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Monsoon IV // A 4K storm time-lapse film

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Blu-Ray discs available here: mikeolbinski.com/shop/
Music by Peter Nanasi, find his work here: https://peternanasi.bandcamp.com/
Follow me: twitter.com/mikeolbinski / facebook.com/mikeolbinskiphotography / instagram.com/mikeolbinski
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Early on this summer when I found myself down by Santa Rosa, AZ watching a gorgeous hail core fall on the stunning desert landscape, and then later that day staring at a haboob with a stacked shelf cloud above it near the border of Mexico, I had a feeling it would be a unique monsoon. It’s funny how every year is different. That’s the beauty of chasing the summer storm season out here in the desert southwest. You never know what’s going to happen or what you might see.

This year I ventured far and wide. Phoenix never saw a good dust storm all summer, but I still was able to capture a few good ones in southwest portions of the state. The cover photo for this film was halfway to Yuma standing in the middle of Interstate 8 watching an ominous wall of dust roll down the highway towards me with lightning flashing behind it. It was an incredible moment.

One bonus this summer was a few successful chases up at the Grand Canyon. Finally. A couple of gorgeous sunsets, rain dumping into the Canyon, lightning at night, Milky Way…it all worked out and I’m stoked for the footage I captured there that made it into this film. I also ventured over into New Mexico twice to chase some wonderful, plains-like structure to end the monsoon this year.

All told I covered about 13,000 miles and chased as far west as Desert Center, CA, as far east as Wilna, NM and as far north as Tonelea, AZ. And two great storms down in Organ Pipe National Monument, which is only about 10 miles from Mexico.

I loved what I saw this year. It felt so unique. I found myself submerged in cacti and desert flora a few times with stunning light and structure. Explored places in New Mexico I hadn’t seen before. Smiled at the gasps of amazement from the crowds at the Canyon when a lightning bolt would strike. Finally discovered that the Santa Rosa area is a hotbed for supercell activity. And while it didn’t make it on time-lapse, I captured a brief tornado over downtown Phoenix!

So…the film. So much effort and energy went into it. I shot over 110,000 frames of time-lapse and likely only half of it ended up in the final cut. The editing has taken me weeks and even right up until Monday evening I was still fixing and tweaking. The music is all custom, thanks to the amazing work of Peter Nanasi. PLEASE check out his website and buy his albums! I love how we work together to develop a track that seems to fit exactly with the clips I capture. I am so incredibly blessed that his work crossed my path.

A quick thank-you to the workshop guests I had this summer. You guys were amazing troopers, staying out to all hours and being around for some awesome storms. In fact, I am not sure that I would have even been on the shelf cloud in the final scene of this film if it hadn’t been for my workshop. Thank you, thank you!

As always though, what made it fun was sharing a lot of it with my kiddos. They made the trip up to the Grand Canyon with me once and it was such a blast of an experience. Asher joined me in New Mexico one day, just he and I, and I got to see his face light up when he captured his first ever lightning strike on video on his little iPad.

To my wife Jina…we’ve come a long, long way since we started this storm chasing journey years ago. It’s not been easy all the time, especially with me being on the road so much between April and October these days. But we’ve slowly figured things out and I’m unbelievably grateful to you for your support and belief in what we’re doing together.

To everyone else…thank you for your continued support of my work. I am constantly blown-away at the kindness that you show to me.

And now…I hope you enjoy this film.

Technical Details:

I used two Canon 5DSR’s along with a Canon 11-24mm, 35mm, 50mm, 135mm and Sigma Art 50mm. Manfrotto tripods. The final product was edited in Lightroom with LR Timelapse, After Effects and Premiere Pro.

 

Cori & Matt’s engagement in Simi Valley, California

A six-mile round-trip hike with Cori and Matt in California. What an adventure! It was a little bright out to start, but the light at the end of the day was gorgeous and we had such a killer time. My feet were killing me, but totally worth it!

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A sliding rock out on Race Track Playa

Impact
(please click to view on black // canon 5d mark iii, rokinon 14mm f/2.8, iso 50, 1/6th, f/16 // buy print)

The hard part about doing brief, 2-3 day trips to awesome places, is wishing you had more time. When we arrived at Race Track Playa, it was just over an hour until sunset. In reality, it would have been nice to be there many, many hours earlier to scout spots and looks for the perfect compositions.

Race Track Playa is huge. You start walking from the car, you go 15-20 minutes, and you realize you’ve barely crossed 1/4 of the lake. And the good stuff is waaaay in the distance. The size of the lake bed is deceiving.

I set up a timelapse to run for sunset, which makes it kind of hard to wander away and shoot other things. You really want to make sure that timelapse is going well. Still, I ended up making my way to this giant-ish rock sitting out on the damp part of the playa. I LOVED this spot. The rock itself was bigger than most I saw out there, and the trail behind it almost made it appear to be the crash site of a meteor. Granted, a very soft landing!

