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The Dance of the Light

It's Alive - Light over Cave Creek

Being sick for the past 11 days or so, I hadn’t really taken any pictures, to say nothing of actually doing any stormchasing. Somewhat lucky for me, the weather was fairly quiet during most of the time I was couch-ridden, so I didn’t miss much.

But I’m back to normal now and just in time. Last night Arizona had a walloping of storms explode across southeastern portions of the state and the weather moved into Phoenix by early evening. Most of the bad stuff stuck to the east valley, but we got a nice dust storm/haboob and then a great lightning show later on.

To go along with my 5D Mark II, I have a 17-35mm, 50mm and 85mm. That’s it. My focal range isn’t awesome. So earlier this week, I discovered a nice little Canon 70-210mm f/4 that was built in 1988 and the reviews spoke of the high quality of the glass. Yeah, no IS and the zoom was of the telescoping variety, meaning you point it up or down and you’ll probably watch the lens slide around.

Either way, I wanted more range for lightning and it was $118. No brainer. And it arrived yesterday in the nick of time.

With my daughter in tow, we watched the sun go down and then saw some storms developing just north of Bush Highway. We headed up there and were welcomed with some amazing lightning, some of which ended up crashing all around us as we huddled in the car.

A bit later I ran into my buddy Scott Wood and then Bryan C. Snider, another twitter pal. So we hooked up and just shot together the rest of the night. So great to run into those guys and awesome to finally meet Bryan. He’s a solid photog.

This was one of our final spots. I’ll remember it always because the strikes were awesome, but the massive pile of 1/4 inch ants I upset likely will leave a scar on my leg. Ouch.

I have to say, that lens was perfect. This was taken at 160mm and there was no other way I could have shot it. No roads to get us closer to the storm. It was either zoom or watch from afar.

I’m gonna have a lot of fun with that thing.

(canon 5d mark ii, canon 70-210mm 4.0, 160mm, f/5.6, iso 400, 30 sec)

The Hills are Alive

Lightning over the Catalinas

Man. It’s been awhile since I’ve been that sick. Strange abdominal pain. 103 temp. Trip to the ER. Almost 10 days being completely away from the online world. And the whole time with the iPad on my lap re-watching Battlestar Galactica. God bless Netflix.

Happy to report I got through all 76 episodes. And yes, it was awesome as always.

Anyways, despite being sick, it was a nice break from everything. Cleared my head a bit, stopped thinking about what I’m usually obsessed about(photography) and just laid around, soaking up up some time off. Felt good.

Also feels good to be back posting again. This particular image was shot on July 30th down in Tucson over the Catalina Mountains. My buddy Ken Peterson and I left around 1-2pm and spent the day timelapsing and waiting for the sun to go down so we could shoot some lightning.

Witnessing lightning over these mountains is something to behold. I assume the people living down there are used to it, but the sheer power and frequency was amazing.

Normally to get these many strikes in one shot takes a long exposure, maybe one around 30+ seconds. This was only 10 seconds. That’s it. Five strikes. And this is actually cropped a bit, losing another strike that was off camera left.

(canon 5d mark ii, canon 85mm 1.8, f/7.1, iso 100, 10 sec)

The Tweezers

Downtown Phoenix Lightning - August 3rd 2011

(Clickity click…to view on blackity black)

So my daughter has been sick all week with a lovely stomach virus. Not napping well, not sleeping through the night, fevers…lots of good stuff. Apparently that transferred to me yesterday, and I was feeling darn lousy all day. I pretty much lounged around on the couch being a big baby.

Wasn’t even thinking of going out after storms. In fact, the forecast called for NOTHING in the Phoenix area last night. No need to worry right?

Suddenly storms just roll in from all over. I walk outside, look just north and it’s like some kind of epic battle going on with non-stop flashing in 10 different directions. I mosey back inside, lay on the couch and start whining to my wife. I know she’d rather me rest up. But she knows me only too well. After a few minutes, she says “Go out for an hour and then get some sleep.”

