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Tarantula!

What, where is the tarantula??

Okay, nowhere…but sometimes I have a hard time coming up with titles and this one especially. But to show you how my mind works, when I looked at this image…and saw the kind of miniature looking saguaro cactus, it made me first and foremost think of an old movie backdrop or set in the 1950s, which then reminded me of the movie Tarantula that I saw at some point in my childhood. More than likely because of my dad…I mean, when you’re 9-years old, who else but your dad is going to make you watch a film that came out 20 years before you were born?

So in reality, it has nothing to do with this photo. I actually named it “Saguaro Valley”, but ugh, it’s just boring and my mind isn’t working well today.

I took this image back in late December when we had the ice cold weather and snow in the high desert elevations. Because of the distance to these snowy peaks, I decided to use my tack-sharp 50mm 1.4 to shoot some of the hills instead of my wide angle.

This photo is kind of an experiment in a way. You’ll notice the blurred tilt-shift effect going on, which I never and have never done before on a landscape shot. But while the normal image was fine and okay, I felt like it was just another picture of a desert mountain with snow. So I whipped out Focal Point from onOne Software and played around.

I liked the effect of making these saguaros stand out a bit more. You’d think the mountain with snow on it would be the main interest here, but I kind of dug how the cactus got framed and the clump of them on the left, so making the mountain a secondary feature worked for me. I linked the image to the larger version, because I think it shows off this image a bit better than this scaled down one.

A new year begins

Well…here we go. It’s 2011 and time to forget whatever I did last year, start with a clean slate, try some new things and see where it all goes.

Okay, kind of hard to do if you realize I posted the color version of this photo on Friday, the last day of 2010. Where is the new? There is a reason of course, and I think a good one.

Last year I was inspired by Mitch Dobrowner’s storm photography. His work is absolutely incredible, powerful and spellbinding. He’s naturally become my favorite storm photographer. There is a picture in his Storm section called “Monsoon: Lordsburg, New Mexico, 2010″…there aren’t many words to describe how beautiful that work of art is to me.

The main inspiration I took away from his work is the power of the black and white storm image. After publishing my first stormchasing book last fall, I wanted the next one to be filled with powerful B&W storm photos. I have an incredible love for the style, but it’s hard to break the habit of naturally processing an image in color. Hence the reason I’m posting the above image twice…it’s a reminder to me to not be so focused on something that I forget my goal for this year.

I was prompted by a reader of my blog to do the image in B&W and I was thankful for the prodding. It reminded me of what I forgot I wanted to do. It was like the photowalk we did last Wednesday in downtown Phoenix. The night before I told my wife I was thinking of shooting with nothing but my 50mm 1.4. But once I got there, I had the Tammy 17-35 on there by default and almost forgot my mission until buddy Rick mentioned he was going to use his 50mm a lot. Slapped my forehead and wondered aloud how I could have let the plan slip my mind. Doh!

Same thing with this photo. Because while I enjoyed the one I posted on Friday, this one gives me chills. I would venture to guess this photo could end up being on the cover of the next book and likely a print on my own wall.

I’m excited to see where this year will go as far as stormchasing goes. Of course I have other passions…the urbex stuff is compelling, the portrait work, the weddings…I’m pumped for all of it. But photographing weather will always be in my blood, driving me and compelling me to keep chasing.

Fresh snow on the Four Peaks

Just under a year ago I captured a beautiful, slightly snowy sunset on this mountain range known as the Four Peaks.These mountains are at the 7,000 foot level, so they tend to get a dusting of snow once or twice a year. You just never know when it’s going to happen or how many times. In fact, after the previous one last January, there hasn’t been snow up there until today. Once it melts, it could be another year before it happens again (although I think we’ll see more in the coming weeks).

All that to say…when there is snow up on the peaks, you have to go. I dragged my wife and daughter out of the house around noon today and this shot was taken close to 5pm. Needless to say, no nap for Lyla, a long day for my wife reading magazines, books and watching the snow fall as we drove around. I love them both for putting up with me. It’s so very rare to see snow fall around the Phoenix area and this storm system moving through will be the coldest since 2007. After a morning movie, I could see some storms popping up north of town and it looked like the Beeline Highway would see the most action, plus Four Peaks is in that direction. I wanted to just take a drive and see what we saw…and that resulted in some beautiful clouds, at least five separate snow showers and a boatload of photographs.

The clouds capping the peaks in this image were the last set of snow showers to roll through before it was done for the day. I was running frantically through desert brush, hurdling prickly pears, getting stuck by needles…all to find the perfect composition. The goal of course was to contrast the snowy peaks with the desert floor below and these two Saguaro sentinels proved worth enough to be included in the framing.

I’m pretty sure I saw my Twitter buddy Ted Wendel out there…check out his shot taken probably within minutes of mine.

A few more shots of that building

A reader named Kathy asked for more shots of this abandoned building I found in the Wasatch National Park, so here are three more, non-HDR versions of the shot. I really loved the whole setting of this thing…the cliffs behind it was just fantastic.

This is just a standard black and white of the building. After looking at these shots yesterday, it makes me want to go back and sneak a little closer!

