Borderlands Photographer: Summertime Blues

Summertime in the borderlands is a time of thinning crowds and thickening clouds. During the southwestern monsoon, as June turns to July, the wide open skies fill up with the most dramatic weather of any place on Earth.

The June heat drives away many seasonal residents. It’s the hottest month of all in southern Arizona since the afternoon cooling impact of thunderstorms has not yet arrived.

June can be challenging for you, the borderlands photographer, in another way too, due to the landscape photographer’s curse: clear, featureless blue sky.

Unless there’s a moon, a drab open sky is something to be avoided in landscape photography, like the mid-day sun casting an uninspiring light. You can cut the monotony by composing an image emphasizing another subject, with just a sliver of sky at the top, or crop it out later.

But then, thankfully, July’s weather arrives, the finest treat in the borderlands. On some days in our monsoon season, all four corners of the sky are filled with ominous, awesome drama. Above you is a jaw-slacking 360-degree diorama of turbulent white, grey, and blue sky art.

This month I offer a few of my images emphasizing the grandeur of our “summertime blues.” Replicating this awesomeness in a newspaper can be a challenge; the proud borderlands photographer will devote resources to creating a large-format art print for such pictures!

“Saguaro Hillside”

Here, in Saguaro National Park East, the bony sharpness of the landscape is contrasted by a soft, plump skyscape.  Turning ninety degrees from the sun provides an effective angle of light. A more dramatic southwest scene would be hard to find!

Saguaro Hillside © Murray Bolesta

Saguaro Hillside © Murray Bolesta

Blue Monsoon #5  © Murray Bolesta

Blue Monsoon #5 © Murray Bolesta

“Blue Monsoon #5”

The northern Santa Rita mountains provide a solid foundation for this sky art. As a photographic subject in themselves, monsoon skies are hard to portray with convincing impact due to their immense scale. A solid object offering perspective is a preferred added visual element in a photo. This could take the form of something in the foreground such as the silhouette of a tree, or something bigger like a mountain horizon in the distance. In this case, the horizon is also a silhouette.

“Purple Mountain Majesties”

You don’t need Colorado’s Rockies in the distance to portray the majesty of America’s open lands. In this image, the San Cayetano and Santa Rita mountains are crowned by billowing clouds of summertime. The yellow prairie grassland of the Ramanote canyon area highlights the foreground.

Murray Bolesta is an art and heritage photographer, and has written this column since 2007.  Murray supports the preservation of our natural, rural, and cultural heritage, and offers his art prints to individuals and institutions worldwide from his website and other venues.