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!

19 replies
  1. Eje Gustafsson
    Eje Gustafsson says:

    man what a sweet picture. sunsets and storms around here been very disappointing to say the least.. So therefor I hate you 😉 (not really) sick picture makes me sooo jealous..

  2. Mike
    Mike says:

    @MattB – Actually, I think when the sun is still out a bit, you kind of want your ISO higher so the lightning can really POP in your frame instead of blending in the background. So hence for these kind of dusk shots, I tend to up the ISO to even 400 sometimes.

  3. Scott Wood
    Scott Wood says:

    Great image, but I am a bit confused about upping the ISO. That would lead to faster shutter speeds, not slower. I do like to dial in 1 to 2 stops of under exposure compensation to darken the surroundings, but I always leave my ISO at the lowest possible setting.

  4. Mike
    Mike says:

    Well, this shot is a bit darker than normal…what I meant was, if it’s brighter out, the higher ISO let’s the lightning show up better against a background that is somewhat illuminated from the sunlight still.

    I did have this at 250, not 400.

  5. Steve Beal
    Steve Beal says:

    I look at these shots and with a smile I say to myself – “are you kidding me??” I wish I could capture an image like this up here in the northeast… The cactus, colors – purple, orange – the lightning just seals the deal. Please keep these coming.

  6. Mike
    Mike says:

    That cactus was a bit crooked anyways, but the lens distortion really bent it over good 🙂

    I chose not to fix it because Iost too much of the clouds. Could have possibly just content-awared that dude out of there, but I didn’t 🙂 He’s cute.

  7. Scott Wood
    Scott Wood says:

    Mike & Chris – I love that little cactus the way it is. To me, it gave me a feel that the lightning was some sort of vortex that was getting ready to suck the cactus into it. 🙂

  8. murphyz
    murphyz says:

    Awesome! Thought the lightning is the immediate focal point when viewing this image it’s the cactus on the right which I really love with this shot, great silhouette and a nice light behind it – it really adds to the overall image.

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