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Near Wickenburg

Near Wickenburg
(please click image to view on black // canon 5d mark iii, canon 16-35mm f/2.8 l, 19mm, iso 200, f/11, 10 sec // buy print)

This was a storm I’ll always remember. I’m driving west along Highway 74 and notice a little blip on my radar just south of me, parallel to my direction. Suddenly a flash explodes in that direction, I slam on the brakes, pull over and whip out my cameras.

And then nail a few bolts right there in front of me, just after sunset. There were taken with a 17mm lens, giving you an idea how close it was.

Sunrise at Sunset

Sunrise from Sunset
(please click to view on black // canon 5d mark iii, canon 16-35mm f/2.8 l, f/8, 1/500th, iso 100, graduated filter // buy print)

On the first day of our road trip up north a few weeks ago, we stopped at Sunset Point to wander out in the golden fields that are all over up there on the plateau. It was dark and serene, other than the passing cars on Interstate 17. We found some spots in the dark, like with this cactus…almost out of place with all the tall grass around it.

Sunrise was perfect…the light just peeking over the horizon lit up all the grass and the tippy points of the cactus…it was stunning.

A great omen for our trip…more to come, including a time-lapse film, a documentary by Jay Worsley and more images from yours truly!

On Approach

Approaching
(please click to view on black // canon 5d mark iii, canon 35mm f/1.4 l, iso 100, f/5, 1/200th, 8-image stitch // buy print)

After seeing that amazing supercell near Booker, Texas…it’s tough to imagine anything looking more ominous. But this storm was close. This is a big, 8-image panoramic, so things look further away than they actually were. The wall cloud was rotating violently, and we stood there in awe of what we were seeing. You can see in the darker area of the wall cloud how low the base is to the ground. Incredible.

This storm was marching on Denver International Airport and while a few tornadoes were reported, there was no real evidence of any on this day. But this was the second best wall cloud I’ve ever seen.

Can’t wait to get back out on the plains next spring!

Interstate

Interstate
(please click to view on black // canon 5d mark iii, canon 16-35mm f/2.8 l, 24mm, f/11, iso 200, 20 sec, composite // buy print)

This was probably one of the more dangerous photos I’ve ever taken. It’s also my favorite lightning strike of the summer.

I was parked well off the shoulder of the offramp here on 339th Avenue, well to the left of this frame. I was shooting in this same direction, but even though there were amazing bolts all over, the composition was boring and just didn’t look right to me. So before I could change my mind, I grabbed my tripod and ran to the middle of the overpass, in the rain, and fired off about 5-8 exposures of 20 seconds.

Two things popped into my head while standing out there. The first, of course, was that lightning was striking within a mile or two of my location. Sooooooooo….why was I on the high point of an overpass? And second…this was a skinny overpass and I had basically two feet of shoulder space. If a diesel came from the south and another from the north, I don’t know what would have happened. I was watching of course and no one was coming from the south at all, so I felt okay…but it was nerve wracking. Even if I took off running…it would have been close.

I had to take the risk though. The lightning was incredible. And all over. I knew the busy traffic of I-10 would result in some great light trails. But what I didn’t expect was to get such an an amazing, super-close bolt.

You can see where it hits just off the freeway, maybe a mile up the road? Probably less? It’s hard to say. The way it flew into the frame from the right and then slammed into the ground was amazing. But the added element of the freeway and light trails gives the photo visible dimension. You can actually feel how close it was. It’s been tough to get shots like this…mostly bolts land somewhere on the horizon, never giving you a good idea of exactly how far away they took place.

Now this is a composite image. I always like to be up-front about that. It’s only a composite though to fill in the light trails on the left side of the frame and to remove some distracting ones that were on the offramp. I took roughly 5-8 shots and so I had a few other frames to choose from to get the whole interstate lit up. I’ve been lucky before on a few shots like this where I captured all of it in a single frame…but this was only a 20 second exposure and even though I-10 is busy, a 30 second exposure would have been better. Normally I might have left it alone, but once I caught this strike…it was so worth tweaking it just a bit to make it perfect.

Hope you enjoy this! Definitely a highlight of the season for me.

Over the Hill

Beyond the Hill
(please click to view on black // canon 5d mark iii, canon 50mm f/1.2 l, iso 100, f/5.6, 25 sec // buy print)

A massive release of electricity explodes over the town of Whetstone, Arizona…with the cities of Huachuca and Sierra Vista off in the background. Taken along Highway 90 on a night where I dragged all three kids with me to southern Arizona when the wife was out of town haha.

It was an amazing night overall. Before this I photographed a lightning storm with the Milky Way in full glory for over an hour. You can see that time-lapse at the end of my Monsoon film released two weeks ago.

