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Reach for the Sky

The Chase Tower in downtown Phoenix

“Reach for the skyyyyyyy.”

Ah, a favorite line from one of my daughter’s favorite things to watch…Toy Story. I should note…I also love those movies. I find that I can still laugh at them over and over despite the amazing number of times we’ve watched it in our house!

This is Chase Tower in downtown Phoenix, a monolithic structure that immediately caught my eye on one of my first real exploratory drives down there. We’ve now lived down here for a few weeks now and I’m finding more opportunities to explore here and there and in the process of doing that, discovering all kinds of things I want to photograph. This particular skyscraper I believe is the tallest building in Arizona, or at least it was a few years ago. I haven’t see anything that could surpass it as I’ve driven around.

I have several angles of this building, from about 20 feet away looking straight up, to this shot from across the street in a parking garage (a ‘parkade’ for our Canadian friends). I intend to post the others someday, but what struck me the most with this one is the kind of “flaring” clouds behind it.

Six brackets make up this shot, processed in Photomatix and CS5, with a finishing touch using Topaz Adjust. I don’t use Adjust as much anymore, but I do have to say the Exposure Color Stretch is my favorite filter in that entire tool. The image above was done with that filter, and while it gives is a sort of “halo” about it…this was intentional and not an indication of sloppy HDR work *grin*

Light and Shadow

I put some legwork into this one. I walked and walked and walked around this parking garage at 5:30am in the morning looking for the perfect symmetry of lights…one hidden, one not, but feeling like both of them were pointed directly at me. I found a similar scene elsewhere, but I didn’t like the lack of detail on the garage floor, so I kept looking for some awesome tire tracks that would appear as if they were coming from where I was standing. And, I mean, to get the reflection of shiny cement on the left, but a shadow on the right…well, that takes planning, practice and lots of trial and error.

Okay, whatever…I’m totally lying. This is what I see everyday at work the second I step out of my car. In fact, I think my camera fell out when I opened the door, hit the ground, fired off a bunch of brackets and I was like “Wow, these are pretty good Camera…well done.”

But seriously, I have been wanting to take some photos of this place in the early mornings and it’s finally dark enough still at 6am for it to be possible. I definitely was struck by the support beam blocking out one of the lights and creating this fantastic shadow.

Lesson for today is to make sure you take a look at where you “are” not where you could “be.” Sometimes I see the photos that friends take in exotic locations that I just can’t afford to get to. Like the coast of Oregon just as a small example. And while yes, I still want to go there someday, there is nothing better to pass the time until that happens by taking a look around you.

This photo is by no means the Pacific Northwest and the infamous Thor’s Well…but you know what, if you were standing by that sinkhole and had taken 100 photos of it…you might be thinking, “I really wish I could take a picture of a dark and stanky parking garage with some sweet shadows…”

Beat you to it man.

Fringe Universe

Embrace your surroundings young man!

Now that I’m spending almost all of my days in the downtown urban areas of Phoenix, I’m trying to evolve my vision a bit to be aware of things I may not normally look at. That process was certainly helped yesterday morning when we had a brief downpour around 5am, which left some amazingly clear puddles of water everywhere. I’m not sure if it just doesn’t rain all that much in the mornings here, or if you do get rain, it’s too cloudy for the pools of water to be that great looking…who knows. All I do know is that it rained, the skies cleared and the reflectivity of all these puddles were fantastic.

This was taken in the parking garage at my place of full-time employment. The focus was set on the building itself, hence the foreground cement is less than crisp up front. Took a few tries to get it lined up just right to have the other building appearing like a singular monolith out of the water.

Now, I apologize up front to people who have no idea what the title means. I love to watch a little show called Fringe, which is the first sci-fi series to come along that feels anything like the old X-Files (which will hold a special place in my heart forever). Spoiler Alert: If you haven’t seen Fringe yet and plan to…this may give away a little bit about the show, but to keep it simple…let’s just say there may be other worlds out there that mirror our own. If you do watch the show, I will assume you get the title *grin*

Wish I could have taken another 30 minutes to roam the puddles…but work beckoned. Was glad to get a few brackets fired off though…may post a few more images from this morning down the road.

Urban Stormchasing

So with my sudden move to the downtown Phoenix area, I vowed to at least ATTEMPT to capture some storms from the cement jungle down here. For a guy like me who never has his 17-35mm lens on anything BUT 17mm…it’s a struggle to find wide open spaces to really give an idea of what a storm is doing.

Time to get creative…and prove to myself that I can be a photographer in any setting.

I shot this last week during the rash of severe weather we had (It’s now up to EIGHT confirmed tornadoes in northern Arizona). The location is a very tall parking garage that is near by office and is a place I’ve been tobefore whilst searching for high ground. It’s got to be at least a 10-level parking structure…so the height is perfection. However, just because you are up high doesn’t mean you go to the edge and shoot. I still feel a strong desire to ensure I have some kind of foreground element, one that’s hopefully interesting.

We’ll be having some more storms next week, so I am going to try and take the opportunity to shoot a few more scenes like this…if I can hold back from taking a drive out to the deserts!

Westward Ho!

(Canon Rebel XSi, Tamron 17-35mm, 2.8, 17mm, ISO 100, 3 exposures)

As most of my many, many fans know (said tongue-in-cheek), I moved to downtown Phoenix last weekend, which opened up a whole new world of photographic options for me. But one of my passions is capturing the weather in it’s various forms, so being in a location with tall buildings and limited views off into the distance…well, it’s going to be a challenge for me. And that’s what I want this to be. I still want to scoot off into the desert to chase storms, but I’d also like take some risks and shoot stormy weather in the urban environment.

