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Cellular

Cellular - Arizona Monsoon Lightning

(please click to view on black // canon 5d mark ii, canon 70-210mm f/4, 125mm, iso 200, f/8.0, 20 sec // buy print)

Amazingly, I still have lightning shots from last summer that I haven’t posted yet! If you grabbed a copy of my Stormchasing Arizona book, you’ve likely seen this already.

This was an amazing night with some spectacular lightning strikes hitting all around Casa Grande. I was so stoked when I saw the first strike from the truck and knew I could stop and line it up with this cell phone tower.

Cannot wait for this season…have a major hankering for some lightning chasing.

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.

Crashdown

(click to view on black // canon 5d mark ii, canon 70-210 f/4, 125mm, f/8, iso 200, 20 sec // buy print)

One of my favorite characters from the recent epic sci-fi series Battlestar Galactica was a guy named Crashdown played by Alex Quartararo Sam Witwer (totally got his name wrong last week when I posted this). I wont tell you how long he was on the show, or what his fate was, but I always remembered him mostly because I thought the actor was pretty cool. So I was thrilled to see him appear as one of the leads on SyFy’s new Being Human series, about vampires, ghosts, werewolves…stuff like that. I absolutely LOVE that show by the way, can’t go wrong with it.

And if you are a sci-fi junkie and haven’t seen Battlestar Galactica yet…take a chance on it. Anyone I’ve told about it has been happy they watched it.

So that was a whole lot of TV blabber just to say I wanted to use the title Crashdown for this image. This was taken this past Tuesday evening, the same as Purple Rain. I had been driving along 387 north of Casa Grande watching for the lightning to hopefully start up when I see it suddenly strike behind this radio/tv/whatever antenna. I saw the composition in my head immediately, slammed on the brakes, grabbed the 70-210mm and put that thing large as life in the frame.

I was just astounded at the number of strikes I got with this antenna in the composition. I’m also intrigued by the intensity of of the lightning I’ve captured over Casa Grande. Both times I’ve been here it’s been all kinds of powerful and epic. You may remember this other one called Chaos of Light.

Almost makes you wonder what that little city did to warrant God’s vengeance.

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 monsoon sunset down in Casa Grande

I’ve learned a bit about good sunset pictures in the last year. Normally, a nice silhouette of a sunset doesn’t work unless you have some kind of iconic or amazing structure on the horizon. A beautiful sunset photograph usually has some sort of interesting foreground element to go with it…be it a lake, pond, rocks, building, whatever.

When I am out stormchasing, I never know where I’m are going to be.  I just end up where the storms and clouds are. So when you start seeing a sunset forming like the one above and you’re driving down the highway at 85mph, you have precious little time to find a spot that offers up some decent composition to go with the brilliance happening on the horizon. Sometimes the most beautiful moment of a sunset lasts for less than a minute, so the setup needs to happen NOW.

All that building up to say that I don’t think the foreground elements in this photo are anything to write home about, but it’s amazing what you CAN find when you are frantically searching for a spot when the sun is about to disappear. Especially if you’ve never been around this area before. You race down a road, see a field, look for something, ANYTHING interesting and then bolt out there, get the tripod up, make sure your settings are good and snap away.

I do love the tree here and some of the elements of decay around…a discarded pipe close to the horizon, a barbed wire stake just standing there by itself for no reason…the deadness of the desert.

Technical jargon: Six brackets, Photomatix, CS5 and some noise reduction, etc.