Summer Storms

Summer storms are the best. My wife and child worry about my sanity sometimes, I think. A veteran of way too many things that have been blown up or destroyed by lightning, I always unplug everything and switch off certain breakers when I hear a storm approaching. Then I rush outside with my camera on a metal tripod and stand out in it hoping for some really nice lightning.

Such was the case last night when I started seeing flashes outside the window not too long after dark. I look at the Radarscope app on my iPhone showed me that storms were quickly approaching, so I grabbed the camera and headed out.

Thankfully I could get a good view of some of the action right from my driveway and didn’t have to go far. If they are approaching from a different direction I can run a few hundred yards down the road and point out over my neighbor’s field. I probably would have had some better shots that way, but the wind kept whipping around and I didn’t want to get suddenly drenched.

So, here are the results:

storm1 storm2 storm4 storm5
storm7 storm8 storm9 storm10 storm11 storm12


This last one was the scary one. It actually happened about the middle of the shoot. Most of the stuff was going off to the north, but in storms you never really can tell where something will happen. So this shot happened when lightning came out of the clouds almost directly over me. It spiderwebbed out in all directions, what you see is just a little bit of it. I just closed my eyes because I figured I was about to be toast. Thankfully it didn’t hit the ground, most everything I was seeing was cloud-to-cloud and “anvil crawlers” which just come out the cloud base and run along the bottoms of the clouds. So far it’s been a pretty slow season for storms with anything visible, I was glad to at least get this much.

The colors vary a lot in these shots because I take a little artistic license and play with the color temperature, contrast, highlights and shadows trying to bring out the lightning the best I can. When I’m letting the lightning make the picture, usually everything is black, the lightning is there for an instant, and everything is black again. There’s no real way for my eye to see what the sky actually looked like during that fraction of a second. Is it grey? Purple? Blue? Orange? When I used to shoot film, the brand of film had a big part to play in the final color, but with digital, just choosing a different white balance (flash, tungsten, sunlight, clouds) can change it a lot.

You may see some green/red/white specks in the pictures that resemble stars. The way I take these pictures is by pointing the camera in the general direction of a storm and using a cable with a button on it to hold the shutter open. I may hold it open for 15-20 seconds, and then let go and start over. Holding the shutter open like that for long exposures causes some parts of the sensor to get “confused” or register false positives, as I understand it, so some pixels light up when there’s nothing there. Hence the red and green spots.

The best shots happen right after the shutter opens, and then I can let go and start over. Less extraneous light. This storm was SO active, the sky kept lighting up to the side even when I couldn’t see any lightning. It makes for interesting storm watching, though. Different parts of a storm seem to react to the others. Lightning in one set of clouds may seem to set it off in other clouds. Watching for a while, you can even start to guess correctly where the next blast of lightning will come from. One of my favorites ever came from a cloud that was putting out little bolts from the bottom, and started flickering WAY up top. I moved the camera to that area and BANG, got one of my most impressive shots ever.


It just goes to show you, there’s always a risk involved. But it’s exceptionally thrilling to watch. I’ve jumped up and down and shouted when I see an image like that pop up on the camera when I let the shutter go.


Delicate Sounds of Thunder

It’s been quite a while since I have been able to photograph any decent storms. Last year was just sort of Blah. We got a lot of rain, sure, but nothing really awesome in the way of lightning storms. However, last night, that changed. I wasn’t able to get a really good position, because the trees are in my way, and the wife and kid don’t like me driving to an empty field and standing out in the open holding on to the metal tripod. Something about electrocution and fried brains and such… But, I can still go out in the driveway, so here are some of my halfway decent shots of lightning from last nights’ storm in our area.

I love this one… Looks like a skeletal dragon or something.

stormsmall01 stormsmall02 stormsmall03 stormsmall04 stormsmall05 stormsmall06 stormsmall07 stormsmall08

A real “WTF am I doing?” moment.

