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The Hills are Alive

Lightning over the Catalinas

Man. It’s been awhile since I’ve been that sick. Strange abdominal pain. 103 temp. Trip to the ER. Almost 10 days being completely away from the online world. And the whole time with the iPad on my lap re-watching Battlestar Galactica. God bless Netflix.

Happy to report I got through all 76 episodes. And yes, it was awesome as always.

Anyways, despite being sick, it was a nice break from everything. Cleared my head a bit, stopped thinking about what I’m usually obsessed about(photography) and just laid around, soaking up up some time off. Felt good.

Also feels good to be back posting again. This particular image was shot on July 30th down in Tucson over the Catalina Mountains. My buddy Ken Peterson and I left around 1-2pm and spent the day timelapsing and waiting for the sun to go down so we could shoot some lightning.

Witnessing lightning over these mountains is something to behold. I assume the people living down there are used to it, but the sheer power and frequency was amazing.

Normally to get these many strikes in one shot takes a long exposure, maybe one around 30+ seconds. This was only 10 seconds. That’s it. Five strikes. And this is actually cropped a bit, losing another strike that was off camera left.

(canon 5d mark ii, canon 85mm 1.8, f/7.1, iso 100, 10 sec)

Saguaro Alley

Saguaro Alley Phoenix Arizona Desert

(click to view scaled down to your resolution with a nice black border, or if you have a huge monitor, see it a little bit bigger!)

Last week Wednesday  marked the first day out stormchasing the 2011 Arizona monsoon. In reality, nothing much happened other than few isolated, brief downpours over Phoenix. I met up with my buddy Chris Frailey who has joined the cause of tossing his gas money down into the gully where I dump mine…and we drove around Bush Highway a bit over by Saguaro Lake and got a few shots, but nothing “stormy” to speak of.

As usually happens, this picture was by accident. I was looking behind this scene as I was driving at some clouds and was trying to find some cactus to get in the shot since there was little else to use in the area. As I got out of the truck, I looked up and saw this lone cloud all lit up by the setting sun and it turned out to be a much better shot than I what I was going for.

I’m pretty beat. This holiday weekend actually seemed to last a looong time, mostly because I didn’t sleep a whole lot. Watched the entire Lord of The Rings: Extended Edition on Blu-Ray, and chased Saturday, Sunday and last night. I have a few lightning captures to post, one of them something I haven’t shot before and it will land on the blog tomorrow for Movie Title Wednesday.

Time for a break though. Tonight, I’m going to sit back and wait to see if any storms roll through downtown Phoenix, and if so, then I shoot, if not, I will be lazy on the couch.

(exif: canon 5d mark ii, canon tamron 17-35mm 2.8, 17mm, iso100, f/13)

Snow on the Four Peaks

Snow on the Four Peaks Arizona

Back on the very last day of December, I posted a picture of the Four Peaks mountain range fresh after a snow storm hit them. You can see that one below. I didn’t process the one above for awhile after that, but eventually got around to working on it. I’m glad I did because it ended up being kind of cool for me to really see how fast things can change when viewing a landscape.

The top photo occurred exactly 7 minutes and 42 seconds after the one below. I moved spots between the two captures…going lower I believe for the top one.

It’s kind of amazing to see this back on frames instead of what you saw with your eyes. While I  totally witnessed this and knew what was happening…it’s hard to top a before and after pair of images.

Oh, and if I haven’t said it before…man I love Arizona.

(top – exif: canon rebel xsi, canon 50mm 1.4, f/14, iso 100) (bottom – exif: canon rebel xsi, canon 50mm 1.4, f/16, iso 100)

Snow on the Four Peaks Arizona

 

Ripples

(click to see larger and a bit better…Wordpress re-sizing makes this one a tad too dark in places)

The image I posted yesterday evoked some awesome comments from you guys about what might be wrong with the composition of the scene. It came down to the foreground element. And over the course of the comments, it became clear that the foreground in a landscape photo can make it or break it.

I wanted to thank you all for your input. I honestly wasn’t able to put a finger on it until your thoughts helped me realize I was thinking the same thing all along.

If you read this blog regularly, you’ve probably heard me talk about foreground elements while I’m out storm/weather chasing. Often you are in such a hurry to capture a scene before it changes that you run around like a crazy person looking for a special object to include in your photo…like a cactus, or rock, or abandoned building…whatever. I love this part of it, but sometimes you just can’t find something awesome.