The End

The End
(please click to view on black // canon 5d mark iii, canon 35mm f/1.4, f/4, iso 400, 1/500th, handheld 9-image stitched pano // buy print)

The summer monsoon in Arizona came to an end this past weekend when a major transition event in the form of a intense trough moved through the state and caused flooding and tons of damage. We storm-chasers live for these events, which don’t seem to happen but every 4-5 years. There was a tornado risk as well, which is obviously unusual for our state.

As timing would have it…I was actually shooting a wedding on this day. I thought about chasing in the morning, but the storms were too far away to risk not getting back in town in time. So I watched what all my buddies were doing from my office as long as I could, then packed up and went to shoot a wedding that I was pretty excited about. As luck would have it…I was up by Pinnacle Peak where the bride was getting ready when the storm started to move into the West Valley. It was time to leave to go to the venue and as I headed south, the most incredible shelf cloud I’ve ever seen in Arizona was rolling over town.

I waited until I had the best possible view I could from the 101 freeway, pulled over and snapped this quick 9-image pano.

I didn’t care about composition or where I was, or the fact that Best Busy is right there in the photo. I only wanted an image of this scene to have forever.

Simply amazing.

Positive

Positive CG
(please click to view on black // canon 5d mark iii, canon 17-40 f/4 l, 17mm (cropped), iso 400, f/5.6, 6.0 sec)

One of my favorite kinds of lightning bolts are the ones that exit out the top of a cloud and have a long ways to go before they hit the ground. I feel like I must have known this before, but either way, thanks to Jeff Beamish down in Tucson, I now know these kinds of strikes are “positive cloud-to-ground” bolts (more info here).

I’ve caught one or two during my storm chasing adventures, but I’ve really been craving one from a distance. It was goal this year. That way you not only get the whole strike, but the cloud structure and maybe some sky…in this case…a few stars as an added bonus. If you aren’t sure what I mean by all of this…you can see in the photo above at the top of the cloud, there is a real BRIGHT part where the bolt exits the cloud. If you can picture things in a 3D environment, the bolt is likely coming towards us a bit before heading downwards.

Below is another example of one I’ve caught in the past (2012). It’s not so powerful as the one above, but you can see it coming out of the top of the cloud, making its way to the left and then down to the ground. Gives you more of an idea of what the bolt in the above photo might have been doing.

Stoked to nab this before the season ends.

From top to bottom

Sunset on the Beeline

Sunset on the Beeline
(please click to view on black // canon 5d mark iii, canon 17-40mm f/4 l, 17mm, iso 100, f/10, 1 second // buy print)

I’m a storm chaser through and through…that’s just what I do. I have a hard time going anywhere and just waiting for something good to happen. I’ve wanted to do a few trips this year, one mainly to a spot on the north rim of the Grand Canyon, just to camp for a few days and get some epic shots.

But it’s not in me to do that. I love the chase. The unknown. What will I end up with tonight?

This photo is a prime example of that. It’s nothing earth-shattering, but what it shows you is that beauty can be found anywhere, even though you don’t expect it.

This was from July 6th of this year. I saw a big line of storms moving in off the White Mountains and thought I might get in front of them right when it got dark and could destroy some lightning shots over the hills. But as it neared me, the storms started dying, the lightning wasn’t coming my way.

As I sat there bumming, this glow slowly appeared in the sky…and I wasn’t expecting it. The clouds were so thick everywhere, I had no idea the sun could possibly make it all this way.

But then the clouds  ignited and I couldn’t believe the color. It was intense.

Sunsets are weird in a way. It’s like you know a storm is great because there is wind and thunder and rain, and you can “feel” it. A sunset though…it’s like something so amazing and powerful, but it’s utterly silent. You look up and see an explosion of color, but there are no trumpets playing, no orchestra…just quiet.

Makes it all the better.

 

Fingers

Fingers
(please click to view on black // canon 5d mark iii, canon 35mm f/1.4 l, f/10, iso 200, 15 sec // buy print)

Judging from the light on the little hill on the horizon plus the 35mm lens I was using, this bolt hit fairly close to my position…maybe a mile or two away.

This was another shot from July 31st out near Wickenburg along Highway 74. That night was one of the most intense lightning chases I’ve ever been on. More to come, even a couple that actually hit that little hilltop!

Pinpoint

Pinpoint
(please click to view on black // canon 5d mark iii, canon 50mm f/1.2 l, iso 100, f/8.0, 20 sec // buy print)

I’ve been on a mission this year to capture some lightning landing in mountains or hills or whatever I can. It’s been tough because I don’t just camp out waiting for hours, I chase the storms so it’s just something I hope happens. I definitely went for these last night knowing the storms were over some ranges, so the chances were good.

But about 3-4 minutes before this photo, the lightning was on the OTHER side of the mountains, off in the distance and I was about to pack up when a bolt exploded from the sky only 2-3 miles away. This was the second one a minute later and it’s about five miles away.

Shot with my 50mm, that’s my favorite focal length for lightning…so pumped to get this one last night. Nothing better than seeing where a lightning strike actually hits. Gives such dimension and a sense of distance.