Once a year or so it seems everything really comes together well and I get a storm in the right place at the right time, to really have fun with. There are a lot of things that must happen to get a decent photogenic thunderstorm.

There can’t be a lot of rain between you and the storm. That screws it all up. Ideally, the sky should be pretty clear except for the storm coming at you. There can’t be a lot of trees, street lights, etc. covering up parts of the cloud. It needs to be really active, without a lot of ground lightning strikes close to the ground you are currently occupying. Ground shots are nice, but when you are perched outside next to a metal tripod, cloud-to-cloud strikes are much friendlier.

It’s a mess, but once in a while, it all comes together. So, last night I was on the couch and hoping for a storm, as I had seen some really awesome clouds earlier on a long drive home. Sure enough, Radarscope (for iPhone… great app by the way!) showed a horseshoe shaped storm cell heading for my area. Full of orange, red and even some purple nasty colors. Woo hoo! I raced through the house finding camera bits and went outside.

Way off down the street…

The first and most active storm was down the road from me to the east, but it was between trees on either side of the road, and was pretty active. It took me a minute or two before I got the settings dialed in, and it produced a couple of pretty shots. It was dying out though, and quickly moved on and went dormant, but not before throwing out one or two good ones.

lit from the inside…

The below image is reddish, not because the fires of Hell opened to consume us all, but because I set the white balance to “cloudy”, and got a much redder appearance. If you see the ‘proper’ version, the structure doesn’t show nearly as well, and it’s much less dramatic. You’ll see the same thing done later on if you keep looking. You might have had this happen to you by accident. Have you ever taken a picture (film or digital) and had the photo come out with wonky colors? White Balance. The camera doesn’t know what should be white – and guessed wrong. Those street lights played havoc with some of my shots…

Nice look at the whole cloud.

After the above cloud moved away and died out, I stood outside for quite a while, watching and waiting, and checking the radar. Most of the stuff seemed to be moving on, but there was a persistent and almost continual paparazzi-like flashing beyond the trees. Finally the stormy bits got close enough for me to see some action. The strangest thing I’ve seen happened…

building up…

The dark section at the bottom of the photo above is a flat dense section of cloud out in front of the rest of the storm. It almost looked like Thor was pulling a comforter across the sky under the storm. Really strange stuff. All the lighting was between this low-level cloud and the upper parts of the storm. It was shooting out in front of this layer. Unfortunately I couldn’t see or capture any upper-level detail, it was all shrouded in rain or clouds or something.

a more “natural” color…
The approaching low layer
playing with the white balance again… it was NOT that blue.

With the almost constant flashing all throughout the cloud, it was almost impossible to get a well lit set of lighting bolts without them being washed-out. I was firing pictures off every couple of seconds, and still unable to get much without the bright backgrounds.

At last!

The above shot made me scream like a little girl. It was almost right overhead. The advancing cloud front had me constantly adjusting the camera angle.On the one below I’m losing the lightning behind the clouds… I’m looking almost directly up at it.


Below, the cloud is angled because I’m rotating the camera around on the tripod as it passes over. This last shot filled the sky out past where I could cover, despite being zoomed out. I needed a wider angle lens at this point. After this, I was behind the front, and the wind and rain quickly picked up. Any lightning was above the clouds, and all you could see was white.

Now that’s it!


Last view overhead before going in…

One last gasp, and it was time to go. All in all, a very nice evening.

Delicate sound of thunder

A little summer thunderstorm…

With apologies to Pink Floyd. Nix that…they made enough money, I’ll use their album title just to get Google hits if I damn well please.

Yesterday I was witness to some Hella-cool thunderstorms. It all started when I was on an out-of-town trip, about thirty miles away. the iPhone, in its infinite wisdom, began warning me every few minutes about severe thunderstorms in my home town. It worried me, and I headed that way. At first the storms didn’t look too bad. As I got closer, the sky darkened and lightning flashed in the sky like paparazzi at the latest whore-of-the-month club member sighting (Kim or Chloe…either will do).

