Storm-Lit Skies Over Date Creek Range Picture of the Week - Congress, Arizona

Golden-light silhouette of Joshua Trees with a dark, stormy sky over Date Creek Range in Arizona.
Storm-Lit Skies Over Date Creek Range – Caught in the golden embrace of the setting sun, the Date Creek Range and its Joshua Tree sentinel defy an impending storm. Can you spot the elusive rainbow?

In last week’s US 93 escapade, I put the pedal to the metal, racing the encroaching dark clouds to bask in the vanishing golden hour. I even detoured to Burro Creek campgrounds, where the only thing I found was…more clouds. Alas, as soon as I wrapped up my Burro Creek pit stop, those looming clouds won the race, swallowing the sun whole.

Disappointed, I set aside my camera’s relentless search for that perfect shot and started a leisurely drive home. No rush, right? Queen Anne was busy wallowing in precious metals at the jewelry store with her gal-pals, and I had miles of asphalt ahead of me. Soon enough, the highway carried me through the Joshua Tree Parkway, and then it began—Arizona’s version of ‘will it or won’t it’—raining from the sky.

Yes, this arid state has two kinds of summer rain. First, there’s the gully washer, the frog strangler, the cob-floater, a torrential rain that I can’t even see the house across the street. This type of downpour is the VIP guest that shows up uninvited, fills up the washes, and turns rattlesnakes into accidental Olympians. You should see them. Snorkels on their snouts, doing the backstroke like they’re auditioning for ‘Snakes on a Swim Team.’

Then there’s the other kind, today’s specialty: a rain so indecisive it could give Hamlet a run for his money. It’s like the weather gods couldn’t agree, and we get this annoying drizzle that teeters on the edge of being useful. You find yourself in this wiper-limbo, perpetually toggling between ‘kinda need it’ and ‘oh, the horror of that screeching noise.’ The local washes don’t even bother to fill up; rattlesnakes smirk and break out their snorkels for practice laps, just waiting for the next aquatic extravaganza.

Just when I was about to award myself the title of ‘Arizona’s Rain Philosopher,’ the universe decided to show off. The sun, ever the dramatic artist, slipped beneath the heavy cloak of the western clouds, making a brief but stunning encore. It was as if it said, ‘You thought I was done for the day? Hold my solar flare.’ And just like that, the golden hour was back on stage for its final act.

Dodging highway traffic and raindrops, I perched myself by a barbed-wire fence to capture what I’ve aptly named Storm-Lit Skies Over Date Creek Range. The Joshua Trees pop like jack-in-the-boxes from a golden sea of creosote, crowned by the glowing Castle Rock. For the eagle-eyed among you, squint a little harder. A subtle rainbow makes a cameo on the right of the taller Joshua Tree.

If you’re squinting at this on your smartphone, do yourself a favor—upgrade to a bigger screen. Trust me, this photo deserves it. You can see the bigger versions by browsing my website [Jim’s Page] or checking out my Fine Art America gallery [FAA Page]. Do make sure to swing by next week. The best is yet to come.

Till next time

Techniques: Capturing Storms: The Drama Before, During, and After

Grab your umbrellas and wellies because today, we’re talking storms. And I don’t mean the kind you have with your spouse over who left the toilet seat up. We’re diving into the cinematic, the dramatic, the eye-candy kind of storms that would have made even Ansel Adams pause and say, “Well, would you look at that!”

Ah, the golden hour. That ethereal moment before the sky erupts into a Van Gogh painting or descends into gloom. But have you ever tried capturing a storm during this time? The universe throws you a curveball, saying, “Hey, here’s beauty and chaos, all wrapped in a corn tortilla of opportunity.” Remember Ansel Adams’ Clearing Winter Storm? The dude knew when to click that shutter.

You might think, “Jim, storms are just wet messes! How am I supposed to capture that?” Ah, my dry-weather fans, this is where things get electrifying. Capturing lightning requires some specialized equipment or mad reflexes. But the results? They’re shockingly good.

The storm has passed, but don’t pack up that camera yet. The sky now looks like hungover clouds meandering aimlessly, bumping into mountains, and trying to remember where they parked their cumulus cars. The aftermath can offer as many Kodak moments as the storm itself.

So, the next time you see those dark clouds looming, don’t just think about whether you’ve left the laundry out. Think about the once-in-a-lifetime shots that could be waiting for you. Embrace the wild mood swings of Mother Nature. After all, when the weather can’t decide, it might just be helping you make up yours about that next epic shot.

Do you have any of your own storm-chasing or weather-defying photography tales? We’d love to hear them! Please share your stories in the comments below, and let’s swap some epic weather adventures.

Joshua Bud Picture of the Week

I know that this is near impossible to believe, but I may have been wrong when I claimed that the Joshua tree—Yucca brevifolia—was part of the Lily family. Well, it always had been, but modern DNA testing shows enough differences that botanists had to break the giant Lilly family into 40 distinct species. It used to be that scientist categorized plants by looking at their dirty little sex parts, and the flowers of Joshua trees, yuccas, and lilies look the same. Along comes DNA testing and—bam—Joshua Trees are now considered an agave, and its closest cousin is the yucca. DNA is turning our old assumptions upside-down. I always thought that my father’s family came from Poland, but when my DNA tests came back, they said that I’m actually Lower Slobbovian.

Joshua Bud
Joshua Bud – The bud of a Joshua Tree flower shot in late February.

