The maw of the storm
So I’m done with alligators. For now.
For months, arguably a few years, we’ve been in a drought. On the upside, we’ve been spared of the tornado laden hell-raisers that waft out of north Texas and Oklahoma, on the downside we’ve had record heat and the local farmer’s market has more arts & crafts for sale these days than vegetables. The effect on photography I’ve noticed is that we have had zero clouds. Zilch. When doing any kind of landscapes, I like to have at a few in the air to break the light up to an extent. But we just had a super-soaker come through as shown above. This one caught me a bit off-guard. I had been pumping gas when everything started to darken. Testimonial to how dark it suddenly became, it triggered the street lamps shown in the photo to flicker on. This was around 2 in the afternoon.
When these summer storms boil-up around here, there is about a 15-20 minute window when it is eerily quiet, and then they cut loose as if they were waiting to swallow up the entire horizon before go time.
My goal was to get the clouds, but I wanted to get something to frame with them and was in bad location for something scenic. I drove around for a little while but knew my window was closing fast so I ducked off at a park road near the river. By then, the definition of the clouds wasn’t as strong in the sky facing the horizon over the river. My only option was the opposite way toward the highway. Down on my belly on the road bank, I was able to get this one. A minute later, everything erupted and I was dashing to the car trying to protect an enormous camera from the rain under my shirt.
As for processing, I was shooting these in bracketed exposures to make sure I caught everything in the clouds. I took the darkest exposure and the lightest and manually blended them in Photoshop with layer masks. I then created 6 luminosity masks: midtones, lights, darks, dark darks, shadows and super darks. I applied a heavy contrast curve to the midtones mask and then tweaked all the “dark” masks to get the toning in the clouds and bring some light into the foreground.
I’ve had a few people ask me about “luminosity masking.” I learned the technique from David Nightingale’s Chromasia site, but have learned that he was in collaboration with Tony Kuyper who has an excellent & free (!) tutorial on the technique. If interested, check it out here.