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Lay down your burdens

The Sofa -

(please click to view this nasty ol’ couch on black)

(title from the Battlestar Galactica soundtrack)

When I’m stormchasing, I can get very tunnel-visioned. I have a goal of where I want to get to and sometimes I’m unable to relax and just enjoy the stuff I see along the way. Of course, that usually depends on the situation, because other times I can be completely mellow and just go where the wind takes me.

This shot was from Labor Day and I believe my buddy Ken is the one who pulled the vehicle over. I was too busy being wishy-washy about whether we should run to Yuma or just hang out here.

Anyways…Ken took this big photography class from Mark Wallace not too long ago and one of his assignments was to do one big project on “something.” He decided to use me as his subject and basically created a little documentary/episode of the day in the life of a stormchaser.

So this couch. It actually doesn’t look that bad. But that doesn’t mean anything. It could be full of scorpions or God knows what. And yes…Ken wanted me to sit on it to get a posed shot for his project. I did it…but it was on the arm rest and I wasn’t very comfortable.

As for my photo…I love stuff like this. A desert landscape with something completely random throw into the mix to provide an awesome scene. Usually when I find some kind of “lost” element in my images, I really play with the tones and style of the image. I like to get crazy and give something like this a stark, post-apocalyptic look and feel.

What makes an image like this fun for me…it throws together two things I love: Weather and lost things. If you know anything about me, I rarely go out to shoot landscapes unless there are clouds, and mostly, stormy clouds. If it’s a blue sky, I wont even pack the camera. The other thing I love is urbex…farmex (gonna call this desertex for the fun of it)…stuff that has been abandoned or left for dead. So combining those into one image…well…that’s frakking awesome.

Have a great weekend!

(canon 5d mark ii, tamron 17-35mm 2.8, 17mm, f/16, iso 100 – buy print)

The Arizona Twister

The Arizona Twister or Dust Devil

(please click to enjoy a view on black!)

If dust devils were tornadoes, Arizona would be the capital of the world. During these hot summer days, you can drive down the long interstates through the desert and see these towering twisters of dust almost anywhere.

They can be tiny things, barely 10 feet tall and they sputter out after minutes. Or they can be long-lasting, tornado-like vortices that sometimes make you do a double-take to just make sure it’s not an actual twister.

While out stormchasing on Labor Day, my buddy Ken and I spotted this elephant trunk-like dust devil that lasted for quite awhile. It had to be hundreds of feet up in the air. Usually when you see a good one, it’s only going to last minutes so it’s not always easy to capture them. And even harder to get a backdrop like we got here. I’ve actually never photographed a dust devil quite like this before.

(canon 5d mark ii, canon 35mm 1.4 l, f/16, iso 100, 1/250th – buy print)

Lightstorm

Lightstorm - Arizona Monsoon Lightning

(Please click to view on black)

Sometimes the weather forecasters predict a big storm to hit in the coming days, only to either be wrong or off a bit on the timing. But for the last 2-3 days, the National Weather Service kept saying a low pressure system would move into SW Arizona on Labor Day creating some intense storms and lots of rain.

Which is exactly what happened.

I had been planning on an all-day, noon-to-midnight stormchasing event for Labor Day and was pumped when Monday morning nothing in the forecast had changed. My buddy Ken met me at my house around 12:30 and we flew west of Phoenix and then south to Gila Bend.

If we had driven to Yuma, we might have seem some really nasty stuff, but that’s a long haul. So we hung out around the northern parts of Gila Bend, shooting storms in the farmlands and irrigation areas. Caught a few night photographs that will be shared at a later time.

But this lightning shot came almost 30 miles south of Gila Bend on Highway 85. I literally ran across a low area and up a hill to setup for this shot, which ended up being the highest spot around. The lightning wasn’t close, but it’s definitely not the wisest thing in the world to do.

I didn’t have much of a choice. I could see a gorgeous sunset going on and some stormy clouds with strong downdrafts of rain. It took awhile, many shots, but I finally got a decent strike before the beautiful color of the sunset disappeared on me.

(canon 5d mark ii, tamron 17-35mm 2.8, 17mm, iso 250, f/10, 6sec – buy print)

Thunderstorms over the Catalina Mountains

Back on July 30th, my buddy Ken and I spent most of the afternoon and evening around the Tucson area stormchasing. On our way down there we stopped by this little agriculture field growing who knows what and watched the clouds building over the Catalina Mountains.

At first we just took pictures and tried to keep the bugs off our necks, but then I decided to do a timelapse. I think we hung around for another 45 minutes to an hour to capture the 1018 shots that went into this one.

I love the multiple downdrafts of rain you can see in this timmelapse…some of them moving, some new one forming and then dropping, it’s just so beautiful to see these things in fast-motion.

I love Battlestar Galactica in general but the music by Bear McCreary is just fantastic, so he’s always someone I turn to for my timelapses. I’m not including them in the video itself for copyright issues, but if you listen to “Under the Wind” by Bear McCreary from Season 3, you’ll get it 🙂

(canon 5d mark ii, tamron 17-35mm 2.8, 17mm, iso 100, f/16, 1018 images)

The dust bowl known as Phoenix

(click to view on black!)

I realized tonight that this image somehow never made it to the blog. I posted it on Flickr and Facebook, but I skipped it here because it took place during my OneQuestion series that I ran for the week of July 18th.

So that very same day, the 18th of July, we had our second big dust storm of the monsoon season. As it would turn out, it was just one of the first few in a line of five or six that have taken place this summer.

I’ve heard a lot of people comment on the number of them so far…that it seems more than any other year. I feel like we get dust storms every summer and 5-6 of them seems pretty normal to me. We had that giant one on July 5th, which was decidedly NOT normal, but the rest have just been the regular deal that comes with being part of the Arizona desert for the monsoons. There has also been some late evening ones that no one sees, they don’t come with a lot of strong wind, but you could walk outside at 11pm and notice a haze over the entire city.

It’s definitely had a unique feel to it. Your car…your house…your stuff…feels like it’s always coated in dust. The car wash places out here have reported booming businesses. Craziness.

This image was part of a timelapse that I did back on that same day.  I played with this one a bit, gave it that vintage-y look that I use on a lot of my portrait images, and I kind of liked it. The foreground is pretty dark because the sun was obscured by a huge storm cloud on the right, which still shining over the clouds on the left.

(canon 5d mark ii, tamron 17-35mm 2.8, f/16,  iso 100, 17mm, 1/15th)

Vortex of Electricity

We return to last Thursday night just above Casa Grande on highway 387 north of the city. A great spot for an elevated position over the city, the second I arrived and got setup, the light show went nuts. I think I have at least 3-4 keepers just from a 20 minute span here and that didn’t count a couple I got early on the south edges of Phoenix.

These first few shots I got here were kind of special though. Yes, the Chaos of Light I posted last week was pretty dang intense and probably the best of the bunch, but this shot has the early visual of the microburst going on with this storm cell. You can see the rain falling and a weird fog hovering over the city. That is either rain or dust, but I believe it’s probably a bit of a mixture. I also love the cone-shaped cloud that the lightning is coming out of…almost like some kind of vortex.

The photo below is a bit grainy, but you can really see what a microburst does. Rain falls out of the cloud with an intense downburst, and then the wind explodes in all directions. A microburst can create winds up to 100mph at times in a very isolated spot. When people ask how come we get all these dust storms in Phoenix, or what creates them…this is it. Downdrafts/microburst that create strong winds that kick up the dust and flow outwards for great distances. You get a bunch of these together and suddenly they form a huge wall of dust 70 miles long.

Last year I posted a series of images that was called “The Birth of a Dust Storm“…if you want to see a bit more.

Arizona Monsoon Microburst

Chaos of Light

Chaos of Light - Casa Grand Arizona Lightning

(please click to view on black, it’s just that much better)

I was in Vegas for two pretty busy days Wednesday and Thursday. Landed back home around 5pm last night. Ate dinner, spent some time with the family, saw some weather on the radar and since it had been almost week since I did any kind of stormchasing, I decided to head out.

Glad I did.

I captured a few strikes early on from Queen Creek and I-10, but then I decided to head south. I stopped for a bit, hoping more lightning would flare up and soon enough, further south a cell started flashing. A dust storm arrived, and shooting lightning through a wall of that stuff is useless, so I flew south, blasted through the dust and popped out the other side just in time.

I had a spot picked out from a few weeks ago to get some elevation if a storm ever appeared over Casa Grande. I arrived, set up quickly and then sat around watching the city in front of me get lambasted with lightning strikes.

This was the shot of the night for me. I don’t usually talk about processing, but this one was kind of different for me. I did what I usually do when I convert lightning to black and white (Silver Efex is a big part of that), but then decided at the last minute to keep the color. So you not only get the extra definition in the clouds and rain that my B&W processing provides, but also enhanced colors tones. It may vary with monitors and browsers, but at least on mine, it doesn’t look like TOO much color.

It’s kind of hard to put a finger on the why, but for some reason on this shot, I felt like the color better conveyed the scene than being devoid of it.

Not sure if I’ve mentioned this before or not, but this year has been absolutely epic for lightning in Arizona. Seems like anytime I go out, I find the storm and point the camera. It’s never that easy, but this season has been crazy awesome.

(canon 5d mark ii, tamron 17-35mm 2.8, 30mm, f/7.1, iso 200, 30sec – buy print)

A gnarled old hand

(click the image to see it fit your screen, or even larger, with a nice, dark background)

I took this shot on one of the very first stormchasing days of the year, which didn’t amount to much. There was some puffy clouds, maybe some spotty rain, but it was really just the slow start to the monsoon season.

This was the day I discovered this tree for the first time. I had my daughter with me and we just pulled off into the desert off Riggs and I-10, and ended up driving out a bit to find this little guy struggling for life in the dry, arid landscape. I’ve posted at least 1-2 pictures of this tree already, but I can’t help it. I love the way it looks. That curving branch that looks like some kind of hand with wicked long fingers just waiting to grasp some unsuspecting passerby. The bit of life left that results in a some greenery not easily seen at first.

Despite there not being much weather, the clouds and sun rays were still amazing, so I tried to frame this tree against the sky so the rays looked like they were almost emanating from the fingers themselves.

I hope this tree stands for years…I’d hate to drive by it someday and see it gone.

(canon 5d mark ii, tamron 17-35mm 2.8, 17mm, iso 100, f/14, 1/125)

Downpour on the San Tans

San Tan Downpour - Arizona

(click, see larger, dark background, you get the idea)

It’s kind of interesting if you ever go back to just wipe out old RAW files that you realize you’ll never, ever process, so may as well just recover some disk space. While I do usually end up deleting a ton of files, sometimes you discover those that you just plain forgot about. And at the same time, you may have improved your processing techniques enough that suddenly an image that didn’t “move” you before, suddenly speaks to you in a new way.

This shot is from waaaay back on August 17th, 2010, a full year and a handful of days ago. I had been lucky enough to capture this isolated thunderstorm dropping rain over the San Tan Mountains, which were close neighbors of mine until we moved downtown last October.

Snagging moments like this one are up there with my favorites…like lightning, or someday a tornadic supercell. That lonely, solitary storm dropping a heap of rain on a single spot in the desert. It’s kind of what the monsoons are all about out here. Sure, we can get walls of storms that are miles and miles wide…but a lot of the time it’s hit or miss.

(canon rebel xsi, tamron 17-35mm 2.8, 17mm, f/14, iso 100, 1/50th – buy print)

The August 18th, 2011 dust storm

With the massive storms that built up south of town, the dusty outflows formed a beautiful, long wall that gained momentum and pushed its way into the greater Phoenix area last night. I decided to head to the south side of town this time and used Queen Creek’s elevated shoulder near I-10 to get a quickie timelapse of it moving in.

I have to say, all the craze over the July 5th haboob/dust storm was awesome, but I’ve really discovered a love for seeing these things in motion. The way the clouds develop over the top of them, the way the wall of dust itself moves…because it’s sometimes hard to see when you are just standing there.

Had a fun time shooting this last night…a guy who’s car broke down up a few hundred feet borrowed my phone and we talked a little bit about what I was doing. Think someone else gained an appreciation for watching these things roll in since he said he had actually never taken the time to observe one before.

(canon 5d mark ii, tamron 17-35mm 2.8, 17mm, iso 100, 290 exposures)

A thing to note about this timelapse. In the beginning portions, the cloud formation on the center-left is actually dropping rain in what we call a “microburst.” This microbrust was right over the San Tan Valley last night and caused all kinds of damage. I didn’t know I caught it until the local Channel 3 meteorologist Royal Norman noticed it in the timelapse this morning.

Microbursts are basically quick downdrafts of rain and wind, sometimes the wind can hit the ground at speeds from 50-100mph and then explode in all directions. Lots of localized damage from storms like this. Below is a sort of “enhanced” still frame of the microburst.