Lightning Across Northern Arizona—2017

The North American Monsoon is now in full swing across the southwest and Arizona. This brings thundershowers almost every day to northern Arizona along with a chance to photograph lightning.

I have been photographing lightning for a long time with my earliest images using an old manual focus/exposure camera with film. Those were challenging because you had to guess at the exposure (although there were many fine articles online even then on camera settings). There was no way to do a quick check of the exposure to see if it was good. On the other hand, we usually shot in the evening or nighttime hours using long exposures of several seconds or more so you were usually pretty certain whether you had the shutter open at the right moment.

With digital, everything has changed. You can instantly check your image and see whether or not you captured the lightning. There are several lightning triggers on the market that will fire the shutter for you.

Here are some recent images taken in several different locations over the past few weeks.

Twilight lightning over the North Rim, Grand Canyon.
Twilight lightning over the North Rim, Grand Canyon.

These were mainly in-cloud flashes so the best option was to leave the shutter open for 10-15 seconds. The longer exposure also allows some stars to appear in the image.

Lightning near Kendrick Peak in northern Arizona.

Lightning near Kendrick Peak in northern Arizona.

Early evening thunderstorms move into Flagstaff, Arizona.
Early evening thunderstorms move into Flagstaff, Arizona.
Sunset lightning in Sedona, Arizona.
Sunset lightning in Sedona, Arizona.

 

Mountain Man Triathlon

Sometimes my photographic plans just have to be thrown out the window and Plan B put into place. That’s what happened recently.

I’ve been renting and testing a telephoto lens (Nikon 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6D VR) for a week. After getting shut out by clouds three nights in a row trying to get moon rise images I decided to photograph water birds at sunrise along the shores of Lake Mary.

I should have checked the weekend event calendar. The Mountain Man Triathlon event was taking place at the lake. So, instead of shooting birds, I chose to shoot swimmers and bikers (I skipped the runners).

Having not given a lot of thought to shooting athletes, I found myself just winging it with no obvious good locations or setup. Well, that’s what happens when you fall back to Plan B but didn’t actually have a Plan B.

It turns out this lens is a bit slow on the auto-focus speed. That means many of the photos missed sharp focus as the riders were moving fast. Swimmers? Not a problem.

Here are some images of swimmers and bikers from the Mountain Man Triathlon held in Lake Mary near Flagstaff on July 9, 2017.

Men's Olympic swim.
Men’s Olympic swim.
Another wave of swimmers in the water.
Another wave of swimmers in the water.
Waiting for the start.
Waiting for the start.

Triathlon family.
Triathlon family.

Waiting for the Moon at Lake Mary

During the late spring and early summer the waxing crescent Moon will align with the long axis of Lake Mary. The end result is that as the Moon sets it will have a long reflection on the lake. So I found myself on the east end of Lake Mary a few days ago waiting for the clouds to clear and the Moon to put on a show.

Sunset and early twilight over Lake Mary.
Sunset and early twilight over Lake Mary.

While waiting I shot several images of the lake using slow shutter speeds. This produces very smooth water—although it may appear somewhat unrealistic. No matter. I was having fun.

Twilight colors are reflected in Lake Mary.
Twilight colors are reflected in Lake Mary.

Here is an 8-second exposure:

Long exposure at twilight.
Long exposure at twilight.

Finally, the clouds cleared and the Moon appeared with its reflection in the water.

Moon and reflection in Lake Mary.
Moon and reflection in Lake Mary.

The crescent Moon is about 6% illuminated by the direct light of the Sun; the remainder of the Moon is lit by Earthshine which is bright enough to show detail on the shadowed face of the Moon.

Definitely worth it.

Storm Chasing and Photography—Spring 2017

We spent about a week doing storm photography across the central and High Plains in mid May. Below are summaries with photographs.

May 15, 2017

A strong southwesterly flow aloft continues across the midsections of the country so that adequate wind shear is present across large areas. The best shear, however, is across the northern High Plains and upper midwest, with less shear across the central Plains. A dryline is present across western Kansas and southward with adequate moisture to the east and a plume of moisture has moved northwestward into western Nebraska, western South Dakota, and northeastern Wyoming.

After looking at too much model data, we decided to head to eastern Wyoming with hopes of storms developing over the Laramie Range and then moving to the northeast. Finding ourselves in Lusk, Wyoming, in mid afternoon, it became clear that the northern storms were too far away to reach. A storm we had passed earlier near Chugwater continued to develop so we backtracked south from Lusk to Lingle, then southeastward. We ended up in endless light rain and some small hail until we reached Mitchell, Nebraska. I took a few photos here of a weakly rotating updraft then headed east and north to watch the storm.

It wasn’t very impressive. We headed back to Scotts Bluff, Nebraska, for a hotel and dinner. As we left the hotel, new storms to the west were producing continuous in-cloud lightning and occasional cloud-to-ground lightning. We went north of town and spent about 15 minutes photographing the storm and lightning.

Two-image panorama of a weakly rotating storm updraft.
Two-image panorama of a weakly rotating storm updraft.
Laminar bands preceed the main storm while continuous in-cloud lightning lights up the storm.
Laminar bands preceed the main storm while continuous in-cloud lightning lights up the storm.

We left the storms and headed back into town for dinner. While eating, we got to enjoy the storm as it moved across town with heavy rain, small hail, and gusty winds.

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Moon Rise and Cathedral Rock

The June full moon is known as the “Strawberry Moon” and will occur on June 9, 2017 this year. I enjoy photographing the moon the day (or two) before the full moon. With the moon rising before sunset, Cathedral Rock is still sunlit and provides a striking contrast with the moon.

Moon rise behind Cathedral Rock, Sedona, Arizona.
Moon rise behind Cathedral Rock, Sedona, Arizona.

The photograph was taken at Crescent Moon Picnic Area on the banks of Oak Creek. The full moon this month is a MiniMoon, the opposite of the so-called SuperMoon. This means that the disk of the moon is smaller than average as the moon is at apogee, or its farthest distance from the Earth. If it had been at perigee (closest distance), the disk of the moon might have been larger than the gap.

Or I could have just shot the photograph from farther away.