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A sliver of color

(click to view on black // canon 5d mark ii, tamron 17-35 f/2.8, 17mm, f/16, iso 100, 0.6 sec // buy print)

This was one of the last shots I took during the 2011 summer monsoons. I was about as far away from Phoenix as I’d been all year…near a town called Joseph City that I don’t recall having known existed before.

The sky at sunset was pretty epic, but I found myself in somewhat of a bad spot…houses, industrial stuff around, so I kind of missed out on some clouds to my south. But I drove north along a very muddy dirt road to capture this unique looking scene.

The down draft of rain is being lit up by the setting sun…only the sun wasn’t shining on it from below as you’d expect. The only thing I can think of was that it was hitting the tops of the clouds in such a way that it was reflecting downwards. The color felt like it was coming from inside the cloud, not from without.

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.

A road less traveled

A road less traveled - Arizona dirt road clouds

(click to view on black // canon 5d mark ii, tamron 17-35mm 2.8, 17mm, f/16, iso 100, 1/60 // buy print)

A random dirt road off I-17 between Phoenix and Flagstaff. The day was supposed to be epic up north, but it turned out to be mostly a bust. Still, my daughter and I drove down this road looking for something interesting to shoot against the puffy clouds and desert-y terrain.

I climbed a low hill to shoot the giant rocks up there, but ended up seeing this instead and liked it a whole lot better. Love me some roads and love seeing them curve and bend as they disappear.

Twister

Today is Movie Title Wednesday and I’ve never used the same move twice in over a year doing this series. So I probably should have saved this film for next spring when I hit the road out in the Midwest and see my first tornado, but by then none of you will even remember this anyways. So I went with it today!

First off, Twister was pure awesome for weather and storm chasing nuts. Sure, it romanticized, glamorized and added all of those hollywood elements to the science of storm chasing. I know those hard core chasers who had been doing it for years probably didn’t like this movie. And maybe it wasn’t the best, but I certainly enjoyed it and whenever it’s on, I have to watch it. Not only that, but the idea they have at the end to let the probes float up into the tornado…that was way ahead of its time because just last year a vehicle started doing sort of the same thing for the first time. Pretty awesome.

Yesterday we had some dynamic weather in Arizona. There was a lot of crazy winds and instability going on, so there were severe warnings quite a few times throughout the day. My daughter and I left the house late in the afternoon and drove towards South Mountain. We spotted this little cell that had some interesting characteristics to it. You could see a sort of “spiral” shape to it as it rose into the sky.

The first picture above shows that. You can see it twisting skyward. I’d suggest clicking on each to view on black and also so it fits your screen!

This is indicative of a storm that has some rotation on it. And rotation is the first step to a mesocyclone, which CAN lead to a tornado. But that mainly happens in the Midwest, not out here very much. Still…seeing anything like this in Arizona is always a treat.

The last image below is just another shot of the cell a few minutes later. You can kind of see some spinny-ness going on, but it started dying out right when I got to it. Was kind of spooky to be right under this for a bit, but I was about 95% confident nothing would happen.

Gonna be quiet on the blog the rest of the week as I travel to New York City with the wife to get away from the hot temps of Phoenix. Of course, it’s 62 this morning and is going to be in the high 70’s tomorrow, so I guess we left just in time!

Have a great week everyone.

Leaning

Leaning - Arizona Monsoon Lightning

(click to view on black // canon 5d mark ii, tamron 17-35mm 2.8, 17mm, f/22, iso 400, 5 sec // buy print)

The thing about wide angle lenses is that they give you the perception that things are far away. Like these lightning strikes. They probably were a decent distance aways, but I was hanging in there and hanging in there hoping to get a photo with strikes as big as possible. I was ducking down, hunched over as the storm crawled towards me and the lightning going nuts all over.

This was not just a normal thunderstorm…this was a severe warned cell down in Tucson and therefore intense. The clouds that I had just shot off to the left were some of the spookiest I’ve ever seen in Arizona and I’ll post those sometime soon.

The Saguaro on the left…that isn’t the fault of the lens, it was just a leaning cactus.

Probably one of my favorite images from the season. A mean, beautiful looking storm with unusual colors, gorgeous textures, lightning strikes and a well-lit desert foreground to display the awesomeness of Arizona.

Weather on the Bradshaws

Storms on the Bradshaws - Arizona Monsoons

(click to view on black // canon 5d mark ii, tamron 17-35mm 2.8, 17mm, f/22, iso 100, 1/5 sec // buy print)

So all spring long (and all year long really), I like to keep up with the stormchasers from the midwest. They post photos from chases and usually you see some wicked storms that make me insanely jealous. And some of the photos are really, really great. For example, Stephen Locke and Extreme Instability.

But most of the time chasers just snap images from inside their car, on a road with cars flying by, powerlines, etc. They are just there to see and shoot, nothing very artistic. Mostly for memories. And for me…I always wish I could be out there seeing what THEY are seeing so I could frame it in a beautiful way. A windmill, an old barn, whatever.

The reason I rambled on about that is because of my shot today. There really isn’t much of an interesting foreground. I don’t have tall saguaro cacti. No giant rocks, or trees. Or abandoned structures.

Just the Bradshaw Mountains and a beautiful storm.

Storm clouds change so fast, sometimes when you see something amazing, you literally have minutes to shoot it before it’s gone. This cloud was one of those moments. What I see is a little horse-shoe-shaped base wrapping around falling rain. The entire structure headed towards me like a flying saucer. Absolutely gorgeous in my eyes.

And I wanted to capture it, whether I had a cool foreground or not. Sometimes when you are out stormchasing, that’s all you can do.

