor oil or eating lighted cigarettes…or whatever…but I remember loving it and even as a kid, getting a little teary-eyed at the end.

I captured this lightning on the evening of August 2nd, a sort of surprise night where I wasn’t even expecting to go out. It was the second night in a row that an isolated storm cell built up just over Buckeye, west of Phoenix. It was strange…because storms usually start in the high country to the NE, or in the SE deserts, and move towards us. Two straight nights a giant cell just pops up over Buckeye for no apparent reason.

I skipped it the first night, but not the second. I could see it exploding from the backyard, so I bolted west and setup with the 85mm to capture some pretty awesome lightning strikes. In fact, that night turned out to be pretty good and I think I ended up with over 20 decent lightning strikes.

This particular one has a little shoot “over the top” of the cloud, hence getting it’s movie name today.

(canon 5d mark ii, canon 85mm 1.8, f/10, iso 250, 30 sec)

Vortex of Electricity

We return to last Thursday night just above Casa Grande on highway 387 north of the city. A great spot for an elevated position over the city, the second I arrived and got setup, the light show went nuts. I think I have at least 3-4 keepers just from a 20 minute span here and that didn’t count a couple I got early on the south edges of Phoenix.

These first few shots I got here were kind of special though. Yes, the Chaos of Light I posted last week was pretty dang intense and probably the best of the bunch, but this shot has the early visual of the microburst going on with this storm cell. You can see the rain falling and a weird fog hovering over the city. That is either rain or dust, but I believe it’s probably a bit of a mixture. I also love the cone-shaped cloud that the lightning is coming out of…almost like some kind of vortex.

The photo below is a bit grainy, but you can really see what a microburst does. Rain falls out of the cloud with an intense downburst, and then the wind explodes in all directions. A microburst can create winds up to 100mph at times in a very isolated spot. When people ask how come we get all these dust storms in Phoenix, or what creates them…this is it. Downdrafts/microburst that create strong winds that kick up the dust and flow outwards for great distances. You get a bunch of these together and suddenly they form a huge wall of dust 70 miles long.

Last year I posted a series of images that was called “The Birth of a Dust Storm“…if you want to see a bit more.

Arizona Monsoon Microburst

Chaos of Light

Chaos of Light - Casa Grand Arizona Lightning

(please click to view on black, it’s just that much better)

I was in Vegas for two pretty busy days Wednesday and Thursday. Landed back home around 5pm last night. Ate dinner, spent some time with the family, saw some weather on the radar and since it had been almost week since I did any kind of stormchasing, I decided to head out.

Glad I did.

I captured a few strikes early on from Queen Creek and I-10, but then I decided to head south. I stopped for a bit, hoping more lightning would flare up and soon enough, further south a cell started flashing. A dust storm arrived, and shooting lightning through a wall of that stuff is useless, so I flew south, blasted through the dust and popped out the other side just in time.

I had a spot picked out from a few weeks ago to get some elevation if a storm ever appeared over Casa Grande. I arrived, set up quickly and then sat around watching the city in front of me get lambasted with lightning strikes.

This was the shot of the night for me. I don’t usually talk about processing, but this one was kind of different for me. I did what I usually do when I convert lightning to black and white (Silver Efex is a big part of that), but then decided at the last minute to keep the color. So you not only get the extra definition in the clouds and rain that my B&W processing provides, but also enhanced colors tones. It may vary with monitors and browsers, but at least on mine, it doesn’t look like TOO much color.

It’s kind of hard to put a finger on the why, but for some reason on this shot, I felt like the color better conveyed the scene than being devoid of it.

Not sure if I’ve mentioned this before or not, but this year has been absolutely epic for lightning in Arizona. Seems like anytime I go out, I find the storm and point the camera. It’s never that easy, but this season has been crazy awesome.

(canon 5d mark ii, tamron 17-35mm 2.8, 30mm, f/7.1, iso 200, 30sec – buy print)

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)