Ever since I moved to a high rise in downtown Phoenix I have anxiously been awaiting the arrival of the summer monsoon season. The hardest part about shooting lightning storms is getting to a good elevation to see above the surrounding areas. The 23rd floor would certainly offer a killer vantage point once the storm season began.
I had planned all day long to do some storm chasing and had even gone to Tempe Camera a few hours earlier and bought a new tripod with hopes of using it for shooting lightning pics. All I needed now was some storm activity.
6:53 PM I shot the below wide angle shot of downtown Phoenix and the US Airways Center from my balcony as a large thunderhead formed out to the west. I was really hoping for some large bolts of lightning to make a really killer Phoenix shot. No dice.
Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 100iso, f22, 1/10th, Aperture Priority
7:38 PM Shot the below frame of the sun peeking out from behind a rain storm. I was begging for a lightning bolt in that shot as its next to impossible to get lightning and the sun in the same shot except under rare situations… had it happened this would have been one of them….
Nikon D700, 70-200mm, 100iso, f22, 8 seconds, Aperture Priority
7:39 PM One minute later I would abandon the lightning with sun photo attempt to instead go wide and get the city in the shot since it was looking so pretty. Here is the resulting shot, below.
Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 100iso, f22, 4 seconds, Aperture Priority
After that shot I headed back inside to watch TV and edit pics for a bit. Luckily I went back out on the balcony for a minute to see if there was anything that looked promising for lightning. When I got out and looked towards the south I saw a weird sight off in the distance, it looked like a huge fog bank rolling in but obviously on a 110 degree day the likelihood of that being fog was impossible. Add to that the fact that this cloud was taller than South Mountain to which it was about to envelop.
I immediately realized it was a dust storm coming towards us. I had always wanted to get one of those cool shots of the dust wall rolling in but its not really something you can predict so its always a matter of dumb luck.
Well apparently I was the king of dumb luck on this day!
It took less than 2 minutes from me seeing the dust storm on my 19th floor balcony to get up to the roof on the 23rd floor to start shooting.
As I rolled up to the observation deck on the roof I noticed that it was pretty dark outside already and would only be getting darker so I wasn’t sure how good the photos were even gonna look. Luckily I shoot with Nikon bodies so shooting in dark conditions wouldn’t be a problem.
7:46 PM Here is one of my first shots showing the wall of dirt but I liked the plane up in the sky. It helps illustrate how massive this storm was about to be!
Nikon D700, 70-200mm, 4000iso, f2.8, 1/320th, Aperture Priority
7:46 PM Here is a wide shot which helps illustrate the scene better.
Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 1600iso, f2.8, 1/160th, Aperture Priority
7:50 PM The airport tower in the center of the below frame is about to disappear…
7:51 PM Just five minutes later I did another wide shot and you can really see how far the “Haboob” (technical term for this sand storm) traveled in just that short amount of time.
Nikon D3s, 24-70mm, 2000iso, f2.8, 1/100th, Aperture Priority
Watching the scene with my own eyes was something that is hard to explain. It looked like one of those end of the world clips in the disaster movies but this was real. It really makes you appreciate the power and fury of mother nature.
7:54 PM By this point the cloud is swallowing up Sky Harbor International Airport (which is about 4 miles from my place), below.
Nikon D700, 70-200mm, 2000iso, f2.8, 1/50th, Aperture Priority
7:55 PM Even closer now…
Nikon D3s, 24-70mm, 2500iso, f2.8, 1/60th, Aperture Priority
7:56 PM One of my favorite photos from this event was the below shot of fellow tenants of the building who were up there watching alongside me. The man is in complete awe of the sight while his daughter could care less about the storm and was more into the clicking noise my camera was making.
Nikon D3s, 24-70mm, 2500iso, f2.8, 1/50th, Aperture Priority
7:57 PM One of the final shots I took before I had to head inside was the below frame where I included Chase Field in the foreground. Its always a good thing to get interesting photos of all the stadiums, especially ones with giant apocalyptic dust storms in the background!
Nikon D3s, 24-70mm, 2500iso, f2.8, 1/60th, Aperture Priority
7:58 PM Here is the last shot I took before I pulled the plug on standing outside as the cloud hit the Biltmore area of town.
After that shot I hustled inside and headed back down to my place so I could try and shoot downtown from inside the cloud.
8:01 PM Here is all I could see from my balcony. That building is the US Airways Center. I couldn’t see anything past that.
Nikon D3s, 24-70mm, 2500iso, f2.8, 1/20th, Aperture Priority
After that shot I downloaded my cards and couldn’t believe how amazing some of the shots looked. I am just a sports photographer but these images reminded me of the stuff I’d see gracing the pages of National Geographic. I quickly got the images out onto the wire so I could make some sales!
9:34 PM After getting all the images edited and posted I figured I would relax for the rest of the evening. That was until I saw lightning off in the distance. Here is one of the better shots I would get this evening.
Nikon D700, 70-200mm, 200iso, f5, 30 seconds, Manual
And with that I wrap up my first weather blog of the season. Hoping for a few more great evenings of storm chasing but I highly doubt I will top this night for a few years…. if ever!
I have had a few people hit me up about purchasing prints for their home. To buy copies please CLICK HERE!
I must say I do have one regret… I really should have had one of the people on the roof take a “Planking” photo of me with the storm in the background. Nobody woulda been able to top that one!
I recently started a Facebook page for my photography. Click the below banner to check it out. Be sure to “like” the page so you can be kept up to date on all the events I am doing as well as my favorite photos from each event, as well as some old favorites from the last 20 years!
Check out my Facebook page devoted my photography where I routinely share my favorite photos from each shoot as well as favorite photos from the past. Click the below banner to check it out. Be sure to "like" the page so you can be kept up to date on all the events I am doing!