I was gone for two. Sorry honey bunch. You rock though.

I thought it was almost a useless trip after a bit, the lightning was just flashing in the clouds and doing a lot of cloud-to-cloud loopty-loos and just not hitting the ground much. I was packing up when I noticed some stuff firing to my south, so I went to the other side of the parking garage I was hanging out in and just watched a storm cross in front of me from right to left.

And finally it let loose with some strikes over the city and made my night.

As for the title…doesn’t the lightning strike look like it’s using a set of tweezers on the city where it lands?

(canon 5d mark ii, tamron 17-35mm 2.8, 26mm, iso 200, f/8.0, 15sec)

Timelapse: Monsoon storm rolls into Phoenix

A couple of days ago we had a fairly epic looking storm roll into Phoenix right at sunset. The clouds were just amazing. There was a dust storm. You can see lightning on the left horizon towards the end of this video. The setting sun creating beautiful red tones was awesome. I’ve been torn lately between photographing things like this and doing timelapes, because I really, REALLY love seeing cloud movement afterwards. One of my favorite things in the world are timelapes of storm and cloud motion. Something we just can’t see too well with the naked eye looks so incredible sped up a bit.

That being said, I’m still learning. This particular one was an experiment in using Aperture Priority. I wanted to lock the aperture and ISO, but let the shutter speed vary. Well, turns out while my controller is running, AV mode doesn’t seem to change the SS unless I stopped the controller and started it again. Doh!

I’m figuring all this out as I go. I kind of like it this way. Making mistakes, figuring out why something didn’t work right. Reading up on new things and not being afraid to try them out. Makes me a lot more intelligent about it all instead of just having all the answers right up front.

My goal in all of this was just to have fun and put together a cool video at the end of the storm season with a bunch of monsoon storm clips so people can see how they look out here.

I hope you enjoy this one…despite some of the varying exposures you’ll get. The music is the theme to the recent Battlestar Galactica TV series because I’ve been dying to find a way to use it. The composer of that series, Bear McCreary, is one of my favs. He’s awesome.

Lightning on the 89A

Lightning on the 89A - Sedona, Arizona

(Click to see the image smaller so it fits your screen, or enjoy it on your huge stinking monitor!)

At the start of the year, I had a sort of awakening. I had changed up the way I processed images and discovered the beauty of black and white. It was the work of Mitch Dobrowner that really spoke to me around that time and I vowed to myself that this storm season I’d use a lot less color in my storm photography. Even lightning.

Suddenly it’s the middle of the stormchasing season and I hadn’t done a lick of lightning in B&W. I’ll be honest with you about this. I was kind of scared. I really try hard to be proud and confident of my own vision and processing methods, no matter what people think. But I still hear it and listen when I wish I didn’t.

Some of the lightning I’d posted this summer has gotten nice feedback, but some that jumped out at me were comments like “I love the color” or “My favorite thing about lightning shots is the different colors you get.” Stuff like that.

Believe it or not, it made me do a double-take on a B&W conversion. Plus I tried it a few times and never liked the results.

Fast-forward to this past weekend and a comment I got on 500px from Drew Medlin. He said something along the lines of “you’ve got the lightning, now focus on composition, foreground/background elements…” Yeah, I was a bit bent at first. Sounded a bit too forward to me. So I visited his page.

And realized he knew what he was talking about. His lightning shots were amazing. And they were in black and white. Boom, it brought me screaming back to where I was at the beginning of the year. WHY was I afraid of this? Look at the beauty Drew was showing through his work. It just reassured me that my original vision in January was on target.

I have no problem in this business letting people know where I get the inspiration that changes the way I do things. I think it’s important to acknowledge things like that. The fact is, Drew gave me a kick to the gut and I’m forever grateful for that. Thanks man.

Please check out his website and follow him on 500px.

I ended up dabbling a bit in different processing methods until I got happy with what I ended up with. And I just dig it. I love the starkness and power you get from an image in B&W anyways, now throw in some lightning and it moves me.

