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Monsoon | A time-lapse film

Follow me: instagram/MikeOlbinski, twitter/MikeOlbinskiand facebook/MikeOlbinskiPhotography

All summer long when I’m chasing storms, I’m also time-lapsing. It’s actually my main goal when I’m out there. A clip here and a clip there. Some days you get nothing great, some days you get SIX amazing scenes in a single afternoon. A powerful rain shaft. An intense hail core dump. Shelf clouds. Dust storms. Lightning. The Milky Way. That’s what I’m capturing out here in Arizona between June 15th and September 30th every year, which is our official monsoon window. And this is the result of all that time spent.

My favorite part of capturing all this is when I sit down to create this final film. While some scenes are worthy of standing on their own, a lot of them need to be part of something bigger. And when I start laying it out, they suddenly morph into this collection of storm imagery that tells the story of my summer.

This year I wanted to raise the bar. Not compared to everyone else, but my own personal bar. I licensed music this time. I wanted two amazing songs and I think I found them. Powerful, fast-paced, intense. Nothing gives life to your clips like a beautiful soundtrack.

People who follow my work may notice this year’s edition has a new name. I decided I wanted something very simple and to the point. From now on, this will be the “Monsoon” series.

I’m incredibly proud of this film. I’ve probably felt the same way every year in the past, but there is something about this summer that blew away the others. And I think it’s because I’m better at what I do. I’m finding the structure in storms like I never have before.  Our haboobs (dust storms) were limited this year, but those days were amazing, as you’ll see.  And I caught even more lightning this summer than the last two years combined. I think the scenes are more powerful and cinematic than ever. And for this final product, I’ve quickened the pace and I believe I’m finally showing the monsoon in all its beauty and glory.

There are over 45,000 frames in this film. I drove over 14,000 miles across Arizona. This takes work, time and patience. The month of July felt like a huge failure. It was a rough start. It seemed as if the year was going to be brutal and I’d be lucky to capture anything good. And then it all changed and I’m here now releasing what I feel is my best overall work to-date.

I’d like to thank a few people. Dustin Farrell, Sean Parker, Jesse Attanasio, Joel Schat and Bryan Snider. All of you helped me in some way. Answered my technical questions, helped me switch to better software, enabled me to take another leap in quality and inspired me. I appreciate your friendships and willingness to share.

Mostly though, I have to thank my family. My two older kids, Lyla and Eli (6 and 2 1/2) were along for the ride for many of these storms. The final shot in the whole film was one where my wife was out of town and I took all THREE of the kiddies with me, including my youngest who just turned one. I’ll always remember that moment. The Milky Way blazing in the sky, I was feeding the baby a bottle, and taking turns with Lyla who did the best she could until her arm got tired and I took back over. Out there on a dark road off Interstate 10. Meeting another photographer named Val and just enjoying a spectacular moment with my kids all being a part of it.

And to Andy Hoeland for being my forecaster buddy who helps me with figuring out when good things might happen!

My wife though. Jina. Wow.  She believes in me like no one else could or ever will. She knows what I have to do and empowers me to do it. In fact, while I want this film to be amazing for everyone watching, I truly want to impress her the most. It means that all the time away this summer was worth it. Because life is a little bit nuts during the monsoon in our house, where I’ve returned from a chase at 6:30am having being out for 16 hours straight, only to go back out later that night after only a two hour nap.

I say it a lot and I’ll say it again. I wouldn’t be here without her. And I love her for it.

Technical Details and Credits

This past spring I purchased an eMotimo and Dynamic Perception rail system…but I ended up not using them. At all. I wanted to. Believe me. But many of these clips aren’t very long in real time. Sometimes less than 15-20 minutes in a lot of cases. If I took the time to set-up a rail or panning head, I’d be missing a lot. So none of the clips this year use outside motion control.

I used two Canon 5D Mark III’s along with a Rokinon 14mm 2.8 and Canon L lenses, like the 17-40mm, 16-35mm, 50mm, 35mm and even the 135mm. I didn’t even use the Promote Control this year, I kept it simple and used various intervalometers, from wired kinds to a wireless versions from Pixel and Vello.  A couple of Manfrotto tripods held the cameras down.

Songs: Bernini’s Angels by Kerry Muzzey and Inertia by Dexter Britain

Thank you for watching. All clips are available in 4K resolution. Please email, comment or message me on Vimeo for questions, licensing inquiries and whatever else you might need!

Imminent

Imminent
(please click to view on black // canon 5d mark iii, rokinon 14mm f/2.8, iso 100, 1/125th, f/8 // buy print)

Nothing I love more than an ominous, impending haboob rolling towards me across a great landscape. This was taken back on July 3rd, 2014, on that big day that ended up being the kickoff special for the monsoon this summer. I snapped this along a dirt road south of Highway 387, which is about five miles or so north of Casa Grande, just east of Interstate 10. It didn’t look like much about 10 minutes before this, but as it neared, the intensity picked up and it became fairly robust looking.

We chased this from its birth south of Picacho Peak, to here along Highway 387, north to Riggs Road and finally as it hit downtown Phoenix. This is also a still frame from a time-lapse I shot, which will be part of my annual summer monsoon film coming out next week hopefully!

 

Fingers

Fingers
(please click to view on black // canon 5d mark iii, canon 35mm f/1.4 l, f/10, iso 200, 15 sec // buy print)

Judging from the light on the little hill on the horizon plus the 35mm lens I was using, this bolt hit fairly close to my position…maybe a mile or two away.

This was another shot from July 31st out near Wickenburg along Highway 74. That night was one of the most intense lightning chases I’ve ever been on. More to come, even a couple that actually hit that little hilltop!

Over Whittman

Over Whitmann
(please click to view on black // canon 5d mark iii, canon 16-35mm f/2.8 l, 16mm, iso 200, f/11, 10 sec // buy print)

The night of July 31st was one of the best nights I’ve ever had shooting lightning. Hours of non-stop action, sometimes sitting in one spot for over 30 minutes, capturing bolt after bolt.

But some of the best shots I got happened right as the evening got started and storms started firing. As I was flying west on Highway 74 towards Wickenburg, a little cell built up to my south. I stopped for a moment, watched it and suddenly lightning exploded out, super close to where I was. I knew right away that this was a wide-angle moment, and so I slapped on the 16-35. This is cropped a bit, but not much. The lightning was very close, only maybe 5 miles away and intense.

This was the second set of strikes I captured…I already posted this one and this one a few weeks ago and have a bunch more from this evening!

15 Seconds

15 Seconds
(please click to view on black // canon 5d mark iii, canon 16-35mm f/2.8 l, 16mm, f/11, iso 200, 15 sec // buy print)

July 31st was a pretty amazing night for lightning. This storm just exploded over Wickenburg and didn’t move much and didn’t send any outflows at me. I just sat around for almost an hour capturing bolt after bolt.

This was only a 15-second exposure, but there are six strikes plus maybe a seventh off-camera. An amazing display of power…it’s the kind of lightning-fests I live for!

Highway 74

Highway 74
(please click to view on black // canon 5d mark iii, canon 16-35mm f/2.8 l, 16mm, iso 200, f/11, 10 sec // buy print)

Last night I went up I-17 just a little ways to see if the outflow headed south would do anything. I quickly figured it wasn’t going to happen, but as the outflow starting shifting towards Wickenburg, I thought something might happen there. There were some cells along I-10 popping up and I just figured there might be a collision of outflows near Wickenburg. That place is a hot bed at times, so I dropped to Highway 74 and blasted west.

As I drive along, a strong cell popped up north of Wickenburg. And then suddenly a little one goes up right to my south. I thought I saw a flash, so I stop and look up and boom a huge bolt lands just a few miles away. I scramble out of the car and setup…and this is one of the shots I got. I’m looking south from 74 at the town of Whittmann, AZ. This was a 16mm lens, so you can get an idea of how close I was to this thing. I love it when I can be right up on a storm like this, especially where there is still a bit of daylight left.

And as I’m sitting there watching this one, a massive storm forms right over Wickenburg to the northwest. It ends up being an epic night of lightning capturing. I have more bolts than I know what to do with and the problem with that when you do this enough is they all tend to look the same after awhile, so despite getting over 100 shots of lightning, maybe 5 or 6 are worth posting.

We’ll see though. There are some good ones in there! More to come!

Answered

A Bolt at Sunset
(please click to view on black // canon 5d mark iii, canon 35mm f/1.4 l, iso 100, f/16, 2.0 sec // buy print)

Sometimes when you get such an amazing sunset going on and a storm is right there in front of you…a prayer escapes your lips. Please God…give me a lightning bolt right where I need it to be. Make it awesome.

And that’s what I did while standing here last night.

Thanks for the answered prayer.

Fields of Gold

FIelds of Gold
(please click to view on black // canon rebel xsi, canon 18-55mm f/3.5, 18mm, f/10, 1/160th, iso 200 // buy print)

I was going through some old images from 2010 this weekend and while my processing methods back then horrify me, I found some RAW files that were actually pretty good shots and just needed to be re-edited with the way I do things now.

The above photograph was taken with my first DSLR…a Canon Rebel XSi, plus the kit lens that came with it. I merged two photos to get the panorama. It was such a stunning sight that afternoon. I don’t remember ever seeing it like that before or since. It must have rained a lot that winter, because the gold wildflowers were just everywhere. I had Lyla with me (around 1 and 1/2 at the time) and she was in awe of the flowers. It was also awesome to get some beautiful clouds to complete the scene.

 

 

Obscured | Four Peaks Sunset

Obscured
(please click to view on black // canon 5d mark ii, canon 70-200mm f/2.8 is l, 75mm, iso 100, f/20, 1/5 // buy print)

It’s so very rare that I go back to images more than a year ago. Usually I think anything that far back must suck anyways, so what’s the point? But I always loved this day out in the Four Peaks wilderness area and I never did a whole lot with this image. So yesterday I was playing around with it and re-processed it using luminosity masking that’s been my main tool of late.

I captured this on December 14th, 2011. It was such an amazing evening. Stunning light, low clouds, beautiful colors. What I like about this image is that most photos of the Four Peaks…show the actual four peaks. Here…it’s implied that they are there, but you don’t see them.

Haven’t been out to the Four Peaks this year at all…been unfavorable circumstances for stormy, snowy weather like this. Hoping for a few more chances before the winter storms go away.

 

Trips

Trips
(please click to view large on black // canon 5d mark ii, canon 35mm f/1.4 l, iso 320, f/16, 1.0 sec, three image stack // buy print)

I feel like I’ve been converted this past summer. I used to be all purist-y and think most stacked lightning photos were unnecessary and took away from the beauty of a single strike. But they I saw a few ones that were well done. And then I found myself in situations where the single strike was incredibly boring but showing a bunch at one time was a heck of a lot more interesting.

Here is another one from this past summer. This was taken July 29th. The storm was moving left to right, so the bolts are actually in order of the movement of the storm over the span of 1:16. With the light I had going on, I was firing off 1 second exposures and got lucky enough to capture these three strikes over the course of 76 shutter clicks.

I liked the middle one by itself, but the other two on the edges were just a bit too far to the edge of the frame for my liking. So I tried a stack and loved it.

Definitely a fun way to enhance lightning photography.