Airplane - Downtown Urban Phoenix Reflection

(click to view on black // canon 5d mark ii, tamron 17-35mm 2.8, 30mm, iso 100, f/4 // buy print)

You may know about my love for reflection photos like this one. What you may not know is that I’m kind of specific about when I shoot them.

Like, if someone empties their swimming pool and it floods the street…I don’t rush outside with camera gear in hand. That just doesn’t get me going at all.

But what does motivate me are storms. Of course right? And when it comes to reflections…I like the puddles of water leftover after a good rain. And even more specifically…I like to shoot them at sunset or in the early, cloudy morning. And finally…I need to be in the downtown, urban environment. I could have taken some shots in my driveway this week, but I wasn’t as inspired until I found myself in an abandoned parking lot. Don’t ask me why, it’s just the way it is.

It’s kind of a weird thing to shoot too. You wonder if people are looking at you funny. You are just walking around, tripod in hand…staring at the ground. From 100 feet away, I’ll bet it looks goofy as heck. I love it!

Now I love this shot I posted today, but honestly I think the plane makes it and I never even intended for it to be there. I just liked the pattern in the cement and the glimpse of some powerlines. But as I was bracketing the shot, this plane flew overhead and turned an okay image into some a bit more special for me.

And the reason I like shooting after it rains is the stormy clouds that you usually have and that awesome texture you get in the reflection. Swirls of light and dark…adds an element you can’t really control.

The city in the water

Motion, Tracks and Buildings - Downtown Phoenix Reflections

(click to view on black // canon 5d mark ii, tamron 17-35mm 2.8, 17mm, f/5.0, iso 100 // buy print)

There are two very different storm seasons in Phoenix. In the summer, it’s all monsoons and thunderstorms. The rest of the year, it’s just random winter-ish storms that roll through. The summers bring lightning, the winters bring rain.

So in the summers, I go outside of the Phoenix area to chase the weather. In the winters, I head downtown.

One thing I really ended up finding amazingly fun and rewarding was pointing my camera downwards at these giant puddles of water after a winter storm. And I like my images to be of the darker, stormier variety, so I try to do this when it’s dusk and the sun is going down.

It’s not easy…the chance of rain anytime here is usually slim, and then to hope the puddles last until sunset…well, it all makes it a rare occurrence. But I’ve been able to find the opportunity twice now and each time I’ve fallen in love with this kind of composition.

The above photo is the surface of a random parking garage. Tire tracks fly across the image. Two large buildings rise against the dark, angry evening clouds. In fact, it was in the midst of raining off and on at this point, I just happened to catch a break in the action.

This is an HDR image, so you may notice the bit of motion on the surface of the water. That was just some bubbles from a passing car, which I decided to leave alone and not fix.

Lay down your burdens

The Sofa -

(please click to view this nasty ol’ couch on black)

(title from the Battlestar Galactica soundtrack)

When I’m stormchasing, I can get very tunnel-visioned. I have a goal of where I want to get to and sometimes I’m unable to relax and just enjoy the stuff I see along the way. Of course, that usually depends on the situation, because other times I can be completely mellow and just go where the wind takes me.

This shot was from Labor Day and I believe my buddy Ken is the one who pulled the vehicle over. I was too busy being wishy-washy about whether we should run to Yuma or just hang out here.

Anyways…Ken took this big photography class from Mark Wallace not too long ago and one of his assignments was to do one big project on “something.” He decided to use me as his subject and basically created a little documentary/episode of the day in the life of a stormchaser.

So this couch. It actually doesn’t look that bad. But that doesn’t mean anything. It could be full of scorpions or God knows what. And yes…Ken wanted me to sit on it to get a posed shot for his project. I did it…but it was on the arm rest and I wasn’t very comfortable.

As for my photo…I love stuff like this. A desert landscape with something completely random throw into the mix to provide an awesome scene. Usually when I find some kind of “lost” element in my images, I really play with the tones and style of the image. I like to get crazy and give something like this a stark, post-apocalyptic look and feel.

What makes an image like this fun for me…it throws together two things I love: Weather and lost things. If you know anything about me, I rarely go out to shoot landscapes unless there are clouds, and mostly, stormy clouds. If it’s a blue sky, I wont even pack the camera. The other thing I love is urbex…farmex (gonna call this desertex for the fun of it)…stuff that has been abandoned or left for dead. So combining those into one image…well…that’s frakking awesome.

Have a great weekend!

