Posts

Death and Birth

Simple scene. A desert hill, some foreground growth and a monsoon storm growing on the horizon. But that’s the simplicity I love sometimes. I tend to look for super dramatic, wide-angle, busy scenes…but occasionally I find the lack of drama just as awesome.

The main element in the foreground is a dead tree of some sort…it almost looks like a bird sitting on one of the right top branches, but I think it’s just a snapped branch. There are a few cacti and of course, the growing storm behind it all. I dig B&W and love silhouettes…I always find it amazing how a scene can change so much when you just darken it to shadows and nothing more. The shapes take on new life and suddenly form something entirely different.

Storms over the San Tan Mountains

This is sort of a “sequel” image to one I posted a few weeks ago. This storm cloud had been dropping a lot of rain on the mountains and was more contained as an isolated cell, but eventually the rain stopped and the anvil started to spread towards my direction a bit.

I loved this spot though, with the road and powerlines all headed towards the storm and so I just sat there waiting to see what happened and even without the rain, the scene was beautiful.

The monsoons have probably come to an end around these parts and I haven’t photographed a storm in over 10 days. I’ve had such an amazing summer and amazing time capturing what I could of the Arizona thunderstorm season. I have a lot of stuff to post over the rest of this year, but it’s going to be hard not to rush out and chase lightning and mushrooming cumulus for awhile.

Hopefully we’ll get some nice winter storms. I did capture some lightning back in February of this year, so here’s hoping for some good stuff this fall. And of course, once March-April roll around, it will be the big trip to the midwest for some SERIOUS stormchasing.

The Spreading Anvil

This shot may look somewhat familiar to some of my dedicated readers and followers…at least the bottom half. I posted another photo of this storm last week that mainly focused on the downdraft area of this cloud and the dust storm created from it. The photo above was taken about 5-10 minutes earlier than that one.

One of the most beautiful parts of a monsoon thunderstorm is the eventual spreading anvil as the top grows high enough to hit the fast moving winds in the upper atmosphere. This little storm cell was close enough to me that the wide end of my 17-35mm couldn’t capture the entire thing horizontally, and when I turned it vertical, it still required a panoramic of two positions to get as much as I could. Plus it was kind of moving towards me and to the left of the scene above, so it kept getting bigger and bigger in the viewfinder.

So this is a sort of vertical panoramic stitched together from two HDR photos, both of them made up of five brackets each.

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.

Down that dark road

I’m lucky to have a few great friends at work and one of them is Jesse. He’s a car guy, loves to go “wheeling” every Friday night and would go out of his way to help you install a new car stereo, not to mention a bazillion other things. A week or so ago we had to drive up to Williams for work, which is something we love doing despite the 3-3.5 hour drive time. Especially in the summer when it’s 110 in Phoenix, but a cool 75-80 in the gorgeous pine country of northern Arizona. He’s such a good guy and let me pull over a bunch to satisfy my insatiable hunger to photograph cool stuff.

As a photographer, you sometimes get tunnel vision. It happens to me all the time. You get an idea in your head about a shot and you focus all efforts on making it happen. That’s usually when a shot you weren’t even planning on taking becomes the actual reason you went there.

Once we were up close to Williams, we passed a giant lake bed full of flowers. I posted that shot not too long ago. The thing was, I was so infatuated with the flowers and storm clouds, I wasn’t looking anywhere else. As I came back to the car, Jesse calmly points out this dirt road heading into the trees. Me, being the AWESOME photographer that I am, who knows ALL…said “Yeah…okay Jesse…looks cool.” So I walked over there to snap some brackets, almost feeling like I was doing this as a courtesy because at least Jess was trying to help me out a little. Figured I would just get the brackets real quick and we’d be on our way.

Back in the car when I looked at the results in my camera…I realized it was going to be one of my favorite shots from the day and maybe in awhile. I knew right away I’d do it in black and white.  It would end up looking much more mysterious devoid of color.  I was giddy thinking about what the final product was going to look like. This is a 6-bracket HDR using Photomatix, CS5 and Nik Silver Efex for the B&W.

I guess the moral of the story is to always listen to your buddy Jessie.  He may be obsessed with Family Guy and wear his sunglasses at night (inside joke), but when he points out an idea for a photo…you’d damn well better do what he says.

A strong monsoon downdraft

I love seeing a thunderstorm in action. Normally when you are just minding your own business, you just see the clouds move in, maybe some dust blows ahead of them and then the rain/lightning starts.  But rarely do you get to see the origin of all that stuff.

This is the second opportunity I’ve had this summer to see a dust storm forming. The first I posted last week, The Birth of a Monsoon Dust Storm, which was a fun “time lapse” of sorts.  But today’s photo really shows you the raw power of a thunderstorm’s downdraft and what it can do.  You might also consider this a microburst.

