Storm season strikes the Arizona Desert

Most people associate Arizona with hot temperatures and dry deserts. However, late in the summer the monsoon season arrives and produces big storms that pound the area with rain, dust storms and lightning. Anytime I am in town and not working you can be sure that I am keeping a watchful eye on the local radars in hopes of some storms so I can go storm chasing.

I try and have all my camera gear charged and ready to go at a moments notice so I can haul ass to wherever the action is and try and get some cool pictures. Unfortunately more times than not, by the time I get to where the storms are they have already fizzled out. But just because there is no more lightning doesn’t mean there aren’t some cool photos to still be had.

Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 400iso, f2.8, 1/250th, Aperture Priority

Another thing Arizona is known for is its spectacular sunsets. Those are always fun to shoot.

Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 100iso, f2.8, 1/640th, Aperture Priority

Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 500iso, f2.8, 1/200th, Aperture Priority

Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 500iso, f2.8, 1/200th, Aperture Priority

About a month ago one of my good buddies Robert Caplin was in town for a shoot so I took him way out in the desert to shoot some scenery photos.

In the below photo I noticed some gorgeous rim light on the edges of a huge Saguaro cactus so by underexposing the photo I was able to make the shadowed areas look completely black which made for a sweet shot.

Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 320iso, f6.3, 1/800th, Manual

By zooming in even closer I was able to just have the rim lit cactus and black backgrounds. All that was missing was a flying bald eagle to really make for a killer frame!

Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 320iso, f6.3, 1/800th, Manual

I love shooting shots with numerous mountains in the shot. The further the mountains are from me the lighter in color they appear due to the dust in the air. It makes for an interesting shot, below.

Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 320iso, f4, 1/8000th, Aperture Priority

While driving down a small dirt road through the desert we spotted a Turkey Vulture (below) flying around the carcass of a dead rattle snake.

Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 320iso, f4, 1/2000th, Aperture Priority

I am always trying to produce interesting shots so I got the idea to set up a remote camera next to the dead snake in hopes of getting shots of the vulture munching on the snake. Below is a photo showing the very simple set up.

With the remote camera in the middle of the road I had to stay semi close so I could quickly move the camera out of the way for the motorists who seemed to drive by every 5 minutes or so. Due to the traffic and being so close to the snake the bird never landed at the snake. The below photo was as close as the bird came to the camera. Oh well, it was a good idea at least!

Nikon D700, 10.5-17mm, 1000iso, f5, 1/100th, Aperture Priority

By now I am sure everyone alive has seen the AMAZING double rainbow video a guy shot and posted on youtube. If you haven’t yet seen it watch it below.

Pretty damn funny I must say.

So when we actually saw a real double rainbow (below) it made for some killer shots….

Nikon D700, 14-24mm, 500iso, f6.3, 1/640th, Aperture Priority

…. and of course I had to reenact the double rainbow video as Caplin filmed me.

Yes, I did eat paint chips as a child….

Ok back to more shots.

After the double rainbow fun we were treated to a textbook AZ sunset, below.

Nikon D700, 14-24mm, 640iso, f5, 1/2000th, Aperture Priority

Nikon D700, 14-24mm, 800iso, f4, 1/1000th, Aperture Priority

A dead plant, below, made for an interesting looking shot.

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 2000iso, f2.8, 1/250th, Aperture Priority

While driving back to the city we drove by Apache Lake and stopped for a few moments to shoot some frames, below.

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 4000iso, f2.8, 1/60th, Aperture Priority

Out near the San Tan Mountains I shot the below frame as a storm dumped rain near sunset, below. I was begging for a lightning bolt to complete that shot. Oh well.

Nikon D700, 14-24mm, 100iso, f7.1, 1/60th, Aperture Priority

Below is a time lapse I did while shooting there with the camera on a tripod shooting a frame every 10 seconds. By putting them together in Quicktime I was able to give it the appearance of video. (Note the sky turn orange as a big dust storm comes through)

Below is a random frame I shot when I was up in Flagstaff shooting NFL training camp. The only thing worse than having that van is having it stuck on a flooded road. Looks like the molester van isn’t going anywhere for awhile!

Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 640iso, f4, 1/250th, Aperture Priority

Cool clouds…

Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 100iso, f4.5, 1/8000th, Aperture Priority

Below is a shot of a rainstorm in progress as I drive down a very fun road.

Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 500iso, f4, 1/800th, Manual

Driving home from a baseball game one evening I saw some lightning so I hauled ass towards it and set up on the side of the road on the indian reservation and got the below frames.

Nikon D700, 85mm, 100iso, f5.6, 30 seconds, Manual

Nikon D700, 85mm, 100iso, f5.6, 1/250th, Manual

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 100iso, f5, 30 seconds, Manual

A few days ago I saw some storm activity on the local radar so I headed up to South Mountain, a big mountain that overlooks the city.

On top of it being a great vantage point for shooting storms all over the city the road up the mountain is incredibly fun to drive on (except for my passengers who always hate me after the drive).

Nikon D700, 400mm, 100iso, f2.8, 1/400th, Aperture Priority

While waiting for the storms to build and the sun to set I killed time by shooting some pics of random things.

Below is a housing development in Ahwatukee.

Nikon D700, 400mm, 100iso, f2.8, 1/1600th, Aperture Priority

At the very top of the mountain are a large cluster of antennas which provide signals for TV, radio and cell phones, below.

Nikon D700, 14-24mm, 100iso, f4, 1/800th, Aperture Priority

As the sun got lower the light got better which made for some cool photos of the Saguaro cactus that dotted the mountainside.

Nikon D700, 400mm, 100iso, f2.8, 1/800th, Aperture Priority

Nikon D700, 400mm, 100iso, f2.8, 1/800th, Aperture Priority

Nikon D700, 400mm, 100iso, f2.8, 1/800th, Aperture Priority

I was pretty close to giving up and heading home when I finally saw a storm building nearby, below.

Nikon D700, 14-24mm, 100iso, f4, 1/640th, Aperture Priority

About 10 miles from me a small microburst dropped rain on the city of Chandler, below. (Note the dust storm kicked up by the small but powerful cell)

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 100iso, f6.3, 1/30th, Aperture Priority

As the sun set it really lit up the storm cloud with some awesome orange light, below. At this point I was literally screaming at the storm to give me a bolt of lightning to make for a kick ass shot. Of course, no luck.

Nikon D700, 14-24mm, 100iso, f4, 1/50th, Aperture Priority

After the storm fizzled out I hopped in the car to head down the mountain and go home. On my way I saw lightning the opposite direction from where I was at so I headed to one of the other observation points of the mountain and was finally able to get a cool photo I liked as a storm dropped rain and lightning bolts over the city of Buckeye, below.

Nikon D700, 85mm, 100iso, f6.3, 15 seconds, Aperture Priority

By Arizona standards the monsoon season this year has been rather weak. However there is about a month left of the season so hopefully there will be more storms for me to chase!

3 Responses to “Storm season strikes the Arizona Desert”

  1. Don Risi says:

    Fabulous. Every shot.

  2. Jim says:

    It was great to meet you tonight as you were storm chasing out by Canyon Lake.
    Great work…What does it mean?????????????

  3. Simon B says:

    Great shots as usual Mark. Are you going to get yourself along to Glendale to shoot the Coyotes this season? Really enjoyed the last one you did there!


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