Hope all that made some sense. This shot was taken back on the 10th of July up in Sedona, a bit west of town along State Route 89A.

(canon 5d mark ii, canon 85mm 1.8, f/5.6, iso 100, 30 sec)

Sunsets and Strikes

Downtown Phoenix Monsoon Sunset

(click on the images to view in lightbox)

This season of stormchasing has been amazing so far. July is now in the books and yet the stuff I’ve seen already this summer has been just awesome. A lot of that has to do with just BEING out there more than last year, but I feel like there have just been some epic scenes that I’ve been lucky to witness. For example, last night I had planned to stay in town and just shoot lightning if it moved into Phoenix in the evening. Our daughter has been sick and Sunday was pretty rough. Not a lot of sleep for anyone in our little house. So when she finally went to sleep and I saw this massive storm approaching town, I was happy that I was in town and not out chasing in the deserts. Beauty exists everywhere, even in the middle of a giant mess of buildings and asphalt. I visited a new parking garage last night, a taller one with very friendly security guards who were more concerned that I get good shots than caring if I was up there at all! Almost a 360 view of Phoenix from the top, so I’ll probably check it out a few more times. I shot a timelapse of this sunset and will be processing it sometime soon. You’ve got some simply stunning colors, mammatus clouds, and a dust storm on the left horizon. I’m including a bonus lightning shot from last night because I’ve captured so much lightning already this year, there is no way I’ll be able to post them all this summer. Also, you’ll notice it’s in B&W and I plan on writing about that sometime this week. (top image: canon 5d mark ii, tamron 17-35mm 2.8, 17mm, f/8, iso 100, 1.6sec. bottom: canon 85mm 1.8, f/8.0. iso 200, 20 sec)

Independence Day

(click to view a tad larger with a black border)

Yup, it’s the middle of the week and that means Movie Title Wednesday!

Independence Day. Awesome film. Total summer movie popcorn fun. Will Smith taking down aliens. Jeff Goldblum mumbling and uttering cool phrases like “Forget the fat lady! You are obsessed with fat ladies!” Harry Connick Jr., Randy Quaid with his “Up yours!”…and just all kinds of good stuff. Perhaps the biggest, cheesiest part of the movie is Bill Pullman standing up in front of the men giving his Independence Day speech right before we figure out how to beat the aliens. Gotta love it.

I’m a sucker for a good alien invasion movie and I can’t help but like this one.

So the connection to this lightning image actually has to do with the Fourth of July. This is what I was out shooting  instead of watching fireworks this year. Well, at least, watching those man-made fireworks. This show was much, much better.

When you shoot lightning a lot, you’ll end up experiencing the whole “Wow, didn’t even see that one” moments when you get back home and are importing images. This shot was one of those. I don’t think I ever saw it. I probably was looking down at my phone at the radar and missed it entirely. It wasn’t until I scrolled back later through my camera did I go “Wooooahhh…where did you come from?”

I love those moments.

(exif: canon 5d mark ii, canon 50mm 1.4, f/4.5, iso 200, 20 sec)

Bucket List: Downtown Phoenix Lightning

(click to view in lightbox, a much better experience!)

Late last year, after moving to downtown Phoenix, I stumbled upon this special little parking garage when I was trying to capture a beautiful sunset one night. It’s where I shot the haboob video. I’ve been up there a bunch.

But when I first stood there, I knew I wanted to capture lightning over downtown from that very spot. It was a bucket list kind of photo that I just figured would be hard to get.

Turns out it only took a few weeks of monsoon season to make it happen!

Last night was epic. Lightning was exploding everywhere, striking at an insane clip. The only problem was all the rain and finding a good spot. I got a few shots earlier in the evening and was north of town a bit when I saw the lightning alert over south Phoenix.

I dunno how I made it. I was 17 miles away. I had to stop for gas. I only put in five gallons ’cause I was in a hurry. I finally got to the garage after 25 minutes. Didn’t expect any lightning to be still going on. And it had all been north of the garage. When I got there though, it died out. So I ran to the south side, for the shot over the city and within two minutes, lightning started hitting right where I wanted it to.

I definitely let out a loud, echoing yell in this empty parking garage, like I had just won the Super Bowl or something.

(on a side note, I wasn’t up on the top of the structure, I was one floor down, protected from the rain, which was huge)

Some of you who were on Twitter last night will probably remember me bragging about this bucket list shot being a triple-strike. I still have that, but this one hit a few minutes later and I like it the most.

I’ll end up posting the other one at a later date of course.

(exif: canon 5d mark ii, tamron 17-35mm 2.8, 35mm, f/8.0, iso 100, 20 sec)

From Within

Tucson Arizona Lightning

(click to view in lightbox…the border really adds a lot)

As I said at the start of the week, I had been planning on not really blogging since I have this awesome guest series going on right now. And on a side note, thank you to EVERYONE who participated and made it a success. Been so much fun. Can’t wait for tomorrow’s conclusion.

But anyways, I couldn’t help myself. Had to post today.

So Tucson, Arizona, is where it’s at. Those of us in Phoenix tend to just wait around, maybe drive to Casa Grande on some nights to get lightning, but the storms just aren’t as frequent up here. A friend of mine on Twitter, Beth Allan, comes down once a year in August with a group of stormchasers to shoot lightning all week. And they base themselves out of Tucson.  And they rock it.

Only problem is that it’s about 100 miles away from downtown Phoenix. A long drive, lots of gas. I can’t do it everyday. But I definitely wanted to make it a point to venture down there a few times this summer. Last night was my first trip there and honestly, I should have gotten there a lot earlier in the day. Immediately upon hitting the town, it was like a fireworks show in all directions.

I also am unfamiliar with the city or where good high spots are, so I kind of got lost driving in some hilly areas. I stopped, watched the lightning over the town in the distance and that’s when I this cloud in the photo suddenly start dropping tons of rain. When you see a huge thunderstorm with a massive rain shaft…aim there. That’s usually where 90% of the lightning is going to show up.

It’s always fun to shoot lightning when I can use the 17-35mm lens, because that means it’s close and awesome. I still tend to cower down in the car, or huddle up next to the tripod to stay lower than anything else 🙂

This was the best strike of the night for me, in what amounted to a lot of driving for about 20 minutes of shooting. I love how it looks like two bolts exploded from within the cloud and go in different directions. Awesome.

(canon 5d mark ii, tamron 17-35mm 2.8, 24mm, f/9, iso 200, 10 sec)

Sideways

Sideways Lightning in Carefree Arizona Monsoon

Last Tuesday I teased about a lightning shot I was going to use for Movie Title Wednesday. Well, after everything that happened that Tuesday  night, I never got a chance to post this. Now that the world is back to it’s normal rotation, I finally have the chance.

Sideways starred Paul Giamatti, Thomas Hayden Church, Virginia Madsen and Sandra Oh. Two middle aged dudes take a tour through wine country and stuff happens. Saw the movie once, I don’t remember the plot too well, but of course I remember loving it. Giamatti is one of my favorite actors and he had a really huge run there for awhile with awesome movie after awesome movie.

Obviously I  chose this film because the title fits absolutely perfectly with the image today.

This was the first time I’ve ever captured sideways lightning in Arizona and it was awesome. There had been one before this that I missed while setting up and a third one AFTER this one that looked almost identical. Would love to know why they were happening a lot in this one spot, but I’ll likely never will.

I do remember a lot of yelling emanating from my immediate vicinity when I saw this thing flash across the sky. I knew I captured it and I knew it would look awesome.

Have been having a lot more fun shooting lightning this year so far…a lot more success in the early going. Tons more season to go. This coming Sunday or Monday is supposedly looking pretty nice for some wicked weather in the A-Z.

(canon 5d mark ii, canon 17-35 F/4L, 17mm, iso 200, 13 sec)