'This is awesome' Tagging along with a storm chaser

'This is awesome' Tagging along with a storm chaser

TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - Amazing. Powerful. Fantastic. Terrifying. Damaging.

Those words describe Monsoon in southern Arizona, when the storms pop up and storm chasers come out to try to get the best pictures.

Greg McCown, a Tucson native, is one of those chasers.

MOBILE USERS: McCown shared some of his favorite photographs with us. Check them out HERE.

"It's like our own private fireworks show, but better," McCown said. "There's a lot of people that travel hundreds and thousands of miles to do this - here it's in my back door. I have to be out here. This is awesome."

McCown goes out just about every night there are storms.

The photo he took last year showing a simultaneous lightning strike and a rainbow went viral. He did interviews with the Weather Channel and Huffington Post, and even The London Times wanted to find out about the shot.

He's a real estate agent by day who's been taking pictures for about a decade. He let me tag along for a night.

We shot a storm from the top of A Mountain, went to the San Xavier Mission to shoot a sunset, and then went to the side of the road about a mile away from the mission to shoot lightning.

As we drove around, McCown explained something I'd never realized. He and photographers like him don't actually go into storms - they always try to stay miles on the outside.

They can't take great shots if they're inside the storm.

"The lens gets wet and that messes up my shot," McCown said. "Most of the time I'm shooting lightning that is 10 to 50 miles away. It's not like I'm right underneath it. I don't want to be right underneath it."

McCown spends much of his night looking at radar on his phone, trying to anticipate where the storms will go. He said navigation is a key.

"So many times the hardest thing to do is finding the spot to shoot from because there's so much stuff in the way," he said. "Power lines, trees, traffic. No one wants to see all this stuff in the shot."

Patience is another key for storm chasers. Because sometimes they do everything right, and still "there are times when I feel like I drive and drive and drive and the second I get there, the storm just dies."

Lightning is his favorite thing to shoot. McCown usually uses between three and five cameras at a time. Some are programmed to take pictures every few seconds, some he handles manually. He often changes the settings so that the exposures are slower than normal.

McCown said he uses "bracketing" when trying to capture those picturesque sunsets,

"I'm taking three shots," he said. "One shot is normal, one's a lot brighter and one's a lot darker. We see a whole range of light that a camera cannot process. In order to catch all that light. I need to blend pictures together. I don't have to do this with lightning or other things. But with sunsets that's the way you kind of have to do it."

There's one other thing that surprised me.

McCown said he doesn't actually look at the pictures until he's back home.

He's always worried that if he stops to look, he might miss the next great shot.

Copyright 2016 Tucson News Now. All rights reserved.