I have been photographing the desert southwest in infrared for over 30 years now. Most of my work has been with the good old Kodak High Speed Infrared film in 35mm and medium format for those of you that remember what that stuff was. I spent several years pondering the change to infrared digital as the technology became better. After infrared film was no longer available I had no choice. It took me a while for me to fully embrace the digital infrared technology. Now I have come to love it. I do miss the “Halation” effect with film but now find the high quality of digital sensors and processing techniques it can easily be done in post process. I am currently shooting with a Sony A7RII Deep infrared modified body done by my friends at Lifepixel and the images here were done by my former Sony A7R Deep Infrared modification.
Growing up with black and white photography from the darkroom days has stuck on me. It is now my preferred means of infrared photography. I love the look to the deep infrared and really captures the magic, textures and what I want to see in my landscape work. My landscape work in the desert southwest has been my passion for many years now and I spend a few months a year capturing the beauty here. I focus on the four corner states of New Mexico, Colorado, Utah and Arizona where monsoon season is typically from June 15th until late September. The monsoon can start a little earlier and last later on in the year as well.
I am kind of a desert “Stormchaser” if you will that focuses on capturing these wonder monsoon storms here in the desert. I am not looking so much for the wild Tornado in the sand dunes, but the life of this weather in the desert environment. Preparation is key to successful image captures. One does not simply just drive out to the middle of nowhere and bring back great images. There is a lot of preparation before heading out on the storm shoots. I am going to share with you some on my Techniques that make my chances better for capturing these events Mother Nature shares with us and that will work for you..
To start off in capturing these images it to know the land. Make your self familiar with locations that you want to target, which direction they face or what the best angle to capture them is. Google Earth is a big help with this along with actually travelling to the locations you want to photograph and taking some notes on when, time, angle of what would work best for the subject. I always incorporate notes on what direction(s) the storms would be best coming into the place I want to photograph. It is very important to be in front of or along side of the weather and not so much behind it. Capturing the monsoon storms as they move toward you or skirting along side your position is much safer and also gives the best photographs. You must always think safety and be as careful as possible when photographing the monsoon storms. Although they generally not as powerful as a Tornadic Supercell, the lightning they produce can be life threatening. I have had lightning strike within a few hundred feet of me at least a dozen times in my life. three times within a hundred feet. That’s not a good position to be in so always pay attention to the storm movement in relation to you and the surrounding landscape. Over the last few years I have taken notes on close to a hundred locations that are just waiting to be captured in just the right light and conditions. A person has to be very patient. Patience always pays off though.
The second tip is to utilize the internet, Apps and any data you can find on websites like the National Weather Service, New Mexico Skies Weather for almost live feed for direction and progress from satellite data on the monsoon storms and general cloud / storm movement. This site only covers the four corner states but has become an important tool for me in capturing the stormy weather.
I utilize the National Weather Service website for the forecast on certain areas I wish to photograph. This is key. Pick a location on the NWS map, click and look at the local forecasts. I will look in all the four corner states before I pick a destination. This can also work with any destination you wish to photograph. Only the locations with the best forecasts are considered. The locations are often in a line that is generally One to Two hundred miles wide and up to Three hundred miles long. It all depends on the strength and moisture content of the monsoon air coming from the south. I will only go to an area to shoot if the chances of storms are 40% and above. Once you get over 70% the sky tends to fill completely with storms and makes it tough to shoot at times. As I have learned the weather patterns with the summer storms, I have been able to pin down locations to shoot from the origin, storm track and longevity of the monsoon storms. Once the storms start to fire up after 2-3 in the afternoon there is generally several hours to capture them on any given day.
Capturing these storms in Infrared is much more dynamic that with just a color DSLR and Monochrome conversion. The Infrared cuts through a lot of unwanted haze and muck in the sky and also picks up cloud detail much better. You will get better textures, tones and life to your images. Lightning also looks fantastic in Infrared. For my Lightning captures I use a lightning trigger. There are two very good triggers from my experiences. The first and my favorite is the Lightning Trigger IV from Rich Davis and Stepping Stone Products in Dolores, Colorado. Version III works nicely as well but I have had just a little better luck with the version IV. MK Controls manufactures the “Lightning Bug” which also works very well. It is almost half the price as the Lightning Trigger IV and I have had great luck with it. These triggers will work with just about any DSLR but check the websites of the manufacturers for full details.
Always be safe with the storm chasing if you choose to captures these incredible moments on Mother Nature. If you are like me it only took my first capture to hook me. This has become one of my passions in Infrared photography. Perhaps some of you will also find it a great way to use your Infrared camera.
You can follow me on my Facebook page to see my current and past work. Thanks.