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The Watcher

The Watcher
(please click to view on black // buy print)

I rarely, if ever, post photos from years ago. I tend to hate my processing even as recent as 2012. I feel like I’ve really grown into a more polished look (with lots of room yet to grow), so looking back is rough.

But…when an image is one I love enough, I may actually go back and re-edit the thing. And that is the case here. I may have posted this before, but this time it’s been processed using my staple of luminosity masking.

The story behind this photograph, which I just realized a few days ago…is that it’s July 4th, 2011, which was just a day before the big historic haboob hit on July 5th. In many interviews I’ve done since then, people always ask “why was that dust storm so massive?” And I usually say something like “Well, it was early in the season, we hadn’t had a good dust storm yet, or even a good storm…drought…” etc.

But in reality…this was the scene the day before just south of Phoenix along Riggs Road. So we’d already had a dust storm prior to the big one. This one turned out to be fairly weak after a bit, but it’s still a nice wall of dust. Makes the next day seem even more intense because the storms were so strong that they kicked up even more dust after this one rolled through.

I love this image because of the dead tree, the dust wall and that epic, dying monsoon thunderstorm. It also marked one of the first timelapses I did, but I’m so embarrassed by the mistakes I made, I’ll never post it. Suffice to say…I sincerely wish I had done that one correctly, because this was a beautiful scene. But I think it was the beginning of my love for capturing the motion of dust storms.

An Arizona hail core

Severe storm near Douglas
(please click to view on black // canon 5d mark ii, canon 17-40mm f/4 l, 17mm, iso 100, f/8.0, 1/13th // buy print)

I remember this storm like it was yesterday. I was even live streaming it and couldn’t have been more excited for the people watching to see a storm like this in Arizona. You can even see a timelapse of it right here.

This area had storms all over…to the left, to the right…but something about this one looked different. I was watching an area of intense rain when suddenly you could see the blue a lot clearer and the clouds started making some crazy looking shapes, especially on the right side of the image above. It almost looked like a wall cloud and there was some insane upward motion. Insane for this state that is.

I got so lucky last year to be on two storms like this that looked so unusual for Arizona. Hoping for more of the same in 2014!

Over Booker, Texas

Over Booker
(please click to view on black // canon 5d mark iii, canon 17-40mm f/4 l, iso 800, f/8.0, 1/6 // buy print)

The Booker Supercell was undoubtedly ranked either 1 or 2 in my experiences as a storm chaser. My only wish is that we had gotten there a few moments earlier, but I’m pretty sure we saw the storm at it’s best right before it started dying out. Here’s a look at the storm as it was losing strength, finally passing over the town of Booker, Texas. Earlier in the chase we had been north of Booker, watching the storm move to the southeast…and then we raced south into town and blasted east to stay ahead.

This was one of the final moments of the storm before the sun was completely down and dark overtook us.

The Boise City supercell

The Boise City Supercell
(please click to view on black // canon 5d mark ii, canon 17-40mm f/4 l, 17mm, iso 100, f/8.0, 2.5 sec // buy print)

I’ve been saving this image for awhile. It was taken during my storm chasing trip in early June of this year…and posting it kind of closes the chapter on that time. And what a time it was for me personally. Capturing that Booker supercell on timelapse and the way it was received turned that trip into one of the most important moments of my life.

And thus…sharing this photograph basically ends what I have to share from those three days. So I’ve been putting it off.

Beyond that though…I love this photo. I almost didn’t want to share it (might be hard to understand). It’s every reason I went out there. To see stuff like this. Yes, the Booker Supercell was incredible. The images of it with the orange backlight are surreal and I’m still astounded that I was there to capture that storm.

But this photo…once I started working on the black and white version of it, I fell in love with it.

Leading up to capturing this image, it felt like the day was going to be a bust. This was the day after Booker. We sat in the eastern Oklahoma Panhandle for most of the day, waiting for something to happen. But we got that target wrong. Storms to our west and northwest, in COLORADO, were going nuts and moving down into the Panhandle.

I take credit for this storm because at one point I said to Andy “F it…we’re going west until we catch those storms or they die out. Let’s go.”

And we blasted west. And we caught up to them.

We did make another mistake though, which was to sit too far to the east of this storm waiting for it to come to us. We definitely should have gotten closer and to the southeast of it right away.

But then I wouldn’t have been able to get this photo I don’t think. As it kept traveling southeast, we went southwest and met up with it right here. Driving down deserted farm roads…I told Andy I had to stop and grab this real quick.

Moments before it hadn’t looked as good as this and then suddenly…bam, this gorgeous supercell with sick structure was hanging over the road.

I couldn’t believe we were seeing one of these again, they very next day after Booker. I’d made three trips before to the plains to chase and had never caught anything remotely close to this and now we struck gold TWO DAYS IN A ROW.

Needless to say…that trip continues to live on in my memory. Not sure any future ones will ever equal it.

But you can always hope.

In the Hills

In the Hills
(please click to view on black // canon 5d mark ii, canon 70-200mm f/2.8 l, 70mm, f/8.0, 8 sec, iso 125 // buy print)

Some of the best lightning I photographed this past summer all happened on July 1st, super early in the monsoon season. This was another image over the Rincon Mountains southeast of Tucson.

I rarely use the 70-200 for lightning images these days. As much as it seems like it would be useful, even a sturdy tripod has a hard time keeping it perfectly still during thunderstorm outflow winds. Hence limiting this exposure to only 8 seconds. Plus it was at  70mm anyways, not the full zoom.

Most of the time if I try to zoom in to 200mm and photograph lightning, it’s not going to be tack sharp like a 50mm. I plan on using a 135mm next year to see how that goes.

Besides, I like to be a lot closer to the lightning and if I’m a 200mm-focal length away, it’s too far 🙂

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This print is part of my Square Collection, which you can see right here

First view of the Booker, Texas supercell

First view of the Booker Supercell
(please click to view on black // canon 5d mark iii, canon 17-40mm f/4 l, 17mm, iso 500, f/8, 1/6th, blended image // buy print)

I’ve told the story of the Booker Supercell before quite a few times in various places, but it’s one I never get tired of telling. It was such a pinnacle moment for me in my life, or at least, as a storm chaser…that I wont soon forget the feeling of seeing it for the first time.

My buddy Andy and I had landed in Denver earlier than morning and drove towards the CO/KS/OK border meetups. I made the first mistake of going northeast instead of south when we got into Kansas and we ended up stuck in rain and hail for what felt like a very long time.

We finally knew we had no choice but to go back towards the storm and then go south to get out of the rain. We knew what we were doing but being out there with a rotating storm coming at you…well, it’s nerve-wracking for those of us from Arizona where storms don’t necessarily try to kill you.

Finally…we broke free of the rain and to our west…the supercell above was just sitting there over Texas. And yeah, we had no clue but in our race to get out of the rain we ended up in Texas. We’d find that out a bit later. I was driving so I couldn’t look too much, but I could see it anyways and was determined to find a good view. I saw a dirt road and took it, heading up a hill and then down the other side where we had a perfect downslope in front of us to see this storm.

I tried to maintain steadiness as I set up my cameras. No one else may understand this…but as a storm chaser, this was the thing I’d been chasing for four years. It was overwhelming. I was shaking. I knew that I needed to be methodical in taking my time setting up the timelapse. I couldn’t screw it up. Focus. Manual white balance. Clean memory card. All ready. And so I started the timelapse. And then I used the other camera on a tripod to take stills like the one above.

And after the timelapse was rolling and I had gotten shots with the other camera AND had tweeted out an iPhone photo saying “We did it”…I sat back and looked at the thing. And tears filled my eyes. I ran over to Andy and gave him a huge hug.

One of the most breathtaking sights I’ve ever beheld. And pictures don’t do it justice. I wish I could go back and live in that memory over and over.

If you missed the timelapse, you can view it here

Near Cordes Junction

Near Cordes Junction
(please click to view on black // canon 5d mark iii, canon 50mm f/1.2 l, f/8, iso 100, 15 sec // buy print)

I’ve discovered a love for lightning up north of Phoenix between Sunset Point and Camp Verde. The storms always seem intense up there and the lightning was crazy again last night.

I arrived a bit too late for the entire show, but I managed to capture a couple of strikes over the hills northeast of Cordes Junctions.

Usually I want to find an area with a clear view of landscapes without any man-made objects in the way…but you can always help that and I actually dig the way the powerlines balance out the bottom of the image above.

 

A dance at sunset

Arizona Monsoon Lightning
(please click to view on black // canon 5d mark iii, canon 50mm f/1.2 l, f/10, iso 160, 8 sec // buy print)

Two nights ago I was incredibly frustrated with the futility of capturing lightning. Storms were popping up everywhere, in bad spots, I couldn’t get to them in time and even when I did, they died out before any shots were had.

Last night…wow, what difference a day makes.

I sat in one spot for nearly two hours and captured hundreds of strikes. I am not even sure what to do with them all. I’ve never been on a storm that produced that much electricity over a general area for so long. And I’ve never come home from an evening storm chasing with that many photographs of lightning.

There was so much that I started experimenting with using my 70-200mm at full zoom to capture the bottom thirds of strikes just for fun to see how it looked. That never happens. Usually you are in such a hurry to capture whatever you can before the storm dies out that you don’t get to play around too much.

This was just one of the images. Five strikes to the ground in an 8-second exposure. The sunset behind it…the powerlines giving scale…the strikes themselves…definitely one of my all-time favorites already. I rarely do these panoramic crops, but it felt like it was called for here.

More to come!

 

A hail core near Douglas, Arizona

A hail core near Douglas, Arizona
(please click to view on black // canon 5d mark iii, canon 50mm 1.2, iso 50, f/16, 0.5 sec // buy print)

I’m super bad at chasing storms ahead of time. What that means is…I usually wait until I see them start firing up and then I go. Sometimes when you are busy with work, life and that kind of stuff, you can’t drive 3 hours somewhere and risk that nothing will happen.

But yesterday I said screw it and we left early in the day for southern Arizona, hoping to catch some storms that would eventually fire up around 3pm. And sure enough, we got near Sierra Vista and they started crossing into Arizona.

We ended up east of Tombstone and caught up with a line of storms that were just exploding everywhere. But this one cell in particular just north of Douglas caught my eye. It started lookeing fierce, so I found a clear spot and watched it. The right side evolved in such crazy ways it’s hard to believe. But eventually it looked like this. I’ve rarely, if ever, seen such a strong blue hail core on a storm in Arizona. It was amazing. Yes, the photo has been edited with some contrast through Luminosity Masking, but that color was real and legit. I was mesmerized by it. The movement in the clouds was astonishing for a monsoon storm.

It made me realize…these storms probably happen in Arizona all the time…maybe once or twice on a daily basis when it’s a good day. You just have to leave ahead of time in order to get them when they fire off like this.

The shutter speed on this was 1/2 a second because I was hoping for lightning, so the clouds may be a TAD on the soft side because of how fast they were moving.

Hoping to post the timelapse of this guy tomorrow!

Lightning near Booker, Texas

The Leading Edge
(please click to view on black // canon 5d mark ii, canon 17-40 f/4 l, 17mm, f/6.3, iso 500, 1 second // buy print)

Chasing storms in Arizona as compared to the plains is just so different. What I love about the plains is how you can chase a storm for long time…it evolves, moves, recycles and can cover a lot of ground. In Arizona…the build up, die and rebuild somewhere else from outflows. You aren’t actually “chasing” individual storms as much as you are trying to stay ahead of the next convection.

When we finally got on the Booker supercell (timelapse here), it was 6:07 pm. This was taken an hour later and it’s the same storm…just losing energy and gusting out. But it was such a blast to just stay ahead of it and keep shooting the different stages it went through. Even this one, towards the end, was absolutely beautiful.

I’m already dying for next spring haha…I’m definitely hooked again and can’t wait to get out there.