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End of the Rainbow

A powerful thunderstorm that dropped heavy rain and pea-sized hail moves off over Dead Indian Canyon along the Little Colorado River. This canyon eventually connects to the Grand Canyon. As the storm departs, water runs through the desert and a stunning rainbow seems to disappear into the canyon itself.
(please click to view on black // canon 5d mark ii, canon 16-35mm f/2.8 l, 16mm, f/8.0, iso 100, 1/80th // buy print)

So many aspects of a storm are amazing to photograph and usually you get stuck wanting to always be in front of it for that awesome structure and lightning and whatnot…but sometimes the departing storm, where you have given up chasing but decide to watch it move off across the landscape…can be just as beautiful.

This was about 14 miles east of the Grand Canyon along the Little Colorado a few days ago. Specifically labