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Sunset over downtown Phoenix

(Rebel XSi, Tamron 17-35mm, 17mm, ISO100, F16, six exposure HDR)

Phoenix sucks in the way that the freeway system tries its absolute very best to avoid the downtown area. I love how the bigger cities out there like Boston have freeways and large highway systems that gut the downtown area. In Phoenix, you have to try very, very hard to get any kind of shot with a freeway + tall buildings.

I had been eying this parking garage ever since I moved downtown and had been wanting for a nice sunset to go with it. It’s not the best spot in the world, but it’s one of the few with a bird’s eye view of Interstate 10, 7th street and central Phoenix. Gorgeous sunset on Tuesday for sure. It’s kind of fun to look at the late afternoon cloud, realize there is a great impending sunset and then go find a spot. I wont go back here, but I plan on exploring some urban areas up-close next time instead of doing a grand view of the city.

I’d click on the picture for the larger view, I think the bigger version looks better (that’s what she said).

The Sandlot

The Sandlot…I know the only way you connect that film with this photo is obviously the playground area boxed in by sand, but when I was trying to think of something for Movie Title Wednesday, this one clicked into place. May as well use it now, I think this may be the first time I’ve ever shot anything sunset/landscape related from a children’s playground. There was a reason for that of course, I’ll tell you in a bit. But first…The Sandlot…once of those cult classic movies for me that will never get boring, never get old and never fail to bring a tear to my eye at the end. It’s kind of like Toy Story 3 in the way it makes us think of our childhood gone.

Some of my favorite lines:

“Only one kid in history had ever attempted what Benny was about to…and he got eaten.”

“He had kissed a woman, and he had kissed her long and good.”

And of course:

“You play ball like a GIRL!”

So this image above…wow, the sunset last night was friggin’ amazing. One of those skies you only get 2-3 times a year where the entire heavens seem to be lit up in fire. We have family in town this week and had a dinner planned for last night at my wife’s aunt & uncle’s place…and thinking it might be a good sunset, I grabbed the tripod and gear to bring along. I knew where we were going and remember that there was a park behind the house. I had no idea what was there or what I could even use to frame a shot if needed, but at least there was a wide open space to use.

I stepped out into the backyard with my daughter, saw the sky, ran for my camera and gear, snatched up Lyla and ran out into the park. Now sometimes you panic with a sky like this because you have no idea when the apex of the colors will be. The first shot was with a light pole and I was just kind of blah with it. Then Lyla saw the slide and the swings and went running off, and I said “Oh yeah, great idea Lyla!” Turned out the peak color moment was about to happen.

As I’ve said a lot of times before…with unplanned shots while out stormchasing or in your aunt and uncles backyard…you just have to frame the scene with whatever is handy. What better than a swingset? And a motionless one at that…not a breath of wind, not a hint of movement. This is a six-bracket HDR shot, although the sky itself is actually about 99.2% original bracket. I found that the HDR process just killed the textures for some reason.

Beyond the swingset…it’s definitely not a foreground ideal to a sky like this…but sometimes you gotta make lemonade outta…well you know.

Glowing Rails

(Canon Rebel XSI, Tamron 17-35mm 2.8, 17mm, ISO 100, 8-exposures, F8)

Back three weeks ago when I realized it was going to be a nice sunset, I’d drive 5 minutes and be in the middle of the desert. Now I’m scrambling for places in downtown Phoenix that will compliment the gorgeous skies we get down here in the evenings and mornings.

My little family and I had been driving around downtown two weekends ago just exploring and seeing what kind of restaurants are there, shops, etc. Of course I was unconsciously more focused on things I could photograph, but when isn’t that true? We passed these tracks and I just knew I had to come back sometime.

By the way, the cardinal rule about never leaving a sunset until it’s well past the sun actually going down is so very important. As the sun disappeared on this night, the high clouds that were hanging around all afternoon suddenly appeared to vanish. I was like “UGH! They were amazing, why did they just go POOF like that? Argh, better drive around and see what else I can find to shoot while I’m here.” Sure enough, I found something that I’m extremely excited to post at a later time, but as I was snapping the shutter I saw the sky. Wow…all the clouds were back and they were on fire.

