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Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekerk (Church of our Lady) in Bruges

There is no doubt that wandering the streets of Bruges, Belgium this past July was inspiring for me. Everywhere I looked, there was something to photograph. I haven’t posted it yet, but I have a slideshow of about 25 of my favorite Bruges photographs, a bunch of which we just printed to put up at the house. I don’t know how to describe it, but for a city guy from Phoenix, AZ, in a state that is barely 100 years old…photographing architecture from medieval times was like a little slice of heaven.

The central structure in this photo above belongs to the Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekerk, or the Church of our Lady. You can read more about it on Wikipedia, but suffice to say, construction it began in the year 1225. Wow.

What is kind of hard to see in this photo is that the entire tower is wrapped in scaffolding and tarps as some major renovations are ongoing. I purposely metered for the sky, clouds and those gorgeous rays, so that the church itself would still look majestic despite the ugly renovations going on. If you click on the photo and look at it larger, you may be able to see a bit more.

Also, there is a bird perched on one of the little spires…I just now noticed him!

I haven’t looked at this photograph in awhile…in fact, I don’t think I really processed it at all other than to MAYBE darken it a bit. But I kind of rediscovered it today and I just love it. The timing and luck to get a sky like that…well, it has to be a once in a lifetime opportunity.

At least for this guy. I’ll likely never be back that way again…and having photographs like this to always remind me of the city of Bruges…well, it’s hard to put into words.

Farewell you blessed train tracks

These train tracks are something special to me. We’re moving on Saturday to downtown Phoenix, which is around 27 miles from this spot in the photo above. I doubt I will be seeing them anytime soon unless next year’s monsoon chasing somehow leads me this way. Or maybe I’ll be on this side of town and swing by, but regardless, it’s no longer going to be a 5-minute drive from my house.

I took the above photo two nights ago as a way of saying farewell to them. I actually hadn’t been by this way in awhile and it felt only right that my last set of bracketing done on this side of town was on these tracks. Man was it a beautiful sunset…sadly the clouds on the horizon blocked a lot of the light and didn’t allow for a nice fiery red sky…but the clouds were unique and appeared to be coming directly from the same horizon as the train tracks. God blessed me that night with a little farewell of his own.

There are two huge reasons why this place is so important to me. Both of them have to do with the photo below.

I had done an HDR photo or two by this point last November, but I don’t think I had a real understanding of what it could do for me or what would look good.  I took a lunch break to drive around and just photograph stuff around my area as a way to learn to open my eyes a little more. I walked out onto these tracks, and for some reason decided to do an HDR of this scene. I believe the thought was that at least train tracks might look cool all HDR-ed up.

But this was shot in the middle of the day. The clouds were barely visible to me with the naked eye. Little did I realize how much the HDR process would showcase the amazing contrails from overhead airplanes that day. I consider this my very first real HDR photo. The few others prior were just practice.

I posted this on Wunderground.com later that day (a weather website where I post all my weather photos, here is my profile there), and the response was overwhelming (you can see all the comments here). It received an Approver’s Choice right away and I was kind of blown away by the love it got. I just hadn’t been expecting it.

I kind of see that moment as an awakening for me. I had photographed something that moved people to say amazing things. It opened my eyes to what was possible within myself to do.  Since then…the sky has been the limit.

The second reason this photo and this spot are so important…it was the first print I ever sold. A woman knew her grandfather would love it hanging in the same room with all his model railroad stuff.

I, of course, agreed *grin*

The cool thing is that no matter how much time goes by between now and when I walk this spot again…they will still be there and the memories always will be.

Lazy Clouds over the San Tan Mountains

If I remember correctly, I took this back on July 1st while sitting out on this road praying that the monsoons would start up soon. Nothing happened of course, but the clouds were beautiful, lazy and fluffy.

I believe this was also one of my first images with the newly acquired Tamron 17-35 2.8. I love the glass, it’s sharp and the aspherical nature of it has been a lot of fun.

