While most people, given the choice, stay far away from the hot deserts in the summer months, it is also one of the most exciting times to be there because of the dramatic storm systems that develop. The temperatures around the ocean (and other large bodies of water) are typically more constant due to the high specific heat capacity of water. Thus the climate over the ocean is warmer than the land during the winter, and colder during the summer. As the air over the land heats up during the summer days it rises (creating a low pressure system) and draws in the cooler moist air from the ocean. As this moist air warms up over the land, it too rises and cools, causing the moisture to condense into towering storm clouds – the summer monsoons. After some brief but intense afternoon/evening rains the moisture content drops, the land and air cools, and the clouds break up. Over the course of the night the air cools down even more, and by morning hardly a trace of the clouds remains. In some areas this pattern is so regular that you can practically set your watch to the formation of the thunderstorms.

“Sedona Storms” ~ Sedona, AZ
The Tech: Canon 5D2, 24-105mm, tripod
Exposures (3): iso 100, f/14, 4 sec / 1.3 sec / 0.4 sec
Notes: Simple exposure blend to control for dynamic range.

Like most wise people, I too usually avoid the desert in the summer months. But I was invited to give a talk at the first annual Sedona Photofest this July, so off I went… into the furnace of the Southwest. I’m not exaggerating when I say its hot out there – it was 115 degrees at 9pm in Needles when we passed through. Being hit in the face with a dry 115 degree blast of wind is like opening the door to a glass melting furnace. Fortunately they have $22 motels with air conditioning! I drove out there with friend and photographer Steve Sieren and spent several days meeting some great photographers including Jack Dykinga, James Kay, Laurent Martres, Tom Till, and so many more. After the symposium we took a few days to do some photography, of course.

Top on our list was to get to one of the viewpoints of the Grand Canyon. The last time I had been was when I was 8 months old… needless to say I don’t remember that very well, so it was about time to see it again. Most of the Grand Canyon viewpoints don’t actually let you see down into the Colorado River, but if were going to the Grand canyon, we wanted to see the actual canyon in it’s fullest Grand glory. So we decided to make the long drive out to Toroweap – an incredible view at the end of a 60 mile long dirt road on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. Here you can stand on a rock and literally look straight down into the Colorado River 3,000 feet below! It’s a heart-stopping view. I wish I had gotten a recording of the reaction by the one other visitor there when he walked up to the edge for the first time. This Huntington Beach surfer dude’s reaction was on par with that of the ‘double rainbow’ guy on Youtube (if you live under a rock and haven’t seen that clip, do yourself a favor and watch at least 20 seconds of it). I’m pretty sure he used the word ‘dogtacular’; even urbandictionary.com doesn’t know what that word means!

“The Grand Monsoon” ~ Grand Canyon, AZ
The Tech: Canon 5D2, 16-35mm mkII, tripod
Exposure: iso 200, f/14, 1/125th
Click for Larger View!

As the afternoon monsoons built up I watched peregrine falcons zip past as the sunny spotlights danced around the canyon walls, waiting for just the right moment. I wanted to capture the feeling of vertigo and the incredible size and scale of the canyon, though to truly understand the grandness of the place you’ll have to make it out there yourself one day. The following morning the clouds had cleared off entirely, allowing the sun to bathe the red rock walls in glorious warm light.

“The Grand Sunrise” ~ Grand Canyon, AZ
The Tech: Canon 5D2, 16-35mm mkII, tripod
Exposure: iso 100, f/18, 0.5 sec
Notes: I took a second exposure, blocking the sun with my finger, to remove the majority of the lens flare

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9 Comments to “Summer Monsoons”

  1. Some year I would love to photograph the monsoons. I spent 2 summers going to school at the UofA in Tucson in the early-90’s and remember some spectacular light, storms, & rainbows. Alas, none of us can be every where at the right time, but I am glad to see that you are taking advantage of those amazing skies.

  2. Richard Wong says:

    Great stuff, Floris. I’ve been to Sedona in the summer when it was 95 degrees. Less than ideal but still a very nice place.

  3. Winnie Ho says:

    Spectacular view of the GC. my brain would start melting at this temp.
    I must to admit to being under a rock..checked out the Utube guys….Hilarious!

  4. The BW picture is spectacular!

  5. Steve Sieren says:

    It was such an awesome trip!! Too many nice views to process though so there will be more right?

  6. Jose Viegas says:

    Fantastic trip, and great shots Floris, congratulations!

    BTW Do you combine exposures with PS layers or using another software?


  7. Thanks Jose! I use PS layers for all my editing.

    Steve – yea it was a great trip, definitely some more views on the way, though I wish we could have had even more time out there!

  8. pj finn says:

    I made the mistake of driving across the Mojave last week — thought it was going to kill me, and I was in the car. The B/W of the canyon is superb.

  9. akasha73 says:

    The Grand Canyon photos are awesome. I am totally amazed, knowing that such place like that does exist. I hope I could see it’s natural beauty… one day, soon…