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An Arizona hail core

Severe storm near Douglas
(please click to view on black // canon 5d mark ii, canon 17-40mm f/4 l, 17mm, iso 100, f/8.0, 1/13th // buy print)

I remember this storm like it was yesterday. I was even live streaming it and couldn’t have been more excited for the people watching to see a storm like this in Arizona. You can even see a timelapse of it right here.

This area had storms all over…to the left, to the right…but something about this one looked different. I was watching an area of intense rain when suddenly you could see the blue a lot clearer and the clouds started making some crazy looking shapes, especially on the right side of the image above. It almost looked like a wall cloud and there was some insane upward motion. Insane for this state that is.

I got so lucky last year to be on two storms like this that looked so unusual for Arizona. Hoping for more of the same in 2014!

Energize

Energize
(please click to view on black // canon 5d mark iii, canon 35mm f/1.4 l, iso 100, f/10, 15 sec // buy print)

I definitely have a nerdy side and when I got done editing this image, I could only think of one thing:

“Beam me up, Scotty.”

Such a skinny rain shaft and then to get a lightning strike travel right down the middle was pretty awesome. This was one of my favorite storms from this past summer, mainly because of the timing of capturing it just as the sun went down. Not totally dark yet, but enough light to add some great color and illuminate the landscape.

The purple color here was pretty cool. I’m assuming it was just the lightning, but the sun was also setting and it’s possible it was hitting the top of the cloud and somehow aided in the color. Love how purple the lightning bolts are themselves.

A hail core near Douglas, Arizona

A hail core near Douglas, Arizona
(please click to view on black // canon 5d mark iii, canon 50mm 1.2, iso 50, f/16, 0.5 sec // buy print)

I’m super bad at chasing storms ahead of time. What that means is…I usually wait until I see them start firing up and then I go. Sometimes when you are busy with work, life and that kind of stuff, you can’t drive 3 hours somewhere and risk that nothing will happen.

But yesterday I said screw it and we left early in the day for southern Arizona, hoping to catch some storms that would eventually fire up around 3pm. And sure enough, we got near Sierra Vista and they started crossing into Arizona.

We ended up east of Tombstone and caught up with a line of storms that were just exploding everywhere. But this one cell in particular just north of Douglas caught my eye. It started lookeing fierce, so I found a clear spot and watched it. The right side evolved in such crazy ways it’s hard to believe. But eventually it looked like this. I’ve rarely, if ever, seen such a strong blue hail core on a storm in Arizona. It was amazing. Yes, the photo has been edited with some contrast through Luminosity Masking, but that color was real and legit. I was mesmerized by it. The movement in the clouds was astonishing for a monsoon storm.

It made me realize…these storms probably happen in Arizona all the time…maybe once or twice on a daily basis when it’s a good day. You just have to leave ahead of time in order to get them when they fire off like this.

The shutter speed on this was 1/2 a second because I was hoping for lightning, so the clouds may be a TAD on the soft side because of how fast they were moving.

Hoping to post the timelapse of this guy tomorrow!

Lightning near Camp Verde

Lightning near Camp Verde
(please click to view on black // canon 5d mark ii, canon 17-40 f/4 l, iso 100, 23mm, f/18, 6 secs // buy print)

I arrived back home from Africa Sunday morning and I waited until Tuesday to get back out chasing storms again. I ran up to Grand Falls to meet my buddy Dee in hopes of catching a flash flood, but it was already running like crazy, so we headed back south to catch up with a line of outflow heading southwest off the Mogollon Rim.

I kept telling Lyla that we needed these storms to hang around until right around 7:45 when the sun would be down so we could shoot some lightning, something she LOVES…and sure enough, as we got south of Camp Verde, a beautiful cell was still firing up and we pulled off at one of my favorite spots along Interstate 17. We captured this around 7:57pm.

These were slow moving storms, so the rain shaft just sat there forever and slowly moved to the south…and while it wasn’t going nuts with lightning, the ones that did fire were beautiful.

Felt good to get right back into the mix last night. Going to be a busy week.

An old house in Colorado

The House - Colorado Thunderstorm Mammatus

(click to view on black // canon 5d mark ii, rokinon 14mm 2.8, iso 400, 1/320 f? // buy print)

Here’s another image from our brief trip to the central plains for a little bit of spring stormchasing.  An amazing display of mammatus was headed our way and I was on the lookout for something special to capture in the foreground. Sure enough, we stumbled upon this old house just beckoning us to include it in our compositions.

I’ve never seen mammatus clouds like that before, so it was kind of a thrill to get them on camera finally.

I used the Rokinon 14mm on  his one, which not only is manual focus, but also has a manual aperture ring, so I have no clue what I shot this at. It was handheld, so probably wider than f/8.

A fun trip, I still have a few more images to share at some point!

This Old House

An old, scary house in Kansas

(looks scarier with a dark lightbox around it. Click image to scare yourself)

A little more “farmex” straight from my recent stormchasing trip to the midwest. This image was taken a bit south and west of Wichita, Kansas.

I dig creepy places and shooting them, but unless I got a buddy with me, I’m not sure I could go much closer than this. Wind was blowing, creaking sounds were coming from the house and the surrounding trees…it was definitely giving me goosebumps.

I passed so many places like this. Old, abandoned farms, silos, houses, sheds…it was amazing. Highly recommend Kansas if you are looking for this kind of subject.

(exif: canon 5d mark ii, canon 50mm 1.4, iso 100, f/16, 1/80)

 

The Fellowship of the Ring

It’s a stretchy-stretch Movie Title Wednesday…meaning the exact correlation between the image and the film may not be completely obvious. And perhaps, it’s totally misnamed. I debated this one, but I honestly couldn’t find too many films that dealt with trees or have trees featured prominently in them.

Either way, we’re stuck with Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. And in reality, I could think of a bazillion worse movies to be stuck with. In fact, this trilogy (or one giant movie as I like to think of them) is my favorite of all-time. As a kid I read the books for the first time and was blown away. I don’t think I understood a lot of it until I read it a second time years later. Then I got it. And since then I’ve read the books maybe 10 times. Not coincidentally, also my favorite books ever.

So when the movies were being made, I was so stoked and could only hope they’d be decent. And of course, they were awesome. Amazing films, they captured the essence of the books so well, I felt like what I had imagined in my head so many times was suddenly out there on the big screen.

Now that’s all interesting, but what does it have to do with a big tree on a hillside? Well, if you’ve seen the film or read the books, you know there is a giant…massive “Party Tree” where Bilbo celebrated his birthday and made his infamous farewell speech. For the movies, director Peter Jackson found the absolute perfect tree and setting to represent The Shire, Bilbo’s hobbit hole and the Party Tree. Photographer Trey Ratcliff traveled to New Zealand not too long ago and got a shot of this epic scene, which you can see right here.

I took this picture while on my “stormchasing” trip in Kansas, and as you can see, there are no storms in sight. I did crawl under and over two sets of barbed wire to get this shot though, so there was some “excitement” and “danger” involved…haha.

(exif: canon eos 5d mark ii, tamron 17-35mm 2.8, 19mm, f/22, iso 100, 1/20th)

The Sandlot

The Sandlot…I know the only way you connect that film with this photo is obviously the playground area boxed in by sand, but when I was trying to think of something for Movie Title Wednesday, this one clicked into place. May as well use it now, I think this may be the first time I’ve ever shot anything sunset/landscape related from a children’s playground. There was a reason for that of course, I’ll tell you in a bit. But first…The Sandlot…once of those cult classic movies for me that will never get boring, never get old and never fail to bring a tear to my eye at the end. It’s kind of like Toy Story 3 in the way it makes us think of our childhood gone.

Some of my favorite lines:

“Only one kid in history had ever attempted what Benny was about to…and he got eaten.”

“He had kissed a woman, and he had kissed her long and good.”

And of course:

“You play ball like a GIRL!”

So this image above…wow, the sunset last night was friggin’ amazing. One of those skies you only get 2-3 times a year where the entire heavens seem to be lit up in fire. We have family in town this week and had a dinner planned for last night at my wife’s aunt & uncle’s place…and thinking it might be a good sunset, I grabbed the tripod and gear to bring along. I knew where we were going and remember that there was a park behind the house. I had no idea what was there or what I could even use to frame a shot if needed, but at least there was a wide open space to use.

I stepped out into the backyard with my daughter, saw the sky, ran for my camera and gear, snatched up Lyla and ran out into the park. Now sometimes you panic with a sky like this because you have no idea when the apex of the colors will be. The first shot was with a light pole and I was just kind of blah with it. Then Lyla saw the slide and the swings and went running off, and I said “Oh yeah, great idea Lyla!” Turned out the peak color moment was about to happen.

As I’ve said a lot of times before…with unplanned shots while out stormchasing or in your aunt and uncles backyard…you just have to frame the scene with whatever is handy. What better than a swingset? And a motionless one at that…not a breath of wind, not a hint of movement. This is a six-bracket HDR shot, although the sky itself is actually about 99.2% original bracket. I found that the HDR process just killed the textures for some reason.

Beyond the swingset…it’s definitely not a foreground ideal to a sky like this…but sometimes you gotta make lemonade outta…well you know.

The Road

There is really no other appropriate title for this week’s Movie Title Wednesday image. I knew it the second I stood at this spot, soaking in the wind, the storms and the weeds bursting through this long lost road near I-17.

The Road, while recently a movie, mainly hits home for me in the book form which was written by Cormac McCarthy. It came out a few years ago and even won Cormac a Pulitzer Prize. The story is bleak and harrowing, hopeless and unforgettable. The movie was almost exactly like the book, and in that way, it was hugely successful. The only reason it wasn’t a smash hit is probably because it leans big time on the side of depressing.

I am always amazed at how different people interpret things and just a few days ago a photographer I follow named Justin Kern posted some remarkable images that made him think this of this very same film.

Despite the mood of the film, scenes like this are beautiful to me. I shot this last Wednesday during the tornado-fest in Northern Arizona. I raced up I-17 early that morning hoping to capture a twister for the first time ever. I ended up at this spot and eventually turned around and headed back to work. Standing here though was amazing and I only wish I had more time to explore further down the road and capture a few more angles of it.

An old, rusty water trough

This shot is from way back in May of this year. Sometimes I take brackets, smash them into an HDR shot, they end up being removed from my laptop to save disk space and get lost on my backup drives until I stumble across them eventually. I was browsing my HDR library on the backup disk last night and found this little guy sitting there.

Yet another gorgeous scene from my trip to Northern Arizona. This was on the way to Grand Falls and I just had to turnaround, drive down a dirt road in the rain in my little two-door and hope I didn’t get stuck anywhere. My only wish looking back is that I had my 17-35mm for this and had gotten a little closer to the water trough.

At least, I think it’s a water trough…the little bucket in the front appeared to be able to hold liquid, there were cow prints around and it seemed to serve no other purpose. I loved the rust and graffiti on it in contrast with the sort of smooth terrain around it and the stormy skies.