It’s been a challenging season for storm photography. First was a late start to the North American Monsoon. And, then, just as it was finally ramping up it shut down quickly. Current model forecasts suggest at least another week until it ramps up again.
A bit of moisture managed to produce some thunderstorms right around sunset. And there was enough lightning to make it worthwhile to be there and get some photographs.
The comet continues to climb higher in the northwestern sky after sunset and the tail now stretches across 20–25° of sky. Clouds the past few days have thwarted my efforts to get images but I got a lucky break in the clouds last night (21 July 2020). I had to do a bit of last-minute changes for a location and found myself at the Cultural Park in Sedona, Arizona. I was not alone. There were several groups of people enjoying the cometary show.
The image was taken with a Nikon 85mm lens, ƒ/2.8, and ISO 400. Four images of 120 seconds were stacked using Deep Sky Stacker. Post processing was done in Lightroom.
Notable in the image are the thin ion trail and the brighter and wider dust trail. Visible in the dust trail are striae, also known as synchronic bands. There are also some minor undulations in the ion tail.
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.
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.
This is similar to an image taken last year in the same location and about the same date. As with that image, this is also a composite of two images. The first was taken of Cathedral Rock as the moon was setting in the west. An exposure of 120 seconds at ISO 400 and an aperture of f/4 was used. The second image was taken a short time later after the moon had set allowing the fainter stars in the night sky to appear. This image was 5 minutes at ISO 400 and an aperture of f/4. To prevent streaking of the stars an iOptron Sky Tracker was used. The two images were then blended together.
The summer thunderstorm season got off to a slightly early start this year with moisture flowing northward into northern Arizona in late June. A more typical start would be the first or second week of July. However, you won’t get complaints from most folks about the early start as it signals the end of wildfire season.
The highlight this early in the season is this rainbow seen from Yavapai Point on the South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park. The rainbow spans nearly 3/4 of a full circle and contains both primary and secondary bows. Rainbows typically are at least 50% hidden owing to the horizon. Only when the horizon is lower than the observer—e.g., from a mountaintop or over a canyon—will more than 50% be visible.