The last few days have been great around here for stormchasing…in fact, the last two specifically have been some for the history books. Tornado warnings galore, baseball-sized hail, damage, flooding, etc. They were storms you only see in the midwest during tornado season.

But on Monday I was driving back from picking up my daughter from the babysitter, so we drove the backroads and ended up driving right through the heart of downtown Phoenix. I’ve always loved this building and figured there was nothing better to use to frame the stormy skies with.

Now, I love this shot, but I plan on doing a lot more with it down the road. I was driving and snapping, so this was just a 3-exposure HDR, propped on my door with the window rolled down. I’m almost always doing six brackets these days, so this was stepping back a bit to get the shot.

My bucket list shot later on will be clouds like this, right at sunset, so I can get the building framed with the orange sky.

Under Construction in Downtown Phoenix

Waaaaay back in December of last year I went on a little photowalk across the city. Started in Tempe at sunset, ended up in downtown Phoenix. It was my first time really shooting the urban environment after dark, and I think I’d have a lot more fun now and know how to even snap the photos better.

I’ll be moving down this way in a matter of days so I expect I’m going to invade and conquer this place known as “urban” Phoenix and give it the HDR stylizing that it quite frankly deserves.

This building is…well, I have no idea. It sits northwest of the US Airways Center where the Phoenix Suns play, but I never bothered to find out what the name of the place was going to be or if it’s even completed yet. What I did love was all the different colors of light on each and every floor. It was like some kind of muted rainbow of colors and it was something I just had to capture.

Now of course, I would have expanded the three original brackets to at least six and shot it at better ISO and a higher F-stop, not to mention using something other than my silly kit lens. But I still love the building and am proud of how this turned out anyways.

Cloudy skies over Phoenix

Looking at the above shot, you might think it was taken with an iPhone and processed with that awesome software iPhone photos use. No, I don’t have one, but I want one someday. Just praying Verizon actually gets the iPhone in January.

But no, that photo was actually taken with my Rebel XSi out of the 19th floor window of my office building. They are dirty, dirty, dirty windows. But I kind of like it sometimes, especially when you chose to process photos with a sort of faded, older look to them.

These aren’t anything special…meaning I didn’t take them thinking they would be sellable or anything. I just love weather and storms, and while at work, sometimes I just have to walk over to the window and snap photos of unusual cloudy skies.

Yesterday morning we had some surprisingly cloudy skies, with rain falling in a few random places. Some of the clouds just looked “different” than normal.  I think maybe because a few looked huge enough to be dropping pouring rain and lightning, but they ended up just floating by.

Anyways, I do love the view out of the windows of my office…someday I hope to shoot a lightning storm from them.

The light rail platform at 5th and Mill Avenue

I took this shot as I was leaving downtown Tempe last Friday night. I had been feeling pretty lousy about the shots I’d taken, they didn’t feel “awesome” and I had no idea what I would end up with. I switched to my 50mm lens when I was walking out and wished I had taken the time to just walk around and snap candid “life” photos of downtown instead of what I had been doing the last few hours.

Don’t get me wrong…I ended up with a few nice shots, a beautiful sunset…but while HDR is great and fun, it’s also a lot of work and it takes me away on occasion from the beauty of a simple shot of a sign on a light rail platform.

I loved this photo, but I loved it even more when my wife said she thinks she’d love to have this printed and on a wall somewhere. She’s always a good gauge for me. Of course, she’s more partial to this type of photography than the grand scale of some of my HDR work.

Two more sunsets from downtown Tempe

I posted a shot on Monday of the Hayden Flour Mill at sunset, which you can see here again in the above panoramic view of the town of Tempe, Arizona. The sky was cooperative that night and it made for a nice sunset from the slopes of A-Mountain. Click on the photo for a larger, more detailed view.

The shot below is looking north-northwest towards the Tempe Town Lake, also from A-Mountain. I love how it was just dark enough to see the string of lights running across the Mill Avenue bridges, plus a few street lights here and there. The reflection off the building is what makes the shot for me.

The light rail bridge in Tempe, AZ

I’ve been playing around a bit with my HDR processing methods after snapping photos in downtown Tempe Saturday night. I was ending up with a lot of noise in my shots and had to find alternative ways of getting the job done.

This one above was in the same boat, but I ended up loving how it looked anyways. There is a lot of “grain” as I like to call it in the shot above. The sky, the clouds, the underneath of the bridge…all have a lot of dirty noise going on. I felt it looked a little more abstract than normal. So instead of processing it like normal, I ended up trying to embrace what I was given.

It works here for me. The clouds were moving fast, you can see the trees on the left look like they were blowing around pretty good. I lowered the saturation of the original HDR photo and masked in bits and pieces of an original raw shot.

I hated it at first because the colors were dominating the shot and there was gobs of noise, but just dropping the saturation gave it a whole other atmosphere. I love the grain, which is something I work very hard against in most of my other HDR photos. Experimenting today with something different…let the noise be your friend.

A lot of techno babble, but it was a tough group of photos to process. I left my photowalk not loving the shots I got, so being able to turn any of them into something I actually love has been a triumphant struggle.

Aside from all the post-processing talk, I just loved the composition of the shot. The bridge coming from overhead and behind, plus the curved road in front of me. I timed it to make sure I got a some headlights going around the bend, but it wasn’t s super-busy road. The clouds in the sky were hard to see with the naked eye, but a 30-second exposure really created something with a little motion to it.