The monsoon has been a joy to photograph thus far this year, and my running joke continues to be that I will continue to mess up a lot this summer.

While I had previous years where I spent a week or so in the southwest pursuing monsoon storms, this remains a new pattern for me to figure out how to approach from a forecasting perspective.

A monsoon storm begins dumping rain near Cochiti Pueblo in New Mexico.

The big lesson I’ve learned is patience. This applies to both forecasting and photography. Monsoon storms can be incredibly quick to happen and they can throw out fast moving outflows that essentially become a fast moving storm. Despite all of that, you absolutely have to be patient when it comes to your target choices.

I’ve learned to think downstream when it comes to storms with their outflows and to also not be in a hurry to be on anything until later in the day. The shot above was taken at near 6 p.m. and would’ve been great for lightning…except this strong core didn’t have any. WHAT?

Even the strongest storms don’t always give you the bolts you need, but you maximize your success when the light grows dim.

Being more aggressive with storms is also a necessity with this in mind. They are going to come and go and the location may shift dramatically. Thus, if things are lining up I need to absolutely take the opportunity to get the sticks and camera out and make it happen.

The monsoon is an incredible opportunity to mix nature’s contrasts. Arid landscapes with towering storms, the coolness of a storm outflow with the heat of a summer afternoon, mountain snow from winter with summer rains.

This is an amazing, pleasurable pattern to pursue for a photographer, but it takes a skill set that doesn’t necessarily transfer over from pursuing plains storms — both in terms of shooting and in terms of the mental approach.

The bonus of the monsoon though is even when days don’t work out into sunset — there’s still landscapes/terrain to shoot that will not disappoint.

Overall, I’ve found that I have to be more aggressive and more patient — which is a contradiction in every way but also a necessary skill to master to know when to be either in order to get the very best shots of the monsoon pattern in the southwest.

With over a month to go, I’m hopeful that as I continue to learn this pattern my results will only improve. Regardless, living a life in pursuit of nature’s beauty is a great way to spend a summer.

Time to hit the road for the weekend!

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