Thursday, May 10, 2012

[Views of Cincinnati] Bill Paxton Style

It was the first Friday night that I had off in a long time. Naturally, I wanted to go out and shoot photographs. Glancing at my cell phone, the forecast looked nasty. As I left work that evening, the clouds started rolling in. I ditched the I-71 South traffic and took local roads to Columbia Parkway. Up ahead I could see the clouds rolling in, but the sunlight was still shining through those same clouds on the Skyline below. I drove up to the parking lot of the Celestial Restaurant in Mt. Adams, a more "touristy" view. I had been wanting to save that spot. On one hand, it provides an easy and more traditional view of the Skyline - but I had been wanting to catch it when the light was just right or something unique was going on. The inclement weather provided just that as I got there in time to see the last of the blue sky before the incoming thunderstorm took over.

#30 - "Onset of a Thunderstorm"


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I figured the thunderstorm would be a good opportunity to do something different. Instead of letting it ruin my plans, I was going to embrace it. I left Mt. Adams as raindrops began to accumulate on my windshield. I crossed the bridge to get to my apartment, rushing upstairs to beat the rain. I started constructing a "rig" of sorts to waterproof my camera for the coming storm. As soon as I had everything packed I looked outside to see...

...the sun. 
Even though I had just watched ominous looking clouds roll in over the city, the sun was back and it was beautiful outside. I won't pretend that I care to learn about weather (the previews for those Weather Channel Shows are always way over-dramatic as are Cincinnati weather forecasters and Cincinnati drivers), so I figured I couldn't lose - if it was nice out again then that was cool. I kept the waterproof rig with me just in case and met Ryan Texas Ranger at Joe's Diner to grab some dinner.

After we left the diner, we were loitering about like we usually do - deep in conversation about something useless I'm sure. Whenever we're hanging out in front of the place, I always notice the view you get of the Great American Tower when you look south of Sycamore Street. So at the corner of E. 12th St. and Sycamore, I made the next frame of the series.

#31 - "East 12th and Sycamore"


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The air got cooler and the wind picked up just as I packed up the camera. Checking the forecast on the cell phone, there was a 60% chance of thunderstorms in our location. We drove quickly over to Covington to get the next shot. I set up the camera with the waterproofing rig. The few raindrops I felt soon tapered off to nothing. The rain was gone and the weather radar clear. I was about to give up when "The Belle of Cincinnati," came passing by. I dropped the shutter, ramped up the F stop and let the exposure go for thirty seconds as the B&B Riverboats Flagship streaked by, an effect usually reserved for passing cars on the highway.

#32 - "The Belle of Cincinnati Passing at Night" 


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After the three Queen City icons of the Skyline, Suspension Bridge and Riverboat merged in one photograph, we saw lightning on the horizon. We relocated further East in Covington. I had the rig ready to go. The camera was completely covered by a plastic ziplock bag that allowed for the lens to poke through. I had a trash bag and jacket ready to cover the camera if things really got bad. The lightning picked up and the thunder got louder.  
Now, I have to explain something about photographing lightning. No matter how prepared you are, it's mostly a game of luck. I had never successfully done it before, mainly because I didn't like risking my camera in the rain. While I was nervous about the actual "waterproofing" of my set up, I had some optimism. I'd release the shutter for 30 seconds, wait 5 seconds, then release again. Each time I'd hope there be some lightning in the sky streaking above The Skyline. Of all the shots, one stood out to me. It's a stereotypical shot of the downtown skyline from Covington, but the nearby lightning North of the city illuminated the sky to make it look Purple. Just above the P&G Twin Towers, a small sliver of lightning can be seen.

#33 - Lightning Behind The Twin Towers 


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Eventually the lightning subsided and the rain never fell. The forecast called for another storm, but it seemed awhile away. Other folks didn't seem concerned as they also took in the view while plenty of boats were out on the river. Checking the radar, I convinced Ryan to wait it out with me. Another storm was coming, it didn't seem far off. 
Key word was: "seemed."
Turns out even if a storm is moving "as the crow flies," It can move pretty damn slow. We killed time talking, saw a catfish in the river and even streamed an episode of "Star Trek: The Next Generation" to my phone (Season 6: "Chain of Command Part 1" in case you were wondering). 

- The Enterprise cruising by on the cell phone screen while my camera is in "waterproof" mode. There are four lights.

I was determined to stick things out and have this storm hit us, photographing the scene in some crazy ass Bill Paxton Twister-esque manner, but it never rained more than a few drops. We gave up and left after nearly three hours of "patience."

I pulled into my apartment parking lot ten minutes away to find everything soaked.

Fuck the weather.


  1. Love following your exploits and especially, your take on the weather!

  2. I taped the Ma Rainey Band here in Columbus during Comfest '97 during a full downpour. I had an umbrella duct taped to my mic stand, and my (expensive) DAT deck was secured. You can barely tell it rained on the tape of the performance. It was one of my finest moments.