These are the San Tan Mountains, which you’ve probably seen in quite a few of my photos since this spot is only 1.5 miles from my house. I may end up posting as many San Tan shots as I can this week as we’re moving on Saturday to downtown Phoenix and places like this will take more of a drive to get to.  A final farewell to the ol’ stomping grounds.

The photo itself is a single exposure (no HDR) with some texturing added in Photoshop.

Field of Dreams

You know those kinds movies right? You are lazying around on a Saturday or Sunday, you flip the channels, you see THAT movie, the movie that you’ll now start watching, no matter how long it’s been on, and you get sucked in each and every time.

Field of Dreams is one of those for me. There are so many cool moments in the film that build off each other, it’s easy to get pulled right into the plot. Plus, unless you are a brick-wall-of-emotions, it kinds of gets you choked up right?

“Hey dad…you wanna have  a catch?”

Oh man, gets to me every time 🙂

So it’s another Movie Title Wednesday on the MO blog and this is a picture snapped back in Ontario, Canada last December. I think I processed this once, back then, and didn’t like it, so I forgot about it. But my skills with doing HDR have drastically improved since then and this second go-round was much more fun. It’s hard to dislike the gorgeous light coming from the just rising sun that is behind me. The field is made up of dead, harvested corn stalks, which is what made me think of this movie in the first place. The water in the field, if I remember correctly, was partially ice.

The sky was okay in the shot, but a smidge boring for this weather nut who likes high drama, so I mixed in a texture I shot in Bruges, Belgium a few months back. Good tip for you travelers: If you love textures, try to pull your eyes away from the wide angle shots of the city or town you are in, and look closer at the cobblestone, or doors or windows…and find yourself a “memento” that you can take back and use with other photographs. While it’s all done digitally, there was something very cool to me with combining a photograph of a barn in Ontario with a wood texture from Bruges.

Death and Birth

Simple scene. A desert hill, some foreground growth and a monsoon storm growing on the horizon. But that’s the simplicity I love sometimes. I tend to look for super dramatic, wide-angle, busy scenes…but occasionally I find the lack of drama just as awesome.

The main element in the foreground is a dead tree of some sort…it almost looks like a bird sitting on one of the right top branches, but I think it’s just a snapped branch. There are a few cacti and of course, the growing storm behind it all. I dig B&W and love silhouettes…I always find it amazing how a scene can change so much when you just darken it to shadows and nothing more. The shapes take on new life and suddenly form something entirely different.

Storms over the San Tan Mountains

This is sort of a “sequel” image to one I posted a few weeks ago. This storm cloud had been dropping a lot of rain on the mountains and was more contained as an isolated cell, but eventually the rain stopped and the anvil started to spread towards my direction a bit.

I loved this spot though, with the road and powerlines all headed towards the storm and so I just sat there waiting to see what happened and even without the rain, the scene was beautiful.

The monsoons have probably come to an end around these parts and I haven’t photographed a storm in over 10 days. I’ve had such an amazing summer and amazing time capturing what I could of the Arizona thunderstorm season. I have a lot of stuff to post over the rest of this year, but it’s going to be hard not to rush out and chase lightning and mushrooming cumulus for awhile.

Hopefully we’ll get some nice winter storms. I did capture some lightning back in February of this year, so here’s hoping for some good stuff this fall. And of course, once March-April roll around, it will be the big trip to the midwest for some SERIOUS stormchasing.

Down that dark road

I’m lucky to have a few great friends at work and one of them is Jesse. He’s a car guy, loves to go “wheeling” every Friday night and would go out of his way to help you install a new car stereo, not to mention a bazillion other things. A week or so ago we had to drive up to Williams for work, which is something we love doing despite the 3-3.5 hour drive time. Especially in the summer when it’s 110 in Phoenix, but a cool 75-80 in the gorgeous pine country of northern Arizona. He’s such a good guy and let me pull over a bunch to satisfy my insatiable hunger to photograph cool stuff.

As a photographer, you sometimes get tunnel vision. It happens to me all the time. You get an idea in your head about a shot and you focus all efforts on making it happen. That’s usually when a shot you weren’t even planning on taking becomes the actual reason you went there.

