Sunday, September 13, 2009

Chasing storms and galaxies

I looked at the weather map Saturday afternoon and decided there might be some thunderstorms in south-east Arizona that evening so I loaded my camera stuff and "sleeping in the car" stuff into the outback and headed east. It looked like the storms would be near Sierra Vista, but when I turned on the Sierra Vista turn-off just west of Benson, AZ, it didn't look promising. The storms looked better further east so I headed for Willcox. I had read on the web about a little visited BLM picnic area called "Indian Bread Rocks" south of Bowie, AZ on the east side of the Dos Cabezas Mountains and I figured I could sleep there.

When I got near Willcox, it was clear that there were storms north of the city so I followed N. Fort Grant Road as the sun set and it grew dark. When I got, probably, 15 miles north of Willcox, I found a dirt road I could turn off on, and it wasn't raining there, and I had a good view of some of the storms so I figured I'd photograph some lightning. Well, lightning photography is tricky, you have to make sure you get your focus set right, etc., autofocus won't work on a black sky! Here is one of the photos of lightning, I need more practice doing this, too bad the monsoon has fizzled this year.

After the storms started winding down, I headed for Willcox for a bite to eat and then out to "Indian Bread Rocks". To get there, you go south from downtown Bowie, under I-10, drive through a few miles of pistachio groves, turn right on a nice graded dirt road, and then drive a couple more miles to the picnic area.

As expected, there was nobody there and everything was quiet and very dark. I appreciated the outhouse and garbage container and, while walking around, noticed that the sky was very clear and that I could see the Milky Way quite clearly. The brightest part of the galaxy in the sky was to the south so I set up the tripod again and took a few time exposures. I had read that if your exposure is longer than 30 seconds, the stars will streak too much to make a nice image. Of course, you might WANT star trails. I tried a few different exposures and tried to get the camera focused properly. Thank goodness for "live view" on the 5D MK II and the zoom, you can set the focus quite accurately. The best image was a 20 second exposure taken at f/1.6 with my 50mm f/1.4 Sigma lens. In hindsight, I should have done some wide angle shots too with the 17-40mm lens. Here is the image:

I had a somewhat restless night in the car wondering if anyone would show up and chase me away, wondering if any large animals lived in the area, and what kinds of insects live there. But my fears were unfounded and the night was cool, quiet and peaceful. The next morning I tried to take some sunrise photos but there were clouds veiling the sun in the east.

No comments: