Monsoon Light

by Alex Mody | January 26, 2011

© Alex ModyThis past summer, I traveled and photographed for two weeks in Northern Arizona, chasing after the dramatic skies that so enthusiastically present themselves in tandem with the monsoon thunderstorms and intense 100+ degree heat. Simply put, the monsoon is a daily series of extremely powerful and isolated low-pressure systems that begin to build around midday, caused by the extreme heat of the land disagreeing with the cool, moist air coming off the oceans. While some may think that it is absolutely preposterous to head out to the desert in ridiculous summer heat, the truth is that thanks to the monsoon, there are incredible photographic opportunities and dramatic cloud formations that are not readily available in any other season. To many photographers’ delight, these monsoon storms tend to dissolve immediately before sunset, often creating beautifully colorful and interesting skies.

Monsoon light © Alex Mody

On one particularly eventful afternoon and evening in Arizona’s Vermillion Cliffs National Monument this past August, the monsoon put on perhaps its finest show that I have yet to witness. As I waited for hours in the locale referred to as “White Pocket,” under the continuous rumble of thunder, deep, dark skies, and multiple torrential downpours, I seriously doubted things would clear up by sunset. This series of storms was just too strong, I thought. I relaxed in my tent and read a book.

Vermillion Cliffs National Monument © Alex Mody

An hour or so before sunset, after being teased by the skies brightening and darkening three or four times and not thinking much of it, the storm broke in what seemed to have been a split second. As the storm receded, it left behind an intricate patchwork of mammatus to accompany its tall, dark clouds. Seizing the opportunity, I composed a few black-and-white images.

Cliffs sunset © Alex Mody

As the sun became lower and lower in the sky, it lit up the entire cumulonimbus formation all the way until its very last rays of the day. Having scouted many locations in the area with this in mind, I climbed up onto my favorite section of brain-rock, waited until the light was just right, and fired away.

Rays of light over brain-rock © Alex Mody

Feeling greedy after such fantastic light, I stuck around and photographed in the idyllic “desert glow” twenty or so minutes after sundown. As the storm clouds further dissipated, I was able to pull one additional “keeper” out of the magnificent conditions nature presented to me. What a day!

Desert glow © Alex Mody

About the Author

Alex is an aspiring young nature photographer based in Olympia, Washington. In 2009, Alex was named Youth Photographer of the Year by Nature's Best Magazine and was subsequently featured in an article on NatureScapes highlighting his accomplishments and beautiful photography. Alex is currently pursuing his bachelor's degree at Evergreen State University. To see more of Alex's work, please visit his website at

Post a Comment

Logged in as Anonymous