It was black-dark, I’m talking Oaklahoma Storm Chaser nasty dark, and it was only 5 in the afternoon. The car was rockin’ (and not in the good way) and we were being pelted with rain. My wife got upset, and we pulled off the side of the road to wait some of it out. I checked the radar and discovered that the worst was headed RIGHT FOR US, and that we really needed to move, despite the bad weather. Several things blew across the road, including a small tent at the racetrack. Right over the fence… you know the small instant-up tents used by Beach Contractor types when they set up for the day.

Of course, there were the normal idiots driving their Ford Subdivisions, ten miles over the limit like nothing was wrong. How about spreading out a little, people? Why the need to bunch up? You are not safer in groups. This was evidenced when we passed a field, and a huge cloud of dust was roiling and churning towards the road. I had a “twister” flashback and thought we were about to be sucked into OZ. It so happened that it was NOT a tornado, just a wall of dust (moving straight, not in a circle), and we passed it before it hopped the road.

Going through town to home was no better. MY town sports some hundreds-year-old trees, and every now and then one like to drop a limb on the road, and I was scared I might happen to be in the landing zone at the time. The storm had partially abated by the time I got near home, and I was able to laugh at the neighbors’ trampolines. Both of them had been tossed a couple hundred yards across the manicured lawns into the pine woods. Pine trees can do some nasty things to trampolines.

The power was out. I hate it when the power goes out. I drag out the generator and stretch extension cords everywhere. It sucks that only one TV works, and the fridge. I can’t run the desktop, but I can run the wi-fi. So while we could play on the iPad and watch netflix, I couldn’t play WarCraft or anything like that. It also got a little warm by nightfall, even with the windows open it was up to 80 degrees. I need a small box fan instead of the monster fan I have, which weighs 70 pounds and has a dryer-sized motor driving steel blades. I inherited it from somewhere…I don’t remember where. It fits a window but draws too much power with the fridge, TV, and two lamps running, oh and the wi-fi router and ipad charger. I hate power outages, there’s too much math:

Fridge at 120volts x 6 amps = 720 watts… subtract from 3750 and I have 3030 to spare… add two light bulbs at 60 watts each, plus the TV, who knows what that uses? Grrr.

At least the power was back on by midnight.

At least it wasn’t a beauty pageant.

I’ve discovered a realm unlike most anything in the normal world. It’s an alternate universe one enters only by invitation, a place where things are not as they seem, minds are twisted, and the rules of ordinary society do not exist.

I’m talking, of course, about child dance recitals.

It could be worse, it could be child “beauty” pageants – where the winner is determined by how much she spends on fake hair, fake teeth, fake tans, fake photos, and clothes, not beauty by any stretch of the word.

I worked a dance recital over the weekend. I have a child in said recital, so working the event as staff gives me free access, and I earn back some of her tuition.

The first thing I learned is that being a dance parent severely limits your ability to read, at least during recital time. The teacher specifically says who is allowed in early: parents with advanced tickets only, and dance students. There are notes home for this. No, this does not include grandma, grandpa, and five brothers and sisters. Two parents and kid. Sorry, the rest of you can wait in the lobby for fifteen more minutes. Also; everyone but stage staff (lighting, sound, stage management, etc.) has to go in the front door. The signs on the doors SAY that. When the sign says “don’t knock on this door, go around front”, dance moms cannot read “don’t”. I think they see “Knock on this door OR go around front”.

Another odd thing about the general public – some prefer to stand. Why? I don’t know. 800 seats, and they want to stand behind the back rail at the farthest point from the stage, for an hour. Then they talk and lean over the rail, right over the heads of those in the back row. Its very disturbing and against the fire marshal’s rules. A typical conversation goes like this:

“Sir, you need to find a seat.” “Oh, I’m good.” “I mean, you can’t hang out here.” “Why not?” “Because you can’t, the fire marshal doesn’t like it.” “Why?” “Sir find a seat or leave.”