This is a two-shot “panoramic” stitch in Photoshop. I added quotes because to me a panoramic means wide, but this scene was so TALL, I had to use two shots to capture the vertical nature of the building and the cliffs behind it.

This is one of the two shots I used for the above panoramic.

A tour of Wasatch, Utah: Part 3

Part 3 of my little series of photos of the Wasatch National Park east of Salt Lake City. I visited there last week for work and got a chance to escape and explore the mountains a bit. Needless to say, I loved the snow and the trees and the roads…such a great time.

A tour of Wasatch, Utah: Part 2

The second part of my series of photos taken in the Wasatch National Park just east of Salt Lake City, Utah. Such an amazing drive, temperatures dropped into the teens, it was snowing and the views were awesome.

I loved the little bush/tree on top of this mini-peak.

Hope this guy doesn’t have to go anywhere soon.

Great tree overlooking a little valley.

A balancing act.

Roads and roads…and I still have a few more road shots.

A tour of Wasatch, Utah: Part 1

Wasatch National Park is just east of Salt Lake City and essentially is nothing but high, snowy mountains and low creeks where the valleys are. I was able to get away from work a little early yesterday and had a good amount of time to explore. I took waaaay too many photos, so this is just the first entry in a little series I’ll be doing.

This was shot from a cemetery in Dell’s Dimple as I approached the Wasatch area. I loved the clouds and the big tree on the left.

Green, brown…interesting mixtures.

I took many, many shots from the road…this is one with falling snow and swirls of it sweeping across the roadway.

See, more roads! Powerlines suck usually, but I didn’t mind these.

These Aspen trees are without leaves and really looking amazing against these hills. Would love to see them in the summer!

Trip up the Beeline

Last week I posted a photo of the Four Peaks sunset, one of my most favorite photos ever. However, that day was not just about the Four Peaks, but also of a little drive I took up the Beeline Highway whilst waiting for the clouds to clear the Four Peaks and the sun to set.

Here are a few of those shots!

This is a mountain just northeast of where the Beeline crosses the Sycamore Creek.

Another shot of that peak…the Beeline runs off in the distance.

A shot that I took while dodging traffic on the Beeline. I just loved the contrast of the road, the cactus and the stormy clouds.

The Bushnell Tanks near Sycamore Creek.

This sunset was shot right as I took the Four Peaks sunset that I posted last week.

Shot while driving down the Beeline and treated with an “old film” kind of style.

This is another shot while I’m driving and I did some mega-treatment to make it look old, plus layered it with a texture I took elsewhere.

Sunset on the Four Peaks

My plan on Wednesday was to drive out and get some photos of the snow on the Four Peaks mountain range northeast of Phoenix. You can get a nice view by heading up the Beeline Highway and turning off on the appropriately named Four Peaks Road.

I’ve always wanted to take a great picture of the Four Peaks covered in snow. It happens out here once a year if you’re lucky and the snow disappears quickly.

On this day it was already stormy and rainy out. Jina told me it might be better to wait until Thursday for a clearer day. She was right for a bit, because when I got out there around 3:30, the peaks were entirely covered in clouds. And it didn’t look like it would clear up.

I gave up and drove further up the Beeline, in hopes of finding some other snowy peaks. I found A LOT of good stuff up there, some of which I’ll post tomorrow.

But on my way back, I realized it was clearing a bit. I rushed to the spot I found earlier on Four Peaks Road and setup. The clouds were lifting off the peaks and the sun was starting to set.

I knew if I could get a shot of the peaks lit up orange from the setting sun, it might be the photo of a lifetime for this Arizona native. But the sun was behind clouds and the horizon was barely visible.

I sat there waiting for almost an hour, but the sun finally did peak out from below the clouds and slowly it lit up the hills below the peaks, up the peaks and then finally the peaks themselves and the clouds above.

It only lasted about 5 minutes, but it was the pinnacle of my short photography career up until this point. I don’t know how you get a better chance than this. High clouds over the peaks, lit up from the setting sun. The very tippy tops of the peaks shadowed slightly from the clouds. The snow…the orange-purple light…the clear day…it all added up to something I wont ever forget.

Oh yeah, it’s available to hang on your wall somewhere! Check out the new price guide I posted the other night.

Storm Photos: Part 2

On Saturday I had planned to photograph some of the snow on the Four Peaks. I knew all week that it was likely going to snow up there and I’ve been dying to shoot this once-a-year event.

The downside was that the weather had been so bad, the Beeline Highway was closed at Bush Highway and I couldn’t get as close as I wanted, plus the stormy clouds pretty much covered the top of the peaks.

However…it was a stunning day out, the clouds were puffy, stormy and gorgeous. The views were super-clear and the visibility was endless.  We drove out along the Beeline and then came home the back roads via Bush Highway, and these below are the results.

Looking down the on-ramp to the Beeline.

A closed road that goes to Saguaro Lake.

Here is a shot of the Beeline to the left, but you can also see the snow on the hills way along the back horizon. That was about as much as I could get.

Another shot of the snow on the distant hills…although it’s kind of hard to see here with the clouds meeting the white.

The cliffs around the Saguaro Lake area.

Saguaro Lake on the left, the Bush Highway on the right…it was such a clear day.