The image above was taken in the early morning of February 19th. The sky were amazingly thick from an approaching storm, but what was incredible was some of light from the rising sun was hitting the bottom of these clouds, giving them those orange, purple and red tones. You couldn’t even see where the hole in the clouds was for the light to shine through. It just felt so dark.

Ironically, I’ve converted this to black and white because I like drama in my stormchasing photos and these clouds look more foreboding and mysterious void of color. The foreground in this shot is very subtle, but the reason I chose it was the rippled in the ground leading out towards the horizon. I’m not sure where they were from…perhaps some heavy rains created some running water and the waves were formed.

We’ve entered the driest time of the year for Arizona, so I’ll be looking back at some older weather images I haven’t processed yet and post them in the coming weeks. Otherwise I’ll go  nuts without any storms to shoot!

Although…if things line up in the next few weeks out in the midwest, I’ll be taking a 3-4 day trip out there to stormchase…and I cannot wait for that!

(exif: canon eos 5d mark ii, tamron 17-35mm 2.8, 17mm, iso 100, f/13)

 

Waves in the Desert

(click to view with a dark border and sized to fit your monitor/resolution)

I’m pretty tired right now. I get back in town tomorrow afternoon, but will be back here in Vegas all next week. Long days, focused work…draining. I’ll be a happier man once vacation gets here in mid-May. I can’t wait to see some of our family living in Memphis.

This is another photograph from last Sunday morning’s trip along the Apache Trail in search of those wonderful morning-after-a-storm pictures that I love. The scene has a lot of crazy elements to it, including a solo Saguaro cactus, low-lying foggy clouds hugging the valleys between mountain ranges, snow on the Four Peaks on the left horizon and some absolutely gorgeous clouds creating an ocean-like waves in the sky.

My love for this time of day is growing. Up before dark, headed out somewhere just waiting for the sun to rise…and just exploring the place you are at, looking for something unique and interesting. It’s always an adventure.

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

Anduril

(click on the image for a nicer view in lightbox)

Sometimes getting the right shot is all about being there.

I’m not going to brag about this photo being some kind of amazing composition…because in reality, it’s pretty simple. At the time I was actually wishing I had something better to get into the frame than just a few saguaros. Like maybe a glacial lake in the Himalayas (whaaat?)  But sometimes all it takes for me is a killer sky. And killer skies aren’t always easy to come by.

I remember seeing photographs and always being jealous that they somehow lucked out to get that beautiful sunrise or sunset.

The fact is…they were there to get it. That’s all it takes really.

I’ve grown to love getting up before dark, packing my gear, grabbing a coffee, some snacks and heading out down some desert road to see where the morning finds me. Sadly, it just isn’t something I can do all the time. On this particular morning, it was around 33 degrees out, I was bundled up, hiked down a short trail and waited for the sun to peak over the Superstitions.

If you ever are wondering how you might decide whether or not there will be cool clouds the morning you decide to do a trip like this (esp when it’s dark out still), usually times during or after a rain storm can be perfect. Yeah, it might be raining, but it will likely break here and there and offer stunning shots. In this one above, you can see rain falling on the left horizon, headed my way. You can also look at infrared radar to see if the skies are cloudy around your area before you head out.

Of course, a lot of this is based on Arizona. I know in places like Oregon or the east coast…just because it stops raining doesn’t mean the skies wont stay gray.

Then again…if you aren’t out there waiting for a spectacular moment…you’ll miss it.

Oh, if you are wondering about the title…it’s from Lord of the Rings. If you figure out what it means, it kind of fits the image perfectly.

(exif: canon 5d mark ii, tamron 17-35mm 2.8, 18mm, f/16, iso 100)

Then the morning comes

Superstition Morning Sunrise Cactus Saguaro Arizona Desert

(Website note: My images are now clickable and displayed in a handy-dandy lightbox. Please check it out, let me know what you think!)

When you are advancing in your career or just going down the path of life, people tell you never to look back…just worry about what’s ahead. What’s coming. No need to relish on mistakes or even past victories…it’s all about the future.

I think photography may be the one place where that advice is completely wrong. I wont even get into the benefits (for me) of seeing where I’ve come from and how I’ve changed, but mainly want to stick to the physical implications of “looking back.”

There is a trail in the middle of the photo above. I ran up it quickly to get in place for the sunrise (in 34 degree weather…brrrr for this desert rat) because there was a nice cactus that you can see up aways AND it had a nice height to overlook the entire area. I spent some time there, I loitered, I got some shots…but then it was time to go because I wanted to look for some new scenes.

