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Stormy weather ahead

A couple of days ago we had some fairly severe weather develop across Arizona. Storms dumping a lot of rain and producing 60+mph winds. The cell on the left of this grouping was actually severe warned a bit after this. Damaging winds, tons of rain…good stuff.

I shot this in the middle of Gilbert Road just south of Hunt Highway looking north. They are actually way across town on the very far side of Phoenix, but it’s amazing how clear the skies were that you could actually see the rain falling.

Again…my love affair of roads continues.

This is a hybrid exposure blend, plus a little Topaz Adjust on the road and Nik Silver Efex for the black and white processing.

Monsoon chasing on the Apache Trail

This is a little bit of an older shot taken about a month ago in July. I really wanted to post the sunset photo from last night, but I’m having trouble with getting the colors to show up correctly once I upload them to the web, so I’m not sure what’s going on there. Any help or advice would be appreciated.

I took this photo on the Apache Trail road when I was out stormchasing with my buddy Brian. I thought the powerlines would ruin the shot, but for some reason I like them, along with the road of course. Have you not yet realized my love for those double-yellow lines disappearing down black asphalt paths?

I mainly took this because of the monsoon cloud off in the distance…it had a cool look to it, was more dreamy than scary and it had a little bit of rain falling from the bottom.

The birth of a monsoon dust storm

Awhile ago I posted the above photo of an awesome looking monsoon thunderstorm headed towards us. This was shot only a half-mile from my house and once it hit, we had over an inch of rain in less than an hour.

One of the big bonuses of observing this particular scene was having a front seat, wide angle view of the birth of a dust storm. Now, this wasn’t going to become one of those massive haboobs you may have heard about that happen in Arizona, but it was fun to watch anyways.

What you will see below is likely the result of the strong microburst occurring right over the mountain where you see all the rain falling. These happen a lot during monsoon season where the downburst of rain and wind is so strong, it ends up exploding in all directions, which tends to cause lots of damage with falling trees, roof tiles, etc. If they happen over the desert, you end up with big time dust storms.

The series below (minus the last two photos) are all HDRs from three brackets each. They are very unpolished, I just ran them through the Photomatix batch process to do this, I didn’t spend any time cleaning them up. You can probably tell the differences between the one above and these below (Geez, I hope so anyways!).

To show you how fast this happens, this first photo below was taken at 2:26:02 pm.

You can see the dust starting to kick up here on the right horizon.

The dust on the right is starting to extend higher up, while on the left you can see new stuff getting going.

Now it’s really starting to go crazy.

At this point, you can clearly see the dust coming at me. I was standing here waiting to run at the last minute, wanting to capture as many shots as I could before my camera would end up hating me.

2:29:32 pm

This is where I packed up and took off running towards my car about 200 feet away. Took just over three minutes.

2:29:55 pm

Got to my car and snapped a couple of photos back, you can see it just behind me now, probably some of the dust already hitting me.

2:30:38

Less than a minute later, we’d in the middle of it.

It was exhilarating for me because while I’ve lived here my entire life, I usually see the dust storms roll into town long after they’ve formed out in the middle of the deserts. I’ve never before seen one actually start right before my eyes. Such a cool thing to finally witness.

Hopefully you guys enjoyed that!

Floating

I can’t explain it. I try to, but people tend to just look at me like I’m weird. Unless you are a weather junkie like me. But there is something majestic, mysterious and powerful about giant cumulus clouds that have an imminent chance of turning nasty, dropping rain and sending lightning streaking to the earth. I could stare at them all day.

So as we’re heading home from Williams last week, I keep seeing this cloud in my rear view mirror, craning my neck and it’s killing me not to stop and photograph it. Lucky for me, the guy I was driving with smokes and the promise of multiple smoke breaks on the way back to Phoenix was a nice way to fulfill my desire to stop every 20 miles.

I took this at the Sunset Point rest area, a popular spot for drivers on I-17 between Flagstaff and Phoenix. It was crowded, lots of trucks and people, so I walked aways to get to this little frontage road. I had no way of getting a shot without a road in it (which is not a bad thing at all), so I took advantage of the lines and rested my tripod low to the ground.

I commented on Twitter last week about how sometimes you get the first look at a new, merged HDR photo and just smile because you know it’s awesome. Well, this was that photo. Obviously, that opinion is subjective and it may have a lot to do with my love of clouds. The Arizona sky was just gorgeous that day, this cloud was just floating there like a giant island in the sky and I love the road running off into the distance creating some depth to the shot.

Six brackets, Photomatix 4 Beta, CS5, etc.

Holy CRAP that was close!

(See below for the uncropped version)

Storms rolled into Phoenix from the southeast last night at a fairly fast clip. I was photographing some lightning off on the horizon to the northeast while waiting for the stuff south to hit us.

Once it finally arrived, it was quickly evident that if you wanted to stand outside your car with a tripod to photograph lightning, you’d better have a wetsuit and waterproof housing for your camera, not to mention a personal “windshield wiper” for your lens. There was just so much water, the levels of Precip Water in the Atmo (PWAT) were close to 2 inches I heard, and we received 1.22 inches at my house. That makes the third storm this year that we’ve gotten over an inch of rain.

So the photo above. Wow. I learned a secret from Shane Kirk about shooting lightning in pouring rain. You can do it from your dashboard with the windshield wipers on high. It’s not ideal, it may not work perfectly nor give you the most crisp shot of all time…but if you have no other choice, it can suffice.

This strike hit just under half a mile away from what I judged. Usually you know a bolt is close when you see the burnt orange “fire trails” that kind of fade away from a close strike. There was a little debate with my buddy Bryan about whether it hit right in front of that sign, but if you click on the large version, you can see the main, thicker part of the bolt stops at that hill and the rest of it is some kind of reflection in the rain.

The one bummer, if there is one, was that I was at 28mm for this shot when I should have been wide open at 17mm. Would have been even more amazing to see the upper levels of this bolt. Feel lucky to have captured this, the storm was essentially on top of me and I chose one direction to aim.

Here is the same shot straight out of the camera. A friend of mine, Brian Matiash, offered the idea of cropping the little left strike out, to see what it looks like and I have to admit, I like it better. But the original is below too!

This is most definitely the closest lightning strike I’ve caught on camera and you can be assured my heart skipped a beat!

One of my favorite spots: Lost Dutchman Road

This scene may not be a stranger to some of you. It most definitely isn’t for me. Since I’ve started seriously chasing storms earlier this year, I’ve probably taken photographs from this spot 10 times? I can’t help it. The road and cliffs stay the same, but the light, the shadows and the clouds always change.

I’ll probably throw something together someday with all the different views of this place over the course of a year.

I photographed this last Monday while out with my daughter. She was in her car seat, watching Toy Story on the DVD player and I was setting up in the middle of the road.  I can’t wait for the day she can go out there with me and appreciate the view from this spot. I hope she enjoys it as much as I do.

This is a six-bracket exposure using my trusty Tamron 17-35mm 2.8, Photomatix, CS5 and other goodies.

Downpour over the San Tan Mountains

I’ve been wanting to get a shot like this all summer. I hope to get another. A storm cloud, kind of isolated, dropping rain on the desert and you can see everything from the ground to the top of the cloud. There is something amazing about seeing a giant, floating cumulus cloud with rain falling from the bottom. Almost like the rain is holding the entire contraption up in the air.

I could have gotten a shot without the road or powerlines (and I did), but I like the way the lines from each create a little perspective on just how far away the cloud is and how big it is.

We’ll be moving in the next 60 days or so and it’s going to be hard to not have wide open areas like this available by a simple 12 minute drive from my house. This is the Gila River Indian nation land and it’s been so very kind to me when out chasing storms.

The Mercedes Benz of Amsterdam

I loved this old Mercedes Benz as I was walking the streets of Amsterdam and just had to take a few pictures of it. I have another view that contrasts the bike, but this one is something a little different than my normal HDR processing.

I processed the photo as a normal black and white, and then did a single-image HDR out of the color version of the RAW photo and then masked that into the B&W to come up with something a little more interesting to me personally.

I’m calling it an HDR Blend and would like to think up a better name for it, but jet lag has a hold on me and I’m a little bit sleepy *grin*

Anyways, give me some old buildings, cobblestones, bricks, and some nice sports cars and I could be taking pictures all day.

Illegal Shadows

That’s me and my shadow perched on the trunk of my car on Thursday night, watching the clouds develop along an outflow boundary. The sun was close to setting and I liked how my shadow looked as it stretched across the road, plus the clouds and the mountains were fairly interesting.

So what’s up with the shadows being illegal (if you read the title)?

Well, where I’m parked is about 10 feet off Gilbert Road, which runs through the Gila River Indian Community for a few miles before it hits State Route 87. While I sat there, a DPS officer went by, then came back, u-turned and drove up behind me.

He informed me that where I was sitting, on my trunk, taking pictures of the clouds and sunset, was an illegal location. I was on Indian land and it was against Federal Law to sit there.

Funny…last year I was out there in the dead of night shooting lightning photos, a DPS guy pulled up, saw what I was doing and informed me that a storm was coming from the south (ya, I already knew that) and I may get a few more shots. Then he drove off. He told me I was fine sitting there.

So back to present day, the guy next informs me that two Gila River RANGERS were on their way to explain this to me in a little more detail. I was like…”Really? Rangers are coming? Because I’m taking pictures of the sunset?”

Yup.

So this giant truck flies up, two bulky guys get out, strut up to me and tell me what’s up. Of course, these guys say I was basically OKAY sitting where I was, but nowhere else. I asked about a few previous photos I took further south of a graffiti-ed bridge we found, and one of them said I would probably get in trouble if they caught me doing that. Ugh, whatever.

Bottom line, they left and I sat around for a little longer, apparently just fine and dandy.

But what is it about photographers that draws this evil eye from law enforcement? Here I am, calmly sitting on my car, with a camera, watching the sky…and next thing I know, I’ve got two police vehicles and three officers talking to me. People passing by must have thought I was doing something PRETTY bad to warrant all that attention.

I’ve read countless stories like this, but it’s starting to happen to me with more frequency. I like what a friend of mine Allison said about a photog she knows…“It’s easier to ask for forgiveness than permission.”

The road through the forest

While it may be obvious from my constant babble about weather, storms and lightning, that I LOVE that stuff with passion, there is also something else I enjoy immensely.

The cool pine trees of northern Arizona.

Being a desert-born dude who lives in the Phoenix area almost year round, minus the occasional excursion elsewhere, getting out of that blistering sunshine is of vital importance, especially during the summer. Ever since I was a kid my dad used to take us camping once or twice a summer. People who don’t live in Arizona have no idea that the pine trees are only less than 90 minutes northeast of Phoenix, and if you drive just a little further, you can go from 105 degrees to 75 in just two hours. And at night, the temps drop to the 40’s and lower.

We’re hopefully going camping again this summer, me and a few buddies. The place I always go is the Mongollon Rim, north of Payson, AZ.

This photo, however, was taken about three hours north and west of Phoenix, around the Williams area. I visited back in May and this weekend while cleaning up my hard drives, I found out I hadn’t processed all of the photos I took that day. I cannot lie, I love this shot. The storm clouds add a nice contrast to the green pine trees, and you know me, I always enjoy a nice road in a composition.

I processed this with the usual suspects: Photomatix, CS5, Topaz Adjust, Imagenomic….but with Topaz I used a little more flavor than just a simple contrast adjustment, and I like the effect that I got here.