Once we were up close to Williams, we passed a giant lake bed full of flowers. I posted that shot not too long ago. The thing was, I was so infatuated with the flowers and storm clouds, I wasn’t looking anywhere else. As I came back to the car, Jesse calmly points out this dirt road heading into the trees. Me, being the AWESOME photographer that I am, who knows ALL…said “Yeah…okay Jesse…looks cool.” So I walked over there to snap some brackets, almost feeling like I was doing this as a courtesy because at least Jess was trying to help me out a little. Figured I would just get the brackets real quick and we’d be on our way.

Back in the car when I looked at the results in my camera…I realized it was going to be one of my favorite shots from the day and maybe in awhile. I knew right away I’d do it in black and white.  It would end up looking much more mysterious devoid of color.  I was giddy thinking about what the final product was going to look like. This is a 6-bracket HDR using Photomatix, CS5 and Nik Silver Efex for the B&W.

I guess the moral of the story is to always listen to your buddy Jessie.  He may be obsessed with Family Guy and wear his sunglasses at night (inside joke), but when he points out an idea for a photo…you’d damn well better do what he says.

A strong monsoon downdraft

I love seeing a thunderstorm in action. Normally when you are just minding your own business, you just see the clouds move in, maybe some dust blows ahead of them and then the rain/lightning starts.  But rarely do you get to see the origin of all that stuff.

This is the second opportunity I’ve had this summer to see a dust storm forming. The first I posted last week, The Birth of a Monsoon Dust Storm, which was a fun “time lapse” of sorts.  But today’s photo really shows you the raw power of a thunderstorm’s downdraft and what it can do.  You might also consider this a microburst.

I shot this on Saturday afternoon where storms were producing 65mph winds, hail and all kinds of lightning.  Sometimes you can get a downdraft like this and not see the same results, but the storms were fairly severe on this day and so you get to see something kind of cool. The dust you see forming on the edges above looks like it’s just on either side of the storm, but in reality, it was spreading in all angles and just hadn’t picked up any dust yet.

While this is a great way to see how a dust storm begins, it’s nothing like the giant Haboobs we sometimes get where multiple cells like the above storm are all grouped together and producing many downdrafts that join forces to send massive walls of dust headed towards Phoenix.

I rarely do this, but if you have an account on Flickr, maybe you wouldn’t mind favoriting this photo over there? It’s been doing well and I think just a few more comments/faves might get it Explored!

Arizona monsoon lightning photos from August 28th

My daughter sat in her little car seat, enjoying Toy Story and staying safely away from any lightning or the bazillion numbers of mosquitos I encountered last night out in the Arizona desert. Probably was a little too close to a couple of canals out there, but at times it almost felt like a swarm of bugs attacking me. I definitely have more than five itchy bites on me today.

The above lightning strike was my favorite of the night. A tip to lightning photos out there (not that any of you would do this), if your car is running because you are keeping the AC on for your little girl, go ahead and do NOT put the tripod on your trunk…just use the ground. Subtle vibrations from the engine running caused a few of my shots to be a bit unsharp and I can’t tell you how bummed I was about that.

There is another one below I like that has the strike landing behind a cactus which created a beautiful silhouette.

While I was out, I met a guy who was trying his hand at lightning photography and while I stood there, I realized his own silhouette sitting on top of his SUV was kind of cool against the clouds over the city. Amazingly, I caught a shot of a lightning strike AND him, so I walked over, introduced myself and emailed him the photos today.

The last one is just him sitting there…watching. I just love it.

Hope you enjoy these!

Stormy weather ahead

A couple of days ago we had some fairly severe weather develop across Arizona. Storms dumping a lot of rain and producing 60+mph winds. The cell on the left of this grouping was actually severe warned a bit after this. Damaging winds, tons of rain…good stuff.

I shot this in the middle of Gilbert Road just south of Hunt Highway looking north. They are actually way across town on the very far side of Phoenix, but it’s amazing how clear the skies were that you could actually see the rain falling.

Again…my love affair of roads continues.

This is a hybrid exposure blend, plus a little Topaz Adjust on the road and Nik Silver Efex for the black and white processing.