I had never considered leaving my comfortable life in San Francisco, California, but Las Vegas, Nevada would become my home in the summer of 2014 when I accepted a position as a mobile UX designer at Zappos. Spending my life in San Francisco had been a dream of mine since I first visited as a child. But something about Las Vegas intrigued me. I had visited Las Vegas several times as a typical tourist. But I also found Las Vegas to be a great base to launch numerous road trips through the American Southwest. I knew working at Zappos would be a once in a lifetime opportunity for me, but to be able to also live in a location where I was close to some of my favorite National Parks excited me. So I embraced the move to the desert of Las Vegas. Zion, Yosemite, Valley of Fire, Death Valley, and countless 4×4 off road areas in the desert for my Jeep Wrangler to enjoy made living in Las Vegas even more enticing. Little did I know, my favorite place to photograph would be from my balcony.
My fiancée and I were fortunate enough to find a beautiful corner unit loft on the 20th floor of a downtown high-rise building. Perhaps even more impressive was the 270-degree view from the balcony. Watching the sun disappear behind the mountains every evening became an addiction. Almost every night I would load up my camera on my tripod and start capturing the incredible spectacle that would unfold in front of me. Often, powerful storms would present us with stunning clouds, lightning, rain, and ultimately rainbows when the light was right.
Soon after moving in, we were treated to an amazing 4th of July, with lightning accompanying the fireworks exploding over the strip. The resulting image is one of my personal favorites.
One year later, storms are constantly brewing over the mountains, and flash flood warnings are an almost daily occurrence. On July 6th, 2015 the weather forecast for called for strong thunderstorms around sunset, so I knew I might get a special show. I watched as the storm grew from the North while another spawned around Red Rock Canyon in the West. An emergency flash flood warning assured me that this storm had become dangerous. A funnel of rain in the distance appeared, and as its size increased, it started to move East towards my location. Thunder was rumbling and the sky was frequently exploding with strong lightning strikes in the distance. I took a couple of exposures as the storm approached, but because i was looking at a wall of water, it didn’t really portray the size of the storm. Very quickly it became too dangerous to be outside as the lightning was quick approaching and my camera and I were getting soaked. I went inside, disappointed that I hadn’t been able to capture anything that showed how crazy this storm was.
After 10 minutes, the rain had continued its journey East and it became safe for me to go back outside. In the West, the sun started to dip below the clouds and illuminated the misty rain that was still falling. The west side of the valley became golden and all the water that was still on the ground was shimmering. I set up my tripod again and started shooting portrait orientation with my Canon 16-35mm lens set at 30mm. I had switched my creative outlook to capturing a panoramic image, in order to show as much of the drama as possible. I was shooting in manual mode and bracketed my photos to get dynamic range from bright sun and the dark clouds above. I started shooting from right to left and my first exposure showed how golden the scene was and how much it contrasted to what started appearing behind me as the storm continued to move on. I continued my pano left and the next few photos were uneventful. But suddenly, I saw a big lightning strike to the South. I knew it would most likely occur again around the same area, so I held down my shutter and kept firing until I saw another. About 10 seconds later, I got a great strike. I continued shooting and as soon as I got to the Strip, I noticed how many strikes were happening in the sky above where I was shooting. I applied the same method as before, and held down my shutter as the lightning kept striking. I kept missing, or the strikes weren’t bright enough to be properly captured. I kept trying and after about 2 minutes, I decided to move on. But just as I moved, I noticed a double rainbow had formed on the east. I don’t know how long it had been there as I was concentrating on only the scenes in my viewfinder. I realized the sun was about to be covered by another cloud, so I quickly shot a number of exposures to capture the rainbows. The colors had started to fade, so I checked my LCD, I noticed I had captured a lightning strike deep in the mountains, right in-between the rainbows. In all, it had taken just 4 minutes to capture all of the drama between the first exposure and last. I had captured sunset, mountains, illuminated golden rain, lightning, the Strip, and a double rainbow, all in 240 seconds time.
Just another typical sunset in Las Vegas.