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In the Hills

In the Hills
(please click to view on black // canon 5d mark ii, canon 70-200mm f/2.8 l, 70mm, f/8.0, 8 sec, iso 125 // buy print)

Some of the best lightning I photographed this past summer all happened on July 1st, super early in the monsoon season. This was another image over the Rincon Mountains southeast of Tucson.

I rarely use the 70-200 for lightning images these days. As much as it seems like it would be useful, even a sturdy tripod has a hard time keeping it perfectly still during thunderstorm outflow winds. Hence limiting this exposure to only 8 seconds. Plus it was at  70mm anyways, not the full zoom.

Most of the time if I try to zoom in to 200mm and photograph lightning, it’s not going to be tack sharp like a 50mm. I plan on using a 135mm next year to see how that goes.

Besides, I like to be a lot closer to the lightning and if I’m a 200mm-focal length away, it’s too far 🙂

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This print is part of my Square Collection, which you can see right here

Energize

Energize
(please click to view on black // canon 5d mark iii, canon 35mm f/1.4 l, iso 100, f/10, 15 sec // buy print)

I definitely have a nerdy side and when I got done editing this image, I could only think of one thing:

“Beam me up, Scotty.”

Such a skinny rain shaft and then to get a lightning strike travel right down the middle was pretty awesome. This was one of my favorite storms from this past summer, mainly because of the timing of capturing it just as the sun went down. Not totally dark yet, but enough light to add some great color and illuminate the landscape.

The purple color here was pretty cool. I’m assuming it was just the lightning, but the sun was also setting and it’s possible it was hitting the top of the cloud and somehow aided in the color. Love how purple the lightning bolts are themselves.

An Arizona supercell

An Arizona supercell
(please click to view on black // canon 5d mark ii, canon 17-40mm f/4 l, 17mm, iso 400, f/8, 1/160th // buy print)

Wow. What a day yesterday. A rare one that will remember for a very, very long time. I drove through some of the most severe conditions I ever have before in this state. Rain blowing sideways, gusts of 50-60mph…almost zero visibility because of the heavy rain…it was crazy.

Cells began to develop around the Tucson area and west of it around 1-2pm, moving towards Phoenix, so I piled the kiddies in the car and we made our way down. Unfortunately on this day I wasn’t streaming live video because one of my cables was broken. What an epic fail!

Regardless…when we got down to the Red Rock community, I started seeing little shelf clouds on a few of the cells. To my west was an insane line of storms, but to my south was a massive storm exploding over the north side of Tucson. We went west a little but got blocked by water on the dirt road (which was a HUGE blessing in disguise), and we were forced to turn around.

I got back to this farm land and decided to start timelapsing the little shelf cloud I saw…and while I was doing that, the thing evolved and turned into one of the most epic storms I’ve EVER seen in Arizona. I would compare it to either the giant haboob of 2011 or earlier this year when I caught the hail core down near Douglas.

The timelapse, when completed, will give you an idea of all the movement…the dust, the rain, the shelf cloud that explodes from out of the storm, the lightning…it was crazy. This image above was actually made possible by my Nero Trigger, which up til now hasn’t been awesome…but WOW, I’m thankful for it today. If you are wondering why I had the ISO cranked up to 400 instead of trying for the least noise possible…I really wanted the lightning to stand out if captured by the trigger.

I don’t know if you can call this a supercell or not…but there was weak rotation on the storm and…well…just look at it. This is the closest thing to a supercell I’ve ever shot in Arizona!

In the hunt for more structure like this, I ended up going west on I-8 instead of north on I-10…which caused me to miss a fairly large haboob that rolled into Phoenix…but no worries, everyone in town had it covered!

I have 1-2 more shots from this storm, including a VERY close strike and the timelapse…stay tuned.

Close

Close
(please click to view on black // canon 5d mark ii, canon 70-200 f/2.8 is l, 200mm, f/6.3, iso 200, 10 sec // buy print)

Rarely do I get to play around when I’m shooting lightning. Usually storms last only so long before you have to run to the next one. That being the case, I tend to try and get my best composition setup and hope for a great strike.

On the 18th though…there was so much lightning and I sat at one spot for so long…I started getting bored and decided to play around. Yeah, bored. Okay, not bored…I mean, it was AMAZING. But in terms of photos…I had enough from a few angles and with the 50mm and the 35mm…so I decided to instead slap on the ol’ zoom and see what happened.

I went to an extreme 200mm focal length and tried to zero in on where I saw some strikes landing. My entire goal here was to just capture the impact area and totally ignore the top 2/3rds of the strike. It’s not always easy to do that because you kinda have to get lucky with a strike in such a small zone.

But it paid off. In fact I have a few of these. I loved this one because you see one of the filaments of the strike off on the left, with no connection to the main bolt. It gives you an idea just how close we are here and also how much higher the bolt actually goes out of frame.

 

A red sky in Marana

Red Sky in Marana
(please click to view on black // canon 5d mark ii, canon 17-40mm f/4 l, 17mm, iso 100, f/16, 0.6 sec // buy print)

Last Friday my buddy Matt Granz and I met up down near Tucson and stumbled upon one of the more incredible monsoon sunsets I’ve ever seen.

There was just so much going on as the sun went down. You can see lightning obviously, which was gold Jerry, gold! Then around 4-5 separate rain shafts. Then there is this circular looking base to the storm which looked pretty cool. And all while that was happening the sun lit it up in various shades of yellow to orange to red.

Even the ground got a slight orange-reddish tint to it from the reflection of the clouds.

Nothing is more fun than chasing a thunderstorm in Arizona during the summer and never knowing what is in store for you. Keeps me coming back.

 

Lightning near Camp Verde

Lightning near Camp Verde
(please click to view on black // canon 5d mark ii, canon 17-40 f/4 l, iso 100, 23mm, f/18, 6 secs // buy print)

I arrived back home from Africa Sunday morning and I waited until Tuesday to get back out chasing storms again. I ran up to Grand Falls to meet my buddy Dee in hopes of catching a flash flood, but it was already running like crazy, so we headed back south to catch up with a line of outflow heading southwest off the Mogollon Rim.

I kept telling Lyla that we needed these storms to hang around until right around 7:45 when the sun would be down so we could shoot some lightning, something she LOVES…and sure enough, as we got south of Camp Verde, a beautiful cell was still firing up and we pulled off at one of my favorite spots along Interstate 17. We captured this around 7:57pm.

These were slow moving storms, so the rain shaft just sat there forever and slowly moved to the south…and while it wasn’t going nuts with lightning, the ones that did fire were beautiful.

Felt good to get right back into the mix last night. Going to be a busy week.

A distant battle

Distant Battle
(please click to view on black // canon 5d mark ii, rokinon 14mm f/2.8, iso 100, f/8, 15 sec // buy print)

A few nights ago in Casa Grande I tweeted out something about a lightning bonanza happening down in that area. I started shooting from this very spot at around 8pm and left an hour later. And the lightning was in front of me the entire time.

It was easy pickin’s.

This is a stacked image of eight separate photographs. Because it was such a wide angle lens, I knew right away that I was going to do some stacking…because for me at least, a single strike would have to be utterly AMAZING to stand by itself. But a bunch of them together…that would be awesome.  Also…this was sunset, so the purple in the sky was ridiculous. And the bubbly mammatus on the upper right…well, we just don’t see that all the time. I couldn’t believe I could get these kind of shots with that kind of sky…was too good to be true.

A bunch more coming from this night…including another stack at this very spot with the same lens that has even MORE lightning strikes. Cray cray.

 

Bubbles

Bubbles
(please click to view on black // canon 5d mark ii, canon 17-40mm f/4 l, 17mm, iso 400, f/5.0, 1/40th sec // buy print)

Our third day of storm chasing ended up being the biggest challenge of them all. We ended up being nailed by a haboob/whale’s mouth near Tucumcari, and then spent the next 3 hours or so trying to get south of the storm to no avail. We ended up in Texas and were constantly on the east-southeast side and the inflow was so strong and so dusty, we couldn’t see the road at times, much less the sky.

But on a few occasions the dust cleared and we had this beautiful view of heavy mammatus clouds hanging over us. In Arizona, we get these from time to time, but they don’t look like this…a vast and expansive ceiling of bubbles stretching on for miles.

And the lightning that flashed above seemed to weave its way through the bubbles like a snake. This was taken somewhere near Friona and Hereford in Texas.

Faintly on the horizon in this photo you may get the idea of blowing dust. It was going from left to right and being pulled into the storm like it was being sucked up by a giant vacuum cleaner. I’d never seen anything like it. Just getting this shot took me holding the tripod down as well as being low to the road. Intense winds.

A few more images yet to come from our trip!

Storm of the Apocalypse

Storm of the Apocalypse
(please click to view on black // canon 5d mark ii, rokinon 14mm f/2.8, iso 640, 1/50th, f/8 // buy print)

No one is more amazed than I am at the way my timelapse of the Booker supercell took off. For me personally it was a huge moment to capture a storm like this. So I was crazy proud. But I had no idea it would be something that soooo many people would find utterly awesome and want to share it everywhere. Even over a week later it’s continuing to be shared on various blogs and websites, and still going strong. As of writing this it has almost equaled the number of Vimeo plays as the July 5th, 2011 Haboob video of mine that also went viral.

It’s been an insane ride once again. Thank you all for the love.

So of course I will be posting various views of the storm over the next few weeks since we observed it over the course of 30 minutes and WOW do storms like this change quickly. It’s simply unbelievable to watch how it evolved over the course of 24 minutes or so.

I love this one in particular. I chose to create a print out of this capture mainly because of how it looks like a tornado or something has appeared on the right side. I had a meteorologist email me and he believes this was actually a tornadic storm and while we couldn’t see a clear funnel, a tornado  touched the ground at some point.

Either way…it was mesmerizing and amazing to watch. The orange sky behind it was creating this spooky backlight. What I also loved…was not only did the clouds and rain and dirt all look hellish…the ground itself was a field of plowed (or cut down) corn stalks…it looked almost like a landscape from the end of the world.

More images to come from this storm…can’t wait to share them all!

Timelapse of a supercell near Booker, Texas

Still prints of this storm for purchase can be found on my gallery.

Follow me on Instagram as well for storm photos and whatnot -> MikeOlbinski

It took four years but I finally got it. A rotating supercell. And not just a rotating supercell, but one with insane structure and amazing movement. I’ve been visiting the Central Plains since 2010. Usually it’s just for a day, or three, or two…but it took until the fourth attempt to actually find what I’d been looking for. And boy did we find it.

No, there was no tornado. But that’s not really what I was after. I’m from Arizona. We don’t get structure like this. Clouds that rotate and look like alien spacecraft hanging over the Earth.

We chased this storm from the wrong side (north) and it took us going through hail and torrential rains to burst through on the south side. And when we did…this monster cloud was hanging over Texas and rotating like something out of Close Encounters.

The timelapse was shot on a Canon 5D Mark II with a Rokinon 14mm 2.8 lens. It’s broken up into four parts. The first section ends because it started pouring on us. We should have been further south when we started filming but you never know how long these things will last, so I started the timelapse as soon as I could.

One thing to note early on in the first part is the way the rain is coming down on the right and actually being sucked back into the rotation. Amazing.

A few miles south is where part two picks up. And I didn’t realize how fast it was moving south, so part three is just me panning the camera to the left. During that third part you can see dust along the cornfield being pulled into the storm as well…part of the strong inflow. The final part is when the storm had started dying out and we shot lightning as it passed over us.

Between the third and fourth portions we drove through Booker, Texas where tornado sirens were going off…it was creepy as all heck. And intense.

I hope you enjoy this. Once thing I’ve learned about timelapsing is that I always wish it would be longer or wouldn’t end. I wish I had been south and been able to record this storm come at me for 45 minutes.

But I love it the way it is. I wasn’t ever certain I’d see structure like this even though it’s been such a goal of mine. But we did it.

And by we, I mean myself and my buddy Andy Hoeland, who knows his crap and got us into position so we could chase this storm. Without him along I don’t know if I get this timelapse.

Below is a still-capture from the timelapse that is being sold as a print on either metal or Fuji Pearl paper. Click on the image to go to the gallery. 

The Booker Supercell