The sunset wasn’t spectacular, so I opted for black and white here. I don’t see many monochrome shots from Race Track, but I think this kind of alien landscape really shines when it’s devoid of color.

A salty sunset from Death Valley

A salty sunset
(click to view on black // canon 5d mark iii, canon 17-40mm f/4 l, 17mm, f/16, iso 100, 1.6 sec (blend) // buy print)

I’d been dying to go to Death Valley for awhile now. And when I finally got the chance, it was more amazing than I thought it would be. I only wish I had more time to explore. On our trip I kept comparing this place to an amusement park. You’d drive along and there were salt flats. Further the salt flats were taller and jagged, almost like frozen waves. And then there were dunes. And then rocks that slide. And a giant volcanic crater. And Star Wars had parts filmed there.

I mean…it was endless. And we only had two days. So we did what we could.

And by we, I mean my buddy Rick Young and Chris Frailey. Super thankful to have these guys along, we had an awesome time!

The above photo was taken somewhat near Badwater Basin. We have a photographer named Rick to thank for leading us to this spot. We met him the night before at Race Track Playa and he was such an amazing guy…he gave us advice on the cold, where to shoot and then he pointed us in the right direction for the salt flats. We’d have frozen our buns off that first night if he hadn’t warned us ahead of time. And we STILL were friggin’ cold!

We got lucky to have a beautiful sunset for the salt flats, despite my buddy Chris Frailey’s worry that it would be a bust like the night before. These flats were pretty crazy…you honestly feel like you are walking on a frozen landscape, but it’s just crispy salty earth. The patterns they form are incredible and amazing.

I shot a bunch of timelapse sequences during this trip, so I’ll have a short movie out hopefully soon.

Titanic

(please click to view on black // canon 5d mark ii, canon 17-40 f/4 l, 17mm, iso 100, f/16, 1/15th // buy print)

Movie Title Wednesdays are now few and far between these days, but I stumbled upon this image last night and realized I never posted it and felt like it was about time. I dubbed it Titanic because my wife has looked at this scene twice now and that’s the first movie that pops into her head.

And yeah, I love the movie. Can’t help it! Man card turned in!

But the way this old pier and that lamp post are covered in calcium deposits…it truly does look like the pictures we’ve seen of the Titanic. This image was taken at Bombay Beach along the Salton Sea in California back in January of this year. I made the trip with some friends from Phoenix and we met up with my buddies Heath O’Fee from Canada and Chris DeAngelis/Doug Wise from California. We had a spectacular time and on our first and only visit to Bombay Beach…couldn’t have asked for a better sunset.

This image actually fits even more for Movie Title Wednesday because it’s kind of a prequel. A week after our visit, I posted a photo from this same spot taken at 6:00pm. You can click right here to view that one.

The photograph above was taken at 5:52pm, just eight minutes earlier. Kind of amazing how much the sky changed in that short span of time. This image was always my favorite of the two because of the way the last rays of sunlight hit the lamp post and a few areas of the pier.

Definitely loved going back to that day and finding a few more images to post. We all had such an awesome time, that will of course be one of my favorite photography trips ever…and mostly because of the guys I was with.

The Forgotten

The Forgotten - Bombay Beach - Salton Sea

(please click to view on black // canon 5d mark ii, canon 17-40 f/4 l, 17mm, iso 100, f/22, 117sec // buy print)

The Forgotten is a not-so-great film with a pretty great title, so I’m using it this week for Movie Title Wednesday! When I look at this image, the word “forgotten” is the first thing that comes to mind.

The movie itself stars Julianne Moore and is a sort of creepy, sci-fi, horror-ish kind of tale. I honestly don’t remember much other than Moore and seeing a dude get sucked through the roof of a cabin. I’m a sucker for sci-fi films in general and I do feel like I enjoyed this one. But judging by the 5.7 on IMDB, it wasn’t the best-ever reviewed movie. Check it out though if you are in the mood for something different on a Friday night.

This image comes once again from the Salton Sea. The movie title encompasses not only this particular photograph, but in reality, the entire Salton Sea area. It’s so strange that this place exists in the middle of California. At one point the plan was to turn it into a resort and amazing getaway location. Instead you now get to see a land that time forgot. People still live out there, amazingly…but it’s a weird kind of existence.

Bombay Beach was where this image was taken. I urge you to click on it to see it bigger and sharper. I once again have to thank my buddy Chris DeAngelis for letting me use his 10-stop filter (I now have my own, yay!) to get this long exposure. I processed this using tonality control and luminosity masking, which I discovered through an amazing photographer named Zack Schnepf. Now, usually when doing that, I’m going for a natural look, but this scene demanded more and so I added some apocalyptic tones to give it an extra punch.

Next week I head to Oregon for 3 1/2 days and expect to be able to do a bit of 10-stop photography along the coast. I’ve been there once before and it was amazing fun. Can’t wait to get back.

Sunset on the Salton Sea

(please click to view on black // canon 5d mark ii, canon 17-40 f/4 l, 17mm, iso 100, f/16, 1/4 sec // buy print)

The sunset the night before in Joshua Tree was without a single cloud anywhere. It was like that video Sh*t Photographers say. All we did was whine about no clouds.

Perhaps I whined the loudest, I don’t remember. I’m sure my five compadres would verify it for you.

But it was like the lack of clouds that night was completely justified because of what we saw the very next evening. We couldn’t have asked for anything better. Almost completely still waters on the Salton Sea…a beautiful sky and an amazing reflection of the setting sun.

It was one of those moments when you just kind of stand and look at it in awe. It was so quiet. So peaceful. So beautiful. Which was a strange juxtaposition because this is the Salton Sea. There are dead fish floating in the water. How can something so disturbing be so amazing?

It was though.

 

Reaching for the stars

(please click to view on black // canon 5d mark ii, canon 17-40 f/4 l, 20mm, f/4, iso 5000, 30 sec // buy print)

Since I know you skipped the italics above, PLEASE click on the image to see it fit your monitor with a sexy black border.

One of the more exciting opportunities in Joshua Tree National Park was the chance to shoot some nighttime star shots, including the Milky Way. I’ve never really done that before and have always wanted to give it a shot.

Props again go to my buddy Heath O’Fee for inviting me to meet him out there (along with some other peeps), and also for finding this tree. Sure, we all probably would have found the tree eventually, but like Christopher Columbus, Heath gets the credit.

I’ve posted another shot of this tree from an angle further away, so this was one up close, almost underneath it. In fact, I took this one first…wandered around a bit elsewhere and then saw the second composition that I posted earlier.

This shot wasn’t a solo effort. The entire group of us…Chris DeAngelis, Chris Frailey, Doug Wise, Heath and Rick Young were all shooting this same scene. We had Rick firing off his strobe while we all sat in various spots with different compositions. Was a heck of a fun time yelling at everyone to get their exposures ready so we could FRAKKING take the picture already!

As hella cold it was that night, it was also a ton of fun. Loved hanging with these guys who have all become amazing friends over the last year.

The Tree of Life

The Tree of Life - Joshua Tree National Park

(please click to view on black // canon 5d mark ii, canon 17-40 f/4 l, 20mm, f/4, iso 5000, 30 sec // buy print)

It’s funny. We were freezing cold at Joshua Tree National Park when the sun went down, but then the stars came out and none of that mattered.

My buddy Heath O’Fee found this tree. Earlier the lot of us had been right under it, shooting upwards at the stars while someone light-painted the rocks. We were all having so much fun taking pictures of things we normally do not. The night sky. It’s fairly new to me and I want to explore it more.

But then we all kind of dispersed to find our own compositions in and around the rocks. And I found this one. I thought the sky would light up nicely on the horizon because of the far off cities and the sun having gone down earlier. The tree growing between the rocks was pure awesome.

The real treat though…was one of my cohorts doing his own light-painting on the far side of that tree. I decided to take advantage and so I waited for him to take another shot and then I took mine.

No idea who it was, but thank you.

The Calm

The Calm on Salton Sea

(please click to view on black // canon 5d mark ii, canon 17-40 f4 l, b+w ND 10-stop, 19mm, f/22, iso 100, 124sec // buy print)

I’m dedicating this photo to my buddy Chris DeAngelis, who let me borrow his 10-stop B+W filter and made all of this possible. He loaned it to me a few times at Bombay Beach, while Rick Young loaned me his over on the west side of the Salton Sea. Thank you guys.

Yes, I’m getting my own. Soon.

Normally if you are by water and pull out a 10-stop, you are hoping to pull off a long enough exposure so that the water becomes a misty looking cloud-like substance hugging rocks, sand, piers, whatever.

But when the body of water you are shooting is already about as calm as glass…the filter enhances that stillness and creates a beautiful, almost mirror-like reflection.

This is an abandoned, calcium-laiden old pier extending out from Bombay Beach. The entire beach area makes for one of the spookiest, weirdest places I’ve ever been. If it hadn’t been for the people I was with, the other tourists and even some photographers shooting models with beauty dishes amongst some trashed buildings, I’d have been pretty frightened about being here solo.

I may have said this on Monday’s blog post, but the Salton Sea is a lesson in contradictions. The water was so still, the horizon so smooth, the clouds blended into the water and you felt like you were in one of the most beautiful places on earth. Until you looked down at the fish carcasses or heard the occasional mysterious bubbling from the deep. Or you’d spot these beautiful, white pelicans glancing across the water’s surface as they flew by, which made you think about the dead bird laying between all the rotting fish you saw a bit ago.

I had a few people, like Heath O’Fee or Rick, tell me what the place was like before arriving, but you really have no idea until you are standing there yourself.