(canon 5d mark ii, tamron 17-35mm 2.8, 17mm, f/16, iso 100 – buy print)

Lower Grand Falls

Below the Grand Falls

(Click to view larger with a nice, dark background)

This will likely be the last image from this past April’s annual trip to Grand Falls, Arizona. I’ve held onto it long enough, figured it was time to just post the thing. I’m sure some of you photogs who post daily photos can relate to hoarding some of your favorites for a rainy day.

If you follow my work at all, then you know about Grand Falls in the northern portions of this state located on Navajo land. It only flows from snow melt or flash floods due to massive monsoon storms. It’s one of those places that most people in Arizona have never heard of, including myself up until a few years ago. It’s not advertised, there are no signs, no parking lot, no gift shop. It’s just there.

And I like it that way.

Seeing a place like this in Arizona is something special. We don’t have many waterfalls, but this is our Niagara. In fact, from top to bottom, it’s taller than Niagara.

We last visited on April 2nd, my buddies Rick, Ken, Chris and then a bunch of other people showed up late in the day, like my wife, daughter and some other friends. This was taken at the bottom of the falls as the sun was beginning to the disappear behind me. I wanted to get a shot with the light shining off the falls before I hiked back up in time for the sunset (a shot you can see here).

There is not much else I can say about this place. You really have to see it in person.

(canon 5d mark ii, tamron 17-35mm 2.8, 17mm, f/22, iso 100)

Back to the Future

Back to the Future - Tire tracks in a puddle in downtown Phoenix

(please click the image so it fills your screen in the event you might have smaller monitor like I do. Also a dark border looks nice with it)

Twice this year I’ve been able to do some stormy sunset reflection shots downtown and I have to say, I absolutely LOVE this kind of photography. But first off, this is Movie Title Wednesday and we’re going with Back to the Future this week!

I remember seeing Back to the Future for the first time as a kid at my aunt’s house. God bless her for renting it that night. My brother and I loved it. And we’ve been huge fans ever since. I’m fairly certain the old, long-gone, Cine Capri in Phoenix did a marathon one day of all three films that we attended.  Anyways, this was such a good movie. A bit of science fiction time travel, but in a way that didn’t seem like sci-fi at all. Great music, awesome writing and of course, Michael J. Fox whom I’ve loved forever.

I went with this movie today because of the tire tracks in the puddle leading off to a firey sunset. Kind of makes you think of the Delorean’s fire trails after  jumping back in time right?

There is something a heck of a lot of fun about finding these scenes in giant pools of water after a storm. It was actually still raining a bit when I was down there, so a few times I had to duck under some shelter to wait for it to end.

(canon 5d mark ii, tamron 17-35mm 2.8, 17mm, f/8, iso 100)

Red Dawn

The Guardian - Sedona Arizona Sunset

(click to view larger on a black border…just looks better)

A break from all the lightning and storms…time for Movie Title Wednesday!

One of those movies that I just have to watch if I see it on the TV on a Saturday afternoon is Red Dawn. Granted, I haven’t seen it on the TV much recently and probably have watched it through only a handful of times (the last time being a very long time ago), but it’s still such a fun movie. World War II, Russians attack, Patrick Swayze, Charlie Sheen, Lea Thompson…hiding out in the woods, a resistance, fighting back…awesome stuff.

It should be pretty obvious how this film’s title relates to today’s image…but I have to say, it’s really a total lie.

I shot this at sunset. But come on, that movie is perfect for this picture! I’m not going to apologize for it!

Back in early July, our little family spent some time in Sedona, enjoying time away from the heat. Great stormy weather, beautiful skies and of course, the gorgeous mountains surrounding Sedona. If you’ve never been here, you gotta go.

This was down an old dirt road right as the sun was about to drop away. I was struck by the colors and the shadows on the cliff faces, but also with this towering pine tree, seemingly rising above the rest of the forest.

While my HDR processing with landscapes is becoming rarer and rarer, this is indeed a six-bracket tonemapped image. The beauty of this night was the absolute calm weather, which left this tree unmoving for me while I fired off the brackets.

(canon 5d mark ii, tamron 17-35mm 2.8, 17mm, f/16, iso 100)

A final visit to the seventh floor

The Puddle - Downtown Phoenix Storm Reflection

(click to see the big puddle in a lightbox)

This evening of February 20th, 2011 was pretty awesome. Those that have followed me for awhile may remember some of the other shots (here and here) from the top of this downtown Phoenix parking garage right next to Chase Field. Seven stories. An absolutely amazing sunset with the most gorgeous clouds you ever saw. And a previous rain left puddles everywhere.

I can’t even begin to tell you how much I love clouds and sunsets like this. They are incredibly rare.

This will likely be the last image I post from that night. Time to move on, and leave it behind.

(exif: canon 5d mark ii, tamron 17-35mm 2.8, f/16, 17mm, iso 100)

OneQuestion: Brian Matiash

Copyright Brian Matiash

I’m so sad, the first week of OneQuestion is at its conclusion! But what a way to finish. Last, but definitely not least…well, maybe kind of least, or more in the middle, or whatever, my good friend Brian Matiash (who knows I kid, it’s our thing) was kind of enough to drop this friggin’ awesome road shot on us today and answer the question I posed to everyone. Brian is an amazing guy, an amazing photographer and I owe him a lot for where I am right now.

And before we get to Brian’s answer, I just want to thank everyone who participated in this project, and also all the support we had out there from Twitter, Facebook, G+ and the rest of it. It’s been a ton of fun and I can’t wait to do it again sometime!

What do you have a passion to photograph? What would make you forego much-needed sleep

because you just can’t help but get out and take more pictures?

Follow Brian Matiash: Twitter | Website

Let me start off by thanking my good bud, Mike, for thinking of me when he put this very interesting series together. I always appreciate unique spins on guest blog series and this one certainly doesn’t fail to please with the provocative question that is posed – What would make me forego sleep to keep shooting?

Well, let me start by explaining just how much I love my sleep. I hold it in the same lofty regard as a finely crafted ale. I don’t get much sleep because I’m unable to nap and it usually takes about 2 hours for me to even fall asleep at night. So, when sleep finally does come, I usually hold onto it like it’s manna from heaven. But still, what would keep me from it?

Well, the answer can be summed up in this – it’s all about ‘the streak’. There is a phenomenon in photography where you are out shooting and all of a sudden, you just see this one shot. Everything is aligned and the frame just makes sense. You get the camera situated and BOOM! – you get this shot that just surges through you. You chimp it and you know you nailed it. This causes adrenaline and endorphins to start coursing through your veins. Thoughts start caroming off each other and new shots appear right in front of you. You’ve hit the streak. It’s that streak that makes it more than a pleasure to give up sleep and comfort.

When I took this shot, I was tired. More than that, I was tired, sweaty, and getting more wet with each rainy minute that went by. But, I was mid-streak. I had just finishing shooting the Empire State Building and saw a way of framing it that I never thought of before. Something about the shot just energized me. I had been on my feet shooting all day and we were in the middle of a massive heat wave. But, none of that seemed to matter at that point.

I started darting around, thinking of shots to get. I settled on this one random corner and positioned my camera about a foot off the street. I knew the type of long exposure effect I was going for. Each shutter release was a 10-20 second investment. Timing the traffic lights and the amount of cars passing through the frame was critical to get the shot. But, I had fuel pumping and it didn’t matter. After a few failed attempts, I got the shot I was looking for.

It was one of those situations where I wouldn’t have stopped until I got the shot I was happy with. At that point, it didn’t really matter what time it was or how gross I felt, it was all about getting the shot. Sleep would come eventually. The shot only happens in the moment.

This is what it is always about to be a photographer.

OneQuestion: Scott Ackerman

ElectricSupercellMO - Scott Ackerman

Next up in my OneQuestion guest blog series is Scott Ackerman, my stormchasing buddy from Kansas. You knew I had to include a weather guy, I mean, come on! I love his work, I’ve seen some great strides in his processing and composition in recent months and I’ve been blown away by the images he’s taken. I mean, look at this giant thunderstorm in the photo above (click on it to enjoy the visual with a nice, dark border), with gorgeous light on the anvil and lightning exploding on the horizon. LOVE IT. And without further ado…ScottyAck.

What do you have a passion to photograph? What would make you forego much-needed sleep

because you just can’t help but get out and take more pictures?


Follow Scott Ackerman: Twitter | Website

Big thanks to Mike for asking me to take part in his little mini series of guest blog posts. I consider Mike to be a premier photographer of all areas of the craft and I know my skill has greatly improved from his knowledge.