My botany lesson is included—at no extra charge—because I was shooting along the Joshua Tree Parkway this week and saw the trees beginning to bloom. Like other agaves, the trees put out a large phallic that opens to an enormous stalk with clusters of white flowers. Research suggests that frost damages the branch ends which triggers the blooms. If a tree doesn’t experience freezing, it doesn’t put out flowers or reproduce. These specimens grow as a single stalk, and the behavior limits the tree’s range to southwest deserts from 2,000 to 6,000 feet of elevation.

Another weird thing about Joshua trees is that they’re pollinated by the Yucca Moth. Polination happens when it lays eggs on the flowers which turn into seed pods resembling a small squash. If you’re a Euell Gibbons follower, you can eat the flowers and fruit. They need to be boiled or roasted to remove bitterness that comes from alkaline soil … and you’ll want to dig the worms out of the fruit. It has a banana taste, or so I’m told. I’ll stick to Mars Bars.

For this week’s featured image, I wanted to show an emerging bud without clutter—almost an abstract graphic. This image worked best for me. I call it Joshua Bud. The flower was overhead and with a cloudy sky. When I processed the photo, I blew-out the highlights to simplify the background. Like the groundhog, the bud says that spring is imminent.

You can see a larger version of Joshua Bud on its Web Page by clicking here. I hope you enjoy viewing this week’s post and come back next week when we’ll begin a series from a new place.

Until next time — jw

Rainbow Power Picture of the Week

Like a lot of photographers,  I shoot a lot more images than I show. Most of them never see the light of day. On each outing—like last week’s rain day—I’ll fire off 50 to 75 shots and when I transfer them to my computer, I’ll have one or two keepers—if I’m lucky. The first thing I do is to delete the mistakes immediately—you know, the accidental shot of my feet that I get when taking the camera out of the bag—or shots that are hopelessly out of focus. Then I look for the best. I really should get rid of the rest, but even though I may never look at them again, I keep them on file.

There are lots of reasons that I reject a photograph. The composition isn’t right, the focus is soft, or the shot didn’t work. As a landscape photographer, I have a thing about power lines. They’re everywhere, and I have to work around them. That means that I’ll drive or walk a bit to remove them from the scene.

Rainbow Power
Rainbow Power – A rainbow seems to rise from high power lines along the Joshua Tree Parkway in central Arizona.

And that brings me to this week’s featured image that I call Rainbow Power. No matter how much we grumpy old photographers groan about them, we still look at pictures of flowers, babies, kittens, and rainbows. We just don’t want to get caught doing it. This week’s image is one of those rejects that I kept returning to it because it shows the range of light last week’s fast-moving storm dragged along the Joshua Tree Parkway as it moved north. Besides, I think rainbows are pretty.

I’ll probably never print this image because of the power lines, but this rainbow was intense and seemed to disappear into the clouds then descend again to the left out of the camera’s view. Oh, and I missed the pink unicorn because it ran over the hill before I could frame the shot. Moments after snapping this image, even the rainbow disappeared. The weather was happening so fast that I didn’t have time to work it—trying different angles, different framing, or changing the site to eliminate the wires. All that I had time to do was capture the moment—warts and all.

You can see a larger version of Rainbow Power on its Web Page by clicking here. I hope you enjoy viewing this week’s post and next week; we’ll show another featured image from the Joshua Tree Parkway.

Until next time — jw

February Storm Picture of the Week

My mother used to tell me that I didn’t have enough sense to come in out of the rain. Did your mom say things like that to you when you were growing up? Mine had a catalog of proverbs, one for every occasion. It’s too bad she’s gone now because after 70 years I finally have a witty retort. Making comments about our mental faculties—my sisters got the treatment too—was slandering our lineage and upbringing. In other words, my parents didn’t give me much intelligence, or they didn’t learn me well. So my behavior was her fault. Take that mom.

Maybe she was right though. Last week, we had a couple of fast-moving storms come through Congress. These weren’t the usual winter fronts that are uniformly gray and dreary. Instead, these storms had layered low clouds with scattered showers interspersed with blue patches. I spent a lot of time staring out of the window watching the changing light, before telling Queen Anne that I was going to play in the rain. You’ll never guess what she said.

After tossing my camera and a spare lens into Archie, I drove up and down the Joshua Tree Parkway a couple of times. It is my current monthly topic after all, and as I said last week, it’s nearby. There were times along the road that I had the sunroof open, so I could stand on the seat to take a shot, mixed with moments where the wipers couldn’t keep up with the deluge. Some shots got away because I couldn’t quickly find a safe spot to pull over. It seemed that there was always a semi filling my rearview mirror. This game of highway dodge-ball went on for a couple of hours before the light got so dim that the exposures were too long to hand hold the camera.

February Storm
February Storm – A winter storm moves north over Malpais Mesa.

Of the shots that I took, I liked this one best. It shows a squall line as it moved north over Malpais Mesa and lots of Joshua Trees in the foreground. I called this image February Storm. I feel that the gold, gray, and even hints of blue captured the essence of last week’s storms. It also shows that there are exciting images to shoot even when the weather’s not perfect. Just remember to bring a cloth to wipe your camera dry.

You can see a larger version of February Storm on its Web Page by clicking here. I hope you enjoy viewing this week’s post and next week; we’ll show another featured image from the Joshua Tree Parkway.

Until next time — jw