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Dusty colored monsoon sunset

Sometimes when people process an HDR photo, the colors can get skewed and tweaked so you are looking at an unrealistic interpretation of what the photography actually observed.

Not so here. If you look at the foreground elements…the desert, the grass, the construction vehicles…you can see those colors are fairly accurate. It was just a crazy sky right before the sun went down last night.

We’re not sure what caused it to get this weird, paled burnt color. You can see a little dust storm on the left horizon in this picture, so it didn’t appear to be reflection from that, even though it reminds of that kind of look. I think it was just other clouds, rain and the sun being reflected off the desert or something that created this sort of spooky scene.

Yesterday’s atmosphere was packed with water, so any rain that fell came in buckets. You can see the downpour in the shot above…lots of flash flood warnings all across the state and a few severe thunderstorm warnings as well.

For the locals, this was taken on the southern most part of Kyrene, just as you turn West to head towards the casinos. The direction is towards the San Tan Mountains.

Monsoon sunset from Picacho Peak

A great photographer friend of mine, Matt Granz (see his work here on Flickr), was driving through Phoenix with his family on his way across the country to see relative in Pennsylvania. We had planned to do some monsoon chasing when he got into two and sure enough, the monsoon looked fairly spectacular so we headed out around 4:30pm and Matt got to see a little bit of what the monsoon is about. High winds, dust storms, gorgeous sunsets, awesome clouds…but sadly, no night-time lightning.

We started out in Apache Junction and by 7:30pm we were down at Piacacho Peak, halfway to Tucson. We pulled off the road to snap some photos of the clouds over Tucson, but turned around to see the sun setting behind this beautiful, dying monsoon storm.

Needless to say, we snapped about a bazillion photos of it and I was just happy Matt got to see one of our awesome monsoon sunsets.

Wandering with the Arizona monsoon

One of my goals for this summer was to chase the monsoon around Arizona and essentially create a journal of my travels in a photobook. I have no idea if that will pan out once the monsoon season is over, what it might look like, if it’s silly, whatever.  But part of the plan is to take a few day trips each month out into the Arizona wilderness and follow the storms around as they develop and move towards Phoenix. Wander around if you will, see what I see. Frame the monsoons with the gorgeous Arizona deserts and high country, then finish off the day with some lightning photography.

Well yesterday provided some great vistas for me, but the lightning part never materialized. Two days in a row of storms rolling into town and then dying out, with rare lightning strikes.

Still, I came away with some stuff I’m happy with, this is one of them. This was taken a bit northwest of Saguaro Lake which is northeast of Phoenix along the Bush Highway. A thunderstorm is developing out on the horizon and the high clouds really make for a beautiful sky. I did love how the landscape created an almost curved effect, and the cactus being as tall as it was gives an upward angle to the shot.

First monsoon storm of the season

Yes, I am a happy camper tonight. When I left last week for Holland, all I heard was how that weekend was going to be a big one for the monsoons in the Phoenix area and I was going to miss out on the start of all the storm fun. Yeah, I know, I was going to the NETHERLANDS, so how could I be bummed about going and missing a few lightning shows?

Well…turns out nothing hit the Phoenix area really until tonight. And I was here to capture it. Luck spins my way one more time.

The shot above is one of my favorites from the night. The right bolt is glowing blue/green at the bottom because it hit an electrical box. You know when this happens because usually the lightning strike disappears but you see a bright explosion of light on the ground basically POP and then go away. The boxes in Phoenix used to be green so the glows could be an awesome green back in the day. I dunno if we still have those or not, maybe in the older areas.

A ton of fun out there tonight, I just sat in one place, two guys in a truck pulled up, whipped out chairs and watched along with me and there was much “ooohhing” and “ahhhhing” going on!

Insane thunderstorm over Nuenen

So at the facility we’re working at today, I asked this crazy, funny, Dutch guy around noon, “So what, no rain today? Looks pretty nice out!” He responds, “Oh no, bad storm coming, will be here between 5-6pm.” Alright, we’ll see!

Photo above taken at 5:42pm.

Umm, wow, this was probably the coolest looking storm I’ve ever seen. Well, maybe I’m just excited, but as you can see from the photo, there was some serious nastiness headed right for me. The clouds were churning, I saw a small funnel up high in the clouds (probably just a “cold air funnel”, barely anything, but I saw it!), the lightning was all over and then once the storm hit, there was 70mph winds and debris from trees all over the place.

We went out to dinner later and there were some flattened cornfields, a few uprooted trees and broken branches littering the small town of Nuenen.

This shot is a “shakily” held merge of two 3-bracket HDR images. CS5 worked some magic for me here which I may talk about at a later date, but no time for it now.

Suffice to say…it’s hard to believe I was worried about missing the monsoon in Arizona when stuff like this was waiting for me.

I have some more nasty photos I may post later on…but this one took some time and I had to get it out there.

(More Holland photos here: Holland Trip)

Boiling storm over Nuenen

This is another shot of the storm from behind my hotel a few nights ago. You can see some brightness to the right which was a wall of rain coming that I ended up having to outrun since I stood there shooting until it was almost too late.

This is a black and white, HDR photo from three handheld brackets. It’s got a looooot of grain. I kind of like it that way and it’s mainly why I decided to go with the B&W styling, but once I removed the color, I liked the scene even more. Getting rid of the grain proved too hard to do without losing the integrity and anger in the clouds. It just smoothed them out too much. I may look into other ways to do it later on when I refine it, but I also honestly don’t mine it looking this way.

Loved getting to see a seriously nasty cloud all the way here in Holland!

Northern Arizona stormy fenceline

This is another one of those shots from my northern Arizona trip that I didn’t process for a long time. I normally like my skies less rain-cloudy and more fluffy cumulus, but I dug the backdrop and corner fence posts in the foreground.

Definitely was a fruitful trip in the way of photography for me, despite being there for work. Got very lucky with the stormy weather up north, got to see Grand Falls, amazing parts of the northern Arizona high deserts and came away with a ton of quality stuff. Amazing how a little trip like that, with almost no planning, can lead to such beneficial and memorable results!

The road through the forest

While it may be obvious from my constant babble about weather, storms and lightning, that I LOVE that stuff with passion, there is also something else I enjoy immensely.

The cool pine trees of northern Arizona.

Being a desert-born dude who lives in the Phoenix area almost year round, minus the occasional excursion elsewhere, getting out of that blistering sunshine is of vital importance, especially during the summer. Ever since I was a kid my dad used to take us camping once or twice a summer. People who don’t live in Arizona have no idea that the pine trees are only less than 90 minutes northeast of Phoenix, and if you drive just a little further, you can go from 105 degrees to 75 in just two hours. And at night, the temps drop to the 40’s and lower.

We’re hopefully going camping again this summer, me and a few buddies. The place I always go is the Mongollon Rim, north of Payson, AZ.

This photo, however, was taken about three hours north and west of Phoenix, around the Williams area. I visited back in May and this weekend while cleaning up my hard drives, I found out I hadn’t processed all of the photos I took that day. I cannot lie, I love this shot. The storm clouds add a nice contrast to the green pine trees, and you know me, I always enjoy a nice road in a composition.

I processed this with the usual suspects: Photomatix, CS5, Topaz Adjust, Imagenomic….but with Topaz I used a little more flavor than just a simple contrast adjustment, and I like the effect that I got here.

An old church on the Gila River Indian reservation

Rarely do I allow random people to pose in any of my HDR landscape photos, but this is my wife, it was on a date night that started off with storm chasing and she looked pretty dang cute sitting in front of a battered looking old church. Sadly I have no idea the name of this place, but it’s located on the Gila River Indian Reservation a few miles south of where we live. There was a bunch of dust headed our way, so we jumped out, took a few pictures and then zoomed back off.

The church itself was interesting…outwardly it didn’t appear like anyone would be using the place, but the two AC units were actually running so who knows?

Another scene from stormy northern Arizona

I continue to dig a little here and there into the pictures I took in the middle of May when I went up to northern Arizona on a work trip. I made a detour on the way home to visit Grand Falls and stopped to snap many photos along the way. The weather was gorgeous, storms were plentiful and something I had not expected.

This was along Indian Route 6910. I loved the giant rock formation in the middle of the generally rocky terrain, but also the cool part of this shot is the San Francisco peaks that you can see on the left horizon. These are north of Flagstaff and constitute one of our state’s two big ski areas.