Mike recently asked the question: “What do you have a passion to photograph”. For me, this was an easy answer. Growing up in the flat plains of southwest Kansas there really wasn’t a whole lot of scenery to take in. No mountains or lakes to speak of. But every spring, the storms would begin rolling in. Amazing, beautiful storms that would test the heights of the atmosphere and roll with astounding momentum. Frightening and beautiful in the same moment. Each with their own unique structure and strength. From a very young age I was always mesmerized by these acts of nature. We had our fair share of tornadoes, lightning, hail of all sizes and wind that at times felt like it would relocate the house down the block.

Now it wasn’t until after undergrad that I decided it was time to take a crack at capturing these beauties. I can remember spending many hours trying to capture bolts of lightning with very little success. At this point I turned where every one turns, to the internet. I consider myself a self-taught photographer but I have definitely spent a great deal of time reading instructional material and watching many video tutorials. And once you capture your first lightning bolt, you’re hooked.

Getting back to the question at hand, it doesn’t matter if I’ve had a long tough day at work, if there is the slightest chance to capture an amazing storm structure or a complex bolts of lightning I’m there. There’s been times when a storm will sit in one spot and just put on a show for hours. Capturing that show is some times tough, and you may spend hours trying with little luck, but capturing that once in a lifetime shot makes it all worth while.

OneQuestion: Michael Murphy

 (This begins the first ever OneQuestion series of guest blog posts by photographers I asked to participate. I want to thank all five of them that you’ll meet this week for helping me out and letting me take a breather from all the blogging and such. But mostly I want them to know how much I appreciate the awesome answers and the depths at which they talk about how much they love what they do.)

First up is Michael Murphy, a photographer from London who creates some stunning images that I’m constantly blown-away by. He’s one of those “urban explorers” and uses HDR as a part of his workflow for most of it. Love his processing and style.  A good man, with a good name. Was so excited that he wanted to be a part of this. Thanks man.

What do you have a passion to photograph? What would make you forego much-needed sleep

because you just can’t help but get out and take more pictures?


Follow Michael Murphy: Twitter | Website

My passion is, without a doubt, taking photographs of London from up high. The feeling you get standing high above the hustle and bustle of the UK capital is amazing. The only noises are the wind, the sirens and the sound of your camera clicking away…turning off a busy street on a Friday night, going up 20 or 30 storeys and then spending several hours looking down from above is simply euphoric.

Of course, there are downsides to this passion. There aren’t many places in London which allow you to climb onto their rooftops, especially with tripods and camera gear, and definitely not late at night. Those that do provide access are places where tourists go, where photography is often restricted or completely forbidden and where the view is hindered by glass, netting or early closing hours.

This means I have to resort to access that doesn’t involve asking for permission, which is done without being seen, and which unfortunately means those 20 or 30 storeys have to be done by stairs or scaffold. Night time obviously lends itself better to these covert operations; the streets are quieter with those still wandering them mostly drunk, shadows are available to hide in, and the sites where access is gained are mostly devoid of workers making the process much easier.

The easiest spots to access are buildings that are currently being built or demolished; they often have no doors and the only active alarms, if any, are on the scaffold or hoarding. Some have security, but avoiding them is part of the fun and bumps up the adrenaline levels almost as much as standing on the corner of a high building does.

I’ve learnt the hard way that there is often a small window of opportunity when gaining access to sites (and sometimes, literally a small window). A location that is open one day may have no roof the next, or may have boards put up to stop people from entering, or an increase in security. One particular location earlier this year turned from simply being able to walk in off the street and up to the roof to suddenly having fencing, alarms and signs stating ‘these premises are patrolled by security dogs’ within the space of a week. Another time I climbed a statue in a very popular area of London which had scaffold around it for cleaning, the opportunity arose simply because I noticed the padlock to the hoarding was unlocked as I walked past. The next day the job was complete, the scaffold was removed and the chance to get up there again was gone for another 5 or 10 years depending on how often the statue is cleaned. If you sit around planning too much and deciding to go the following weekend you often find that access is no longer possible; as the old saying goes ‘you snooze – you lose’ and that’s certainly true of this game.

When it come together though, and you’re stood on the top of a 30 storey building looking around at the iconic London landmarks and knowing that you’re taking photos from a viewpoint that the majority of people will never see, there’s no greater feeling. You feel a connection with the city that you don’t get elsewhere, and a sense of belonging in a place that can sometimes be so hostile. For that short period of time you feel invincible, and like you’re the king of the world. I’ve missed many nights of sleep (and nearly one plane flight) pursuing these vantage points, and I look forward to missing many more in the future.