Techniques for capturing Southern Arizona Summer Monsoon light

Discussion in 'Nature' started by light gallery, Apr 13, 2008.

  1. Hello Shutter bugs It looks as if the Great Spirit will have me summer again in the southern Arizona Sonoran Desert (I am at the small dot on the map, 110 miles from Phoenix and Tucson, Ajo). This summer I want to be ready and equipted to make the most of the the best evening lighting conditions I have ever witnessed, anywhere. Although I have been joyfully overwhelmed before by clear sunsets lighting up the undersides of clouds after a summer thunderstorm, last summer I witnessed first hand, several times, this gloriously fantastic display. One evening the sky looked as if it were literally on fire -- and the display lasted nearly 1/2 hour. I did document it with a digital point and shoot. I was too busy with other things to "be there and wait," with a 4x5 camera and my thumb on the cable release. Before this next summer Monsoon season, I hope to have gotten out and about the surrounding wilderness to scout locations to go to when conditions are optimal. I would welcome any and all advise from any of you out there who have experience in shooting under summer southern Arizona Monsoon conditions. Of course, I know there are the dangers of washes (arroyos) suddenly filling with a torrent of water and of course, the heat and higher humidity. I welcome any and all counsel, suggestions and advise, and thank you in advance for helping me. Walt Puciata
  2. Well, you listed the hazards, now all you need is patience. Of course there is never any way to
    know exactly when the most spectacular skies will be seen, it's a waiting game. This could
    take several outings to accomplish.
  3. For sunset lighting, the only thing I can say is watch for clouds and be there, ready with camera and tripod. This calls for repeated outings. Many times I'm busy doing something else, then I notice the blazing sky, and I rush to get my camera. In those unprepared times my choices are limited in terms of "desert setting".
    I like to try and capture lightning during the summer monsoons. The easiest time to do this is at night because you can have longer exposure times, thus increase your chances of lightning happening when the shutter is open. I set up my camera on a tripod, point the lens (usually a wide or normal lens) towards the storm, set focus to infinity, ISO to 200, f/8.0, 8s, and keep pressing the shutter. Depending on how active the storm is, you will have MANY shots without lightning in the image. But with a digital camera, who cares? Just delete those shots. But occasionally you can get some nice lightning shots, making it all worthwhile.
    Example gallery
    Just be careful out there to safeguard yourself against lightning strike! Your car is a relatively safe shelter, providing the cab is totally encased in metal.
  4. I was camped down an offshoot on the General Crook Trail along the Mogollon Rim when the monsoon started in 2005. I had grown spoiled by several days in a tent with perfect weather and was less than enthusiastic about a night of lightning and heavy rain, so after the first half hour of storms I pack up camp wet and headed down off the rim. The most spectacular light greeted me coming down toward Camp Verde. Like you observed Walt, it lasted nearly a half hour. I wish only that I could have better captured what I saw that evening. The lesson? Recognize the magical light and obsess less about getting your gear dried out for the flight home. C'est la vie.
  5. Envy..
    I want to be down there for the monsoons. I am a big fan of thunderstorms. I wouldnt suggest it as advise caust I am yet to try it but there is a nifty tool called "lightning trigger" that trips the shutter with every strike. faster than the lightning as I am told. Only available if you have a standard SLR or DSLR I do believe.. google it. It looks like a fun device. I am consitering one myself. Have fun out there and be safe!
  6. Walt, your best bet is to figure out how to keep your gear dry while you're waiting for the perfect moment. You must be ready to move quickly. Storm cells can move fast, and for the best images, you'll probably get wet. I carry an umbrella, rain jacket and rain pants every monsoon outing.

    The billiant light will obvious be when you look into the setting sun when the sun lights the clouds from the underneath. Look to see if you can position a storm cell between you and the setting sun. Also, don't forget to look away from the sun, the opposite side can be just as impressive and sometimes nicer and you'll get detail in the desert floor which I think is nicer than the typical generic silhouette. It helps to have scouted out the area and come up with alternative compositions if you need to move quickly.

    The big key is to study the storms as the move, and try to find how to position your subject to take advantage of the light. But that's the same as anywhere else.

    Cheers, and good light and good luck.

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