Thursday, August 18, 2011

Friday Night Lights

Last Friday night I went to downtown Little Rock and met up with my friend John. The plan was to try to take pictures of the International Space Station as it scooted along, high above the sky over the downtown skyline. We decided that the best place to set up would be along Riverfront Park in North Little Rock, so we drove over and parked by the I-30 bridge.

The Space Station plans were ruined thanks to some clouds moving in, which blocked the view. But luckily, they did look pretty cool right after dusk. This is the view of the Little Rock skyline, framed under the I-30 bridge.

There were a few flashes of light in the clouds off in the distance, which meant that a storm was on its way. A quick check of the radar showed that a pretty massive storm was making its way towards the city. So the plans then quickly changed into trying to get some pictures of lightning. Since the storm was coming in from the west, we debated a few possible shooting locations.

We ended up staying downtown, and going to a bridge that runs above I-630. This is an ideal shooting location - since you get some decent views of the skyline and of the state capitol. So we set up the cameras and tripods, and waited for the storm to move closer.

It would end up being a pretty big storm. The dark clouds making their way over the horizon were lit up like fireworks by the lightning. As the storm got closer, we were greeted by heavy winds. I read later on that there were wind gusts of 60 miles per hour reported during this storm. They were definitely strong. As the winds rushed down the freeway, pieces of random trash and debris floated along the road. A piece of cardboard drifted across the freeway as if it had a mind of its own.

It wasn't the best conditions for taking pictures. I took a lot of pictures while up on that bridge, but most of them turned out blurry because of camera shake from the wind. But as the storm got closer, so did the lightning. I got one shot with some lightning in it, which somehow ended up being in focus. This is two bolts of lightning, with the I-630 and the dome of the Arkansas State Capitol:

And then the rain hit, which meant it was time to head back to the car. By the time I reached the safety of my Pontiac, the rain was coming down in buckets. In the dry safety of the car, we drove through the soaked streets of downtown in the midst of the heavy downpour. We drove back over and went under the I-30 bridge again. I hoped it would be a good and dry spot where I could maybe just perhaps get some pictures of lightning over the skyline. But the rain was coming down too hard, and the wind too strong, that it never really worked out.

We then drove back over the river and ended up in the parking deck by the River Market. The worst of the storm had passed, but there were still plenty of lightning up in the sky. We both set up the cameras and tried to get a few more pictures. None of my mine turned out, no surprise there. But I ended up getting at least another shot of downtown:

Sunday, August 14, 2011

A little lightning in Little Rock

Last Monday evening, I was trying to take my usual after-work nap. But I was rudely awaken by some loud claps of thunder. Because I live in an apartment complex, anything loud like thunder results in a loud chorus of car alarms to break out. The thunder and car alarms weren't all that conducive to napping, so I gave up and went to watch the storm pass by.

My poor apartment complex was battered by the storms, with heavy rains and lightning. It has been extremely dry here this summer, and the rain we got that day was more than triple the amount that we had gotten all summer. The storm was also strong enough that the power in my apartment went out, around 6:30.

A bit of panic set in, where I wondered if the loss of power was due to the storms, or because I forgot to pay the electric bill. But a quick look out the window showed that my neighbors were also without power, and they were all now standing on their balconies watching the rain fall down (there isn't much else to do when you lose electricity).

After the worst of the storm had passed by, I was still without power. So I went across the street to get dinner (at Firehouse Subs, yummy). I took my time there, with the distant hope that when I returned the power would be back on. Which, of course, it wasn't. I went up the stairs of my apartment building in darkness, and decided that I didn't really want to just sit in the dark for the rest of the night. I grabbed the camera and tripod, and slowly made my way down the pitch-black staircase and started driving towards downtown.

The storm was still producing massive amounts of lightning. I tried to think of a good place I could quickly reach that would just maybe have a good view of downtown and the distant storm. I decided to visit one of my favorite parking decks, which has a decent view looking towards the east (where the storm was).

I parked on the ground level and took the elevator to the top. I've been busted a few times by security guards while out taking pictures on parking decks, so I'm always a bit nervous. When I got the top floor, I saw someone leaning against the wall, smoking a cigarette. I don't know if it was security or not, but whoever it was didn't turn around when I quickly walked by. It was probably someone out trying to watch the lightning too...

I quickly set up the camera and started taking pictures. Trying to get a good photograph of lightning is a matter of luck. You have to hope that the storm you are trying to take pictures of will produce lightning, and that it will have lightning in the exact area that you are pointing the camera at. Then you have to hope that the camera is actually in the process of taking a picture during the very brief few seconds when the lightning strikes.

There were some large and bright lightning strikes that hit while I was out taking pictures. But of course, they always hit while the camera was not taking pictures. I did manage to get a few strikes, but they weren't very big ones. Here is the best lightning strike I got...
There is a streak of light in the shot, from a plane taking off from the airport. The storm was already well past downtown and the airport when this was taken, but the lightning still seemed pretty close. I don't know what I would do if I was in a plane taking off, and saw a lightning strike from the window. Probably crap my pants...

I was a bit torn, I wasn't sure where to point the camera. There were still a few good bolts of lightning coming down. But in the sky behind me, the storm had broken up. The sky was a deep blue, with the clouds carrying the last remnants of the storm. I moved the camera over for a few shots...

And then went back to try to get some more lightning pictures. None of those turned out, so I then took a few more pictures from the top of the parking deck.

I drove back home and found that the apartment was still without power. I was displeased to see that a truck from the electric company was parked across the street at the IHOP. Apparently they decided to give up on restoring our power, and went in for some smiley-face pancakes instead.

But I was reminded of the sometimes serendipitous nature of photography. I was pleased with the pictures I took out there (and hoped they were in focus). But if my power hadn't gone out, I wouldn't have even bothered to go out and take pictures of the lightning. Instead I would have just lazily watched a few hours of It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia re-runs, and then called it a night.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Two Rivers Bridge Again

I made another trip out to Two Rivers Bridge, the newest pedestrian bridge in Little Rock. I tried to time it so that I got there at dusk, when there would be some nice color in the sky to go behind the bridge. I got there, found a spot to set up the camera, and waited for dusk to settle in.

While the Two Rivers Bridge doesn't have the same colorful lighting scheme as the Big Dam Bridge, it does look neat at night.

The lights also somehow manage to shine on the steel section in the middle, so that it seems to glow from within.
(In this shot you can see the I-430 bridge and the Big Dam Bridge in the distance).

The bridge was full of people that night, even if it was another hot and sultry summer evening.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Two Rivers, One Bridge

Went out a few weeks back to visit the newest pedestrian bridge in town, the Two Rivers Bridge. The bridge's name is a kind of a misnomer, it doesn't actually go over two rivers. However, it does run into Two Rivers Park, which sits on a peninsula between the Arkansas River and the Little Maumelle River.

The bridge was designed by the same people who did the Big Dam Bridge, just downriver. The bridges are similar in style, and I hope that the unofficial nickname for the new bridge is maybe the "Little Dam Bridge," or perhaps the "Baby Dam Bridge, or if you're feeling British - the "Wee Dam Bridge."

The significant difference between the two bridges is the addition of steel section in the middle of the bridge that is reminiscent of an old rail bridge. It's a nice touch...

This visit was made on a warm summer day, when the high temps were up around 100 degrees. But it cooled off around dusk, and there was a nice breeze coming in from the river. It was actually pleasant to be out on the bridge, and there were a lot of people out there enjoying the views from the bridge.

And the views are nice, probably surpassing the Big Dam Bridge as the best place in Little Rock to watch the sunset.

And here is the sunset that night, with Pinnacle Mountain in the distance...

On the opposite side of the bridge, you have a view of the Arkansas River and the distant I-430 bridge and the Big Dam Bridge. Here's a shot of the lighted Big Dam Bridge, framed by the I-430 bridge...

And here's a wider shot of the two bridges again...

Thursday, August 4, 2011


Sorry for the lack of updates lately, it has really just been too hot to go out and take pictures. The high yesterday was 114 in Little Rock, which was the highest temperature ever recorded since they decided to keep track of that sort of thing. It's the kind of heat where the local tv news decides to cook eggs on the sidewalk, or bake cookies on the dashboard of a car.

So when it's this hot outside, you really are wise to not be away from air conditioning too much. I learned this valuable lesson Tuesday afternoon, during my drive home from work. It was about 106 degrees or so, and one of the tires on my car decided that it finally had enough of the heat. It called it quits, blowing out in a quite spectacular fashion.

My commute home from work is about 15 miles, and of course, the tire picked the very worst possible spot to blow out. I was driving north on the I-430 bridge when the tire decided to end it. Since it's not very wise to pull over on the side of a bridge, I tried to make it to the Maumelle exit on the freeway. But when I made it over the bridge, I saw blue smoke in the rear-view mirror, and thought it best to pull over there on the side of the interstate.

I got out of the car to inspect the damage, and the tire was shredded. So it was time to change the tire, in 106 degree temps. Oh yeah, did I mention that heat index that day was 118 degrees?

Now I haven't actually changed a tire since I was 16. So I spent a few minutes digging the spare tire out of the car. Now my car is only two years old, and I have barely paid any attention to the spare that sits in the trunk. The only time I really looked at the spare tire was when I was buying the car, when the saleslady showed me the tire with a brief wave of her hand. So now I was standing on the side of the road, sweating profusely, trying to figure out where the car manufacturers had hidden away all the necessary parts to change a tire.

After pulling out various jacks and handles, I laid them out on the hot pavement and set out to change the tire. It took me about 20 minutes or so (although it seemed like I was out there much longer). I would have had it changed much earlier, but I had problems getting the spare tire on. Turns out I was trying to put it on backwards. After getting the tire safely on, I went into the car and cranked up the air conditioning. As I looked in the rear-view mirror, my face was bright red and my eyes were bloodshot. Changing a tire in 106 degree weather (with a 118 heat index) was not how I wanted to spend my afternoon.

But I had been out a few days before to take pictures, when it wasn't quite as hot (in the upper 90s, which is quite chilly compared to my time spent on the side of the freeway). I had gone out to visit the small town of Scott, which sits about 20 miles to the east of Little Rock. Luckily I wasn't driving, so there wasn't any car trouble.

Scott is a really neat place. While the suburbs are slowly encroaching on the town, it still retains an air of an old farming community. There are numerous old farm buildings, barns and plantation homes all around Scott. I've been out there many times and still find new things to take pictures of.

We went through Scott, and then drove through the farmland south of town. There were acres upon acres of farmland, mostly corn and rice. The corn looked a bit rough in places, slowing burning into a rusty brown in the heat of the summer. But amongst the endless rows of farmland, we stopped at this old church along the road. It looked to have been abandoned, with tall grass growing up beside the church.

The front door of the church was left open, so I decided to take a quick look inside. The entrance was serving a congregation of wasps, who decided to attack my head and face like kamikaze pilots. So I quickly left the church, and may or may not have been screaming like a little girl as I ran.

We passed by another church and decided to stop in the heat to take a few pictures. This old church was also closed, and probably doesn't see too many other visitors.

There is a small cemetery sitting just between the church and farmland. While the grass looked like it had been mowed recently in a few places, there were parts of the cemetery that were covered in tall grass and weeds. Some of the grave markers were from the 1920s, but were all but hidden by tall grass.

A tornado passed by Scott a few months ago, and I regret to report that it damaged or destroyed some neat photo locations. The road, which ran through a line of old and distinguished pecan trees, was hit. The tornado took out several trees, and left many others damaged. The road was lined with fallen trees and broken limbs.
This is what it looked like last year. But this view is irreversibly changed, thanks to the missing trees and debris still laying next to the road.

Another casualty were the two old sharecropper cabins that stood next to the road by the pecan trees. This was taken during the visit last year, when the cabins had gotten a fresh coat of paint:
But they're gone now, a victim of the storm. Now all that is left is a hole with a small pile of debris. Which goes to show that we really need to make sure to get pictures of these old buildings, since there's no telling how long they will be around...