Excuses: I’m only going to be here a few minutes. I’m just waiting on my ____. Okay, I’ll sit down (makes no move to sit, but tries to hang out for five minutes). Fine, I’ll leave! (thank you, you paid already, as far as I’m concerned your duty here is done). I don’t like to sit. I’m trying to find my family (for twenty minutes? Liar.)

A candlelight ceremony.

Way back when I was young, my parents forced me into community torture sessions. It involved wasting half of a perfectly good weekend day,  wearing uncomfortable clothes and driving round trip for an hour. The holder of the session would feed us lousy stale bread, make us drink day-old grape juice, read to us about a magician and threaten us with further torture after death. Some people call this “church”. Church had one or two redeeming qualities. Seeing grandparents, often eating at the seafood place afterwards, and singing by candle light on the celebration of the winter solstice (unless the celebration was on Christmas eve or Christmas day, then it really sucked because all you wanted to do was play with presents, and you were once again screwed into the above-mentioned uncomfortable clothes/driving ceremony).

When the dance recital started, several announcements were made, including “please turn off cell phones and electronic equipment out of respect for the dancers and those around you.” Lights go dim, and poof… candle light ceremony. At least that’s what it looked like. A hundred cell phones, nintendos, ipads, kindles, and nooks can really light up a theatre. Do you have any idea how BRIGHT an ipad on full brightness is, in the dark? You can really light up an area with one. I don’t see why the people sitting beside the ipad addicts didn’t roll up their programs and give the offensive parties a good thrashing, like a dog when he pees on the rug. I’m going to suggest that next year.

Tasers for the public. A good idea…

Look, I know the dances are long and you don’t give a rat’s ass about anyone except your “special darling”, but when the lights are out stop reading and tweeting for two seconds and at let the people beside you enjoy the show without the glow of a thousand suns in their eyes. Most of the show takes place in lighting good enough to walk around by, even bright light. Twice there is darkness. Maybe ten minutes each time. I suspect these are the same people that pay twelve bucks to get into a movie, and text the whole time. Maybe the rule should be NO cell phones, kindles, ipads, etc.

Cameras. Holy Crap. sometimes I long for the days when you had to know what an f-stop was for, and what an ISO setting means, and how they both relate to shutter speed. Also, film was expensive. 24 exposures plus processing might wind up costing you fifty cents per picture. Today’s digital cameras essentially cost nothing per photo, except the ones you print. If you’re putting images online, you can share your prints for zero cost. Because of that, momtographers have come out of the woodwork, insistent on capturing every moment of the kid’s life.

He’s ready for a Dance Recital!

Don’t get me wrong, I like taking pictures of my kid and family and what have you, but I don’t think just because I have a nice camera, that I’m the dad equivalent of Anne Geddess, and I don’t feel the need to make a spectacle of myself in such a setting.

Its funny, the smaller the kids, the more cameras came up. I watched one woman take pictures of almost EVERY act. Someone should have sat her down front and put her on the payroll. Either she really likes kids, or she’s taking pictures for some child perv web site so the pedos don’t have to risk getting in trouble coming to the  dance to watch little kids in stretch pants.

My favorite momtographers are the ones with the giant full frame DSLR cameras, with long lenses and the external flash units. I saw a couple with one; seriously I’ve seen pros with less kit at a wedding, and the only seats left were towards the back. The guy said “We won’t be able to do anything with a camera from back here!” I’m thinking, dude, you have a 200mm lens and a flash big enough to initiate nuclear fusion. You could fade paint with that flash. What do you want to do, sit on the front row and take pictures of the girls’ pores?

Of course, the other extreme are the iphone/android users. Sitting in the back row and using your iphone as your only camera, with its little LED light ‘flash’ just isnt going to cut it. Come early, sit close.