I shot this on Saturday afternoon where storms were producing 65mph winds, hail and all kinds of lightning.  Sometimes you can get a downdraft like this and not see the same results, but the storms were fairly severe on this day and so you get to see something kind of cool. The dust you see forming on the edges above looks like it’s just on either side of the storm, but in reality, it was spreading in all angles and just hadn’t picked up any dust yet.

While this is a great way to see how a dust storm begins, it’s nothing like the giant Haboobs we sometimes get where multiple cells like the above storm are all grouped together and producing many downdrafts that join forces to send massive walls of dust headed towards Phoenix.

I rarely do this, but if you have an account on Flickr, maybe you wouldn’t mind favoriting this photo over there? It’s been doing well and I think just a few more comments/faves might get it Explored!

Arizona monsoon lightning photos from August 28th

My daughter sat in her little car seat, enjoying Toy Story and staying safely away from any lightning or the bazillion numbers of mosquitos I encountered last night out in the Arizona desert. Probably was a little too close to a couple of canals out there, but at times it almost felt like a swarm of bugs attacking me. I definitely have more than five itchy bites on me today.

The above lightning strike was my favorite of the night. A tip to lightning photos out there (not that any of you would do this), if your car is running because you are keeping the AC on for your little girl, go ahead and do NOT put the tripod on your trunk…just use the ground. Subtle vibrations from the engine running caused a few of my shots to be a bit unsharp and I can’t tell you how bummed I was about that.

There is another one below I like that has the strike landing behind a cactus which created a beautiful silhouette.

While I was out, I met a guy who was trying his hand at lightning photography and while I stood there, I realized his own silhouette sitting on top of his SUV was kind of cool against the clouds over the city. Amazingly, I caught a shot of a lightning strike AND him, so I walked over, introduced myself and emailed him the photos today.

The last one is just him sitting there…watching. I just love it.

Hope you enjoy these!

Stormy weather ahead

A couple of days ago we had some fairly severe weather develop across Arizona. Storms dumping a lot of rain and producing 60+mph winds. The cell on the left of this grouping was actually severe warned a bit after this. Damaging winds, tons of rain…good stuff.

I shot this in the middle of Gilbert Road just south of Hunt Highway looking north. They are actually way across town on the very far side of Phoenix, but it’s amazing how clear the skies were that you could actually see the rain falling.

Again…my love affair of roads continues.

This is a hybrid exposure blend, plus a little Topaz Adjust on the road and Nik Silver Efex for the black and white processing.

Monsoon chasing on the Apache Trail

This is a little bit of an older shot taken about a month ago in July. I really wanted to post the sunset photo from last night, but I’m having trouble with getting the colors to show up correctly once I upload them to the web, so I’m not sure what’s going on there. Any help or advice would be appreciated.

I took this photo on the Apache Trail road when I was out stormchasing with my buddy Brian. I thought the powerlines would ruin the shot, but for some reason I like them, along with the road of course. Have you not yet realized my love for those double-yellow lines disappearing down black asphalt paths?

I mainly took this because of the monsoon cloud off in the distance…it had a cool look to it, was more dreamy than scary and it had a little bit of rain falling from the bottom.

The birth of a monsoon dust storm

Awhile ago I posted the above photo of an awesome looking monsoon thunderstorm headed towards us. This was shot only a half-mile from my house and once it hit, we had over an inch of rain in less than an hour.

One of the big bonuses of observing this particular scene was having a front seat, wide angle view of the birth of a dust storm. Now, this wasn’t going to become one of those massive haboobs you may have heard about that happen in Arizona, but it was fun to watch anyways.

What you will see below is likely the result of the strong microburst occurring right over the mountain where you see all the rain falling. These happen a lot during monsoon season where the downburst of rain and wind is so strong, it ends up exploding in all directions, which tends to cause lots of damage with falling trees, roof tiles, etc. If they happen over the desert, you end up with big time dust storms.

The series below (minus the last two photos) are all HDRs from three brackets each. They are very unpolished, I just ran them through the Photomatix batch process to do this, I didn’t spend any time cleaning them up. You can probably tell the differences between the one above and these below (Geez, I hope so anyways!).

To show you how fast this happens, this first photo below was taken at 2:26:02 pm.

You can see the dust starting to kick up here on the right horizon.

The dust on the right is starting to extend higher up, while on the left you can see new stuff getting going.

Now it’s really starting to go crazy.

At this point, you can clearly see the dust coming at me. I was standing here waiting to run at the last minute, wanting to capture as many shots as I could before my camera would end up hating me.

2:29:32 pm

This is where I packed up and took off running towards my car about 200 feet away. Took just over three minutes.

2:29:55 pm

Got to my car and snapped a couple of photos back, you can see it just behind me now, probably some of the dust already hitting me.

2:30:38

Less than a minute later, we’d in the middle of it.

It was exhilarating for me because while I’ve lived here my entire life, I usually see the dust storms roll into town long after they’ve formed out in the middle of the deserts. I’ve never before seen one actually start right before my eyes. Such a cool thing to finally witness.

Hopefully you guys enjoyed that!