As I was leaving down the path, I remembered how often it’s paid dividends in the past…so I turned around. Obviously we all have our own ideas of good composition, but to me this was the one image I would end up taking away from stopping at this location.

Never forget the value of turning around or looking back when shooting sunrises, storms or landscapes.

I don’t know how to describe the mornings here in Arizona…especially the open deserts. I hope this image conveys it to you. As a matter of fact…and it may seem funny considering all the time I spend shooting out there…but this shot and this particular morning kind of restored or rebirthed my love for photography. Not that it had really gone anywhere…but it had been awhile since I’d been out in the middle of the cactus and rocks…shooting the still morning without a soul in sight.

Kind of like coming back to that one book or movie you never get tired of watching. It feels like home.

(exif: canon 5d mark ii, tamron 17-35mm 2.8, 17mm, f/16, iso100)

Fresh snow on the Four Peaks

Just under a year ago I captured a beautiful, slightly snowy sunset on this mountain range known as the Four Peaks.These mountains are at the 7,000 foot level, so they tend to get a dusting of snow once or twice a year. You just never know when it’s going to happen or how many times. In fact, after the previous one last January, there hasn’t been snow up there until today. Once it melts, it could be another year before it happens again (although I think we’ll see more in the coming weeks).

All that to say…when there is snow up on the peaks, you have to go. I dragged my wife and daughter out of the house around noon today and this shot was taken close to 5pm. Needless to say, no nap for Lyla, a long day for my wife reading magazines, books and watching the snow fall as we drove around. I love them both for putting up with me. It’s so very rare to see snow fall around the Phoenix area and this storm system moving through will be the coldest since 2007. After a morning movie, I could see some storms popping up north of town and it looked like the Beeline Highway would see the most action, plus Four Peaks is in that direction. I wanted to just take a drive and see what we saw…and that resulted in some beautiful clouds, at least five separate snow showers and a boatload of photographs.

The clouds capping the peaks in this image were the last set of snow showers to roll through before it was done for the day. I was running frantically through desert brush, hurdling prickly pears, getting stuck by needles…all to find the perfect composition. The goal of course was to contrast the snowy peaks with the desert floor below and these two Saguaro sentinels proved worth enough to be included in the framing.

I’m pretty sure I saw my Twitter buddy Ted Wendel out there…check out his shot taken probably within minutes of mine.

A final sliver of light

There is nothing more fun to me than finding an old photo you forgot to process, especially if it’s something you are excited about. This shot was taken back in January of this year out in the Usery Mountain area northeast of Phoenix. I had been sitting in this one spot waiting for the sun to set and for the clouds to move off the top of the Four Peaks. There was snow on them from a winter storm that blew through and I was worried that the clouds would never lift and it would be a wasted trip. If you haven’t seen that photo before…well, the clouds did indeed rise above! These aren’t the Four Peaks above, but they were just to the south of my location.

The trip taught me one of my early photography lessons: Don’t be so focused on one thing that you ignore what’s going on around you. It was easier here because I was sitting for over an hour and looking around was natural. But the key moment came when the sun hit those Four Peaks and I was so worried about them I almost missed a few other gorgeous views.

This was one of them. The sun’s appearance below a line of clouds until it disappeared for the day lasted maybe 15 minutes. It was a short window of opportunity and that’s what I love about this photo. You can see the sun is only cast on part of the scene…a sliver of light before it left completely. The cactus stand alone, cloaked in shadow, while the hills appear bathed in warm light. Was so peaceful out there that night. Fond memories.

On another note…Arizona is gorgeous. I’ve wanted to move for a really long time…the summers are brutal here and being a native, they seem to get worse for me. But in the last year my desires have changed somewhat I think. I blame photography of course. There is just so much beauty here…I’m a long way from done shooting this state.

Monsoons and Barbed Wire

I’ve been holding onto this one since late July for some reason. I just wasn’t sure about it. I actually have a version of it without the barbed wire, but for some reason I kind of like this a little better. You get a sense of what is happening in the background anyways, the cactus, the vegetation and the monsoon storms brewing in the background.

I had taken the original photo, was about to walk away and realized I liked the rusty old barbed wire and wanted to see what I could do with it. This is an HDR from about 5-6 brackets.

Lots of blur going on here, something I don’t really mess around with too much, so I’m curious how it comes across to people. Do you like the style or does it make your eyes water? 🙂