Obviously they had never left, but the sun going down made them blend in with the sky for a few minutes before they got nailed with that amazing light. Don’t. Give.Up.On.Your.Sunset.

I love the train tracks in this photo more than anything…the way they were shiny enough to reflect the sky was remarkable. Next time though I think I’d like to be further down the tracks, closer to that bridge you see in the distance.

One Man’s Trash…

…is another man’s treasure.

I’ve been holding onto this one for awhile…shot it back in August along with a few other sunsets I’ve posted since then. This was one of my favorite photos from the day and sometimes you just want to HOLD onto a photo and just wait for the right time to post it. I have no idea why this was the time, or exactly why I waited…but regardless, here it is.

This was just south of the I-10/SR 587 interchange…a road I had never been down before. I drove right on past this to grab the sunset, and on my way back I passed it again…and then I stopped, put the car in reverse and snapped some brackets.

It was actually spooky and kind of proves to me why I’d never be good at solo urban exploring. I’m too much of a chicken. Everything was so still and quiet here…and I wasn’t sure if perhaps someone might be staring at me from inside those dark windows.

I’d love to go back here someday though, perhaps get a closer shot of that couch, because it was just awesome. I’m not saying this photo is an amazing bit of composition, but it definitely felt like someone placed the couch there specifically for me to photograph it.

The lake that wasn’t there

Canon Rebel XSI, Tamron 17-35mm 2.8, 17mm, ISO 100, F9, Six exposures, HDR

An amazing weather system moved through Arizona earlier this week. In fact, a total of FIVE confirmed tornadoes hit northern Arizona on Wednesday. That is unheard of.

What is also seen on very, very rare occasions is standing water in the middle of a flat desert. This “lake” didn’t exist earlier in the day and within about six hours of heavy rains and hail, it formed out of nowhere.  My buddy Bryan and drove down this little road to capture some awesome storm clouds about 90 minutes before sunset…and then decided to just sit and wait to see what things looked like when the sun went down.

We got lucky with the clouds, because they were all but gone about 30 minutes before this, but suddenly started forming again right over the mountains. And I was so focused on the water and sky, I didn’t even notice the colorful rocks that lay right beside me.

I have so many different shots from different angles and with different lenses around this area, I may post a few over time…I love them all, especially for the uniqueness in the fact that it’s unlikely anyone could ever capture this again.

Last Gasp

The title of this photo has a couple of meanings. The first being the fact that a little storm system which moved through Arizona the last two days could end up being the final bit of weather we get from the monsoon season (it officially ends on Sep. 30th). Despite all the stormy clouds during the day, my week has been quite busy and this was the only shot I ended up with. So in another way, this is likely my last monsoon photo until next year.

Of course, there is always that slight chance something could pop up before the end of the month, and yes, I’ll keep praying for it.

Going back to the title, the main and absolutely reason why I called it Last Gasp is obviously that gorgeous ray of orange sunlight making it’s final stretch across the sky before disappearing for the night. It was remarkable how that little puffy cloud on the horizon popped up out of nowhere to become an obstacle for the sun to shine through. It wasn’t there when I arrived, but in about 20 minutes it developed and had me worried about losing the sun entirely. But just enough shone through, and that single ray of light may have ended up being better than a whole sky of orange.

God bless these sunsets in Arizona…they are truly heaven on Earth. I need to remind myself this when I’m out there, because you can become so focused on snapping brackets, that you forget to enjoy the reason you do this.

If this was indeed the final, last gasp of the monsoon season…I can’t think of a more fitting end.

Unless, of course, there had been a lightning strike in the photo above. Sigh. Maybe next year.

Another sunset on the Gila River Indian Reservation

Now that we’re moving to downtown Phoenix, I’m really going to miss being close to places like this that are just a quick jaunt from where I currently reside. The Gila River Indian Reservation has been kind of my stomping ground this past summer for a lot of my storm chasing adventures. Once I move, getting to a spot like this will take about 30 minutes longer.