Then there were the parents who couldn’t hear. Some can’t read, some can’t hear… the latter ones pulled out their video recorders. Plain as day at the start of the show: “No video recording is allowed”. You might get away with it on your iPhone. You might get away with it on your point and shoot or even your DSLR camera, because it looks like you are framing a picture. But after thirty seconds or so and your screen doesn’t go black like it does when you take a pic, I’m going to catch you and chide you in front of those around you.

But did you really think you could even TRY and get away with it with a Handicam? Seriously?

“I’m just recording my daughter’s act!”

Well, yeah, of course you are. Who wants to buy the DVD and watch two hours of other people’s kids to get to their daughter’s three minute act? But that’s what it costs, and they warned you, so tough. And adults are funny. They use the same excuse a six year old will use: “But look at all those other people with cell phone cameras!” Really? The old, “They are getting away with it, why can’t I?” excuse… it didn’t work when you were in kindergarten, you’re thirty-five, it’s not going to work now.

I even saw someone using a Sharp Viewcam. I didn’t have a clue those things even worked any more. And where do you find the special ni-cad batteries and 8mm tapes? Really lady, upgrade your stuff.

The Sharp Viewcam…. yeah I had one. In 1996.

Finally – it was time to go home. Look, you wanted to stand at the back of the theatre for three hours. When the house lights come up, don’t hang around. In the parlance of youth, GTFO! Go home. The staff will be here long after you leave, but they can’t even start to leave until you all leave. So go, and make sure you have your stuff. Because all those ipads, cameras and everything else you left behind cause arguments when the staff is trying to decide who gets to keep your abandoned property.

Of course, I’ll be back next year. Despite the human oddities and atavistic throwbacks that attend these things, overall they are fun.

Raindrops keep falling on my head…

Well, not really. I expected them to, but they didn’t. They stayed around the house. I spent the day back at 40 Acre Rock, trying to toughen up my leg muscles and potentially test out my rain gear. It did not go as planned. The rain gear stayed in the pack, however the leg muscles test went just fine.

First of all, there were LOTS of people there today. You couldn’t walk half a mile without running into people. All kinds, from the possible dopehead trio with the typical muscle-shirt bearded guys and the skank, to the family with kids, to the Peter Lik wannabe carrying the giant camera and tripod. It was a very interesting crowd.

I took some time to explore more than usual today, as the normal 40 acre route is not long or strenuous enough at this time of year (I won’t say that this summer…). My first detour was off the right of the trail near the pond. Found a large rock at the apex of the hill, looking down over the path and surrounding woods. Of course, it had a little graffiti on it, and signs of a fire ring underneath. No trash or anything else though, good job picking up after yourselves, graffiti vandals.

I proceeded to the big rock to collect my geocache, as I didn’t know I wasn’t allowed to place one here. Once collected I decided to boil water for my cappuccino drink, but the wind started blowing and I thought I was going to get soaked from dark clouds overhead, so I just put the stove away and drank the cold water and ate my granola bar.

I walked around the perimeter of the big rock and then headed to the falls, but went to the top instead and tried to trace where the water comes from. The creek goes back a good way and it got so thick I couldn’t move. While I was up there, I could hear kids and a family at the base of the falls. Despite REALLY wanting to do some ‘squatch calling, I fought the urge and went down to the base of the falls instead. I ran into the family, and they asked me what was up there. I told them more rock and a creek, but be careful, it’s slippery.

With all of that done, there was nothing left but to hoof it the 3/4 mile back to the car. All in all it was a fun day, despite not getting rained on. I fashioned a GPS “don’t drop me” cord, which you can see in a few pictures. Its purple and is only long enough so when I drop the GPS it winds up at my waist. I feel like I’m finally getting some of this down.

Four more trips to REI and I might have enough crap to go overnight somewhere.

Make it five trips.