The city in the water

Motion, Tracks and Buildings - Downtown Phoenix Reflections

(click to view on black // canon 5d mark ii, tamron 17-35mm 2.8, 17mm, f/5.0, iso 100 // buy print)

There are two very different storm seasons in Phoenix. In the summer, it’s all monsoons and thunderstorms. The rest of the year, it’s just random winter-ish storms that roll through. The summers bring lightning, the winters bring rain.

So in the summers, I go outside of the Phoenix area to chase the weather. In the winters, I head downtown.

One thing I really ended up finding amazingly fun and rewarding was pointing my camera downwards at these giant puddles of water after a winter storm. And I like my images to be of the darker, stormier variety, so I try to do this when it’s dusk and the sun is going down.

It’s not easy…the chance of rain anytime here is usually slim, and then to hope the puddles last until sunset…well, it all makes it a rare occurrence. But I’ve been able to find the opportunity twice now and each time I’ve fallen in love with this kind of composition.

The above photo is the surface of a random parking garage. Tire tracks fly across the image. Two large buildings rise against the dark, angry evening clouds. In fact, it was in the midst of raining off and on at this point, I just happened to catch a break in the action.

This is an HDR image, so you may notice the bit of motion on the surface of the water. That was just some bubbles from a passing car, which I decided to leave alone and not fix.

Those dark skies

Amidst the Rocks - Monsoon Sedona Arizona

(click to view on black // canon 5d mark ii, tamron 17-35mm 2.8, 17mm, f/16, iso 100, 1/15th // buy print)

I was hoping to post a timelapse tutorial today, but I’m on the road and have to get up very, very early Tuesday morning, so I didn’t have time to get all the information together like I wanted.

So instead, you get another stormchasing image! I highly suggest you click on the image today, it seems the WordPress-resized version makes the tree really, really dark, whereas the full-sized shows you a bit more detail.

This was shot back on July 11th west of Sedona. I made the wife and daughter go on a drive with me through Red Rock State Park during some monsoon thunderstorms to see what we might see. I loved all these trees out there, and I don’t know their name or type, but they have some evergreen properties despite being short and stubby.

Of course, you wont know the color of the wood or the leaves because I stole that from you with the monochrome conversion. That’s how I roll these days!

I loved this scene. An awesome tree, some cool rocky terrain, gorgeous, textured clouds and that fantastic monsoon downpour off on the left horizon. What more could this guy ask for?

Lightning. Yes. Wish there was a lightning strike in there somewhere. But ah well…can’t have everything.

Just a road…with a storm

(click to see on black // canon 5d mark ii, tamron 17-35mm 2.8, 17mm, iso 100, f/22, 1/50 // buy print)

There is nothing I love more than a nice road photograph. I really can never tire of them. The problem with stormchasing is that all you are doing is driving down roads most of the time, so you are tempted to do nothing but stand in the middle of every awesome highway you see. Hence I try to find random things down dirt roads, like rocks, cactus, whatever…to try and frame a shot.

But I still shoot roads and this is one from up in Sedona, on the northwest side, from back on July 11th. A large monsoon thunderstorm was moving slowly from left to right over these mountains, dropping heavy rain as it passed by.

Feeling a bit tired and worn out today. Stormchasing is such a passion. It drives me. It’s very hard for me to just take a night off from it when I know good stuff is happening. Part of that is wanting to build a reputation for always being out there, being reliable, being a source for information and the latest photos of our weather. But the other part is just desire to shoot it, to be out in it and to enjoy it.

And there is also the idea that this lasts only about four months during the summer and then it’s over until next year. But I still have to learn how to take a night off when I need one. And to be able to do it and NOT think about what I’m missing the entire time.

Last night was a nice break…hung out with two buddies from high school whom I’ve been friends with and stayed in contact with ever since.  I still looked at the radar on my phone though *grin*

The other thing on my mind today is a kind of hangover from the past five days. Stormchasing Friday afternoon, Saturday, Sunday’s dust storm, a quick Monday night jaunt up the 17, then more Tuesday night. When things die down as they always do (as in right now)…I’m always kind of left with this emptiness…like, what now?

It will pass quickly though, because I’m looking forward to a little relaxation and fall TV premieres! Vampire Diaries tonight!

Thanks for letting me ramble a bit this morning.

A sunset near Tucson

Lightning Sunset in Tucson

(click to see on black // canon 5d mark ii, tamron 17-35mm 2.8, 18mm, f/22, iso 250, 6 sec // buy print)

Saturday was a blast. I left the house early in the afternoon, probably between 12 and 1. I headed south where I knew it was going to be an active day and sure enough…by the time I get down to Picacho Peak, I’m on the first severe warned storm of the day. Not only that, about an hour later, as I’m still chasing it…the cell gets tornado warned.

I never saw a funnel, but I had fun just following the thing, seeing epic lightning striking all around the desert, getting awesome views down into the valley north of Catalina and pretty much just enjoying a relaxing day in the amazing Arizona weather.

The above image was taken on the north side of Tucson right at sunset. Again, for a shot like this, with daylight left and no lightning trigger…cranking the camera to f/22, plus upping the ISO lets you take some longer exposures despite the time of day. And even with that, I had to take about 35 shots to get the perfect strike, plus wait for it to get closer and closer.

I loved the clouds and the way they are kind of like waves in the sky. This storm moving across Tucson had some pretty amazing cloudscapes that I’m not used to seeing in Arizona and I’ll post some of those at a later time.

On another note…Saturday was probably the longest chase I’ve done in Arizona. 375 miles. I was down south in Tucson when the storms started popping up in Phoenix, and dying where I was, so I raced all the way through Phoenix, up the Beeline when things really ended up dead. But I did end up with a single lightning shot from that long trip towards Payson that I’m pretty excited about.

All in all…worth the miles. And I gotta give props to Vera, my 4Runner…she’s been amazing the last few days!