Still, I can’t wait to see what is in store for me downtown and the surrounding areas. I know for certain that South Mountain has some hidden treasures to offer and I’ll be checking it out a lot more.

So this picture was shot back in early August during a little trek I took to southern Arizona for some monsoonal action. I hadn’t even been here before and was taking a chance down a barely paved road to see where it led. Yes, it has a road in it, which is slowly becoming an obvious love for me…but I just love how they add depth and dimension to a frame.

Hoping for some more action this week as a storm system will move through the state Tuesday-Wednesday with some potentially good t-storms and rain. It’s been dead here for weeks now and I’m going through withdrawals. Bring on the rain! Woo!

Vanishing into Rain

When I’m out chasing storms in the late evening, one of the big goals is to get lightning shots. Sometimes I’m so focused on it, I miss the obvious sunset going on in front of me. This photo was the result of me driving down a road north of Casa Grande as far as I could until it dead ended at this spot. The rain falling in the middle of the picture had a lightning strike not long before this. So I set up, aimed for it and start ripping off 5-10 second exposures.

Well, no more lightning came…but when I stopped for a second and looked at the scene, I was blown away by the beauty of this stormy sunset. I panned back a bit, pulled in more powerlines and took this photo.

I get caught up a lot in HDR processing because of the drama it can create from simple scenes, or even the enhancing it can do with already existing drama. Yet sometimes a scene tells you that once you snapped the shutter, you were done. Sure, maybe a little noise reduction because of the higher ISO, a slight twinge of color adjustments…but the scene speaks for itself. It didn’t need me to add more to the story.

I love this photo. Powerlines are usually ugly, but as a silhouette of vertical lines disappearing into a monsoon downpour at sunset…it’s just beautiful to me. This is why I love being out there, capturing storms…you get moments like these that you don’t plan for and may never be able to find again.

A monsoon sunset down in Casa Grande

I’ve learned a bit about good sunset pictures in the last year. Normally, a nice silhouette of a sunset doesn’t work unless you have some kind of iconic or amazing structure on the horizon. A beautiful sunset photograph usually has some sort of interesting foreground element to go with it…be it a lake, pond, rocks, building, whatever.

When I am out stormchasing, I never know where I’m are going to be.  I just end up where the storms and clouds are. So when you start seeing a sunset forming like the one above and you’re driving down the highway at 85mph, you have precious little time to find a spot that offers up some decent composition to go with the brilliance happening on the horizon. Sometimes the most beautiful moment of a sunset lasts for less than a minute, so the setup needs to happen NOW.

All that building up to say that I don’t think the foreground elements in this photo are anything to write home about, but it’s amazing what you CAN find when you are frantically searching for a spot when the sun is about to disappear. Especially if you’ve never been around this area before. You race down a road, see a field, look for something, ANYTHING interesting and then bolt out there, get the tripod up, make sure your settings are good and snap away.

I do love the tree here and some of the elements of decay around…a discarded pipe close to the horizon, a barbed wire stake just standing there by itself for no reason…the deadness of the desert.

Technical jargon: Six brackets, Photomatix, CS5 and some noise reduction, etc.

Monsoon sunset from Picacho Peak

A great photographer friend of mine, Matt Granz (see his work here on Flickr), was driving through Phoenix with his family on his way across the country to see relative in Pennsylvania. We had planned to do some monsoon chasing when he got into two and sure enough, the monsoon looked fairly spectacular so we headed out around 4:30pm and Matt got to see a little bit of what the monsoon is about. High winds, dust storms, gorgeous sunsets, awesome clouds…but sadly, no night-time lightning.

We started out in Apache Junction and by 7:30pm we were down at Piacacho Peak, halfway to Tucson. We pulled off the road to snap some photos of the clouds over Tucson, but turned around to see the sun setting behind this beautiful, dying monsoon storm.

Needless to say, we snapped about a bazillion photos of it and I was just happy Matt got to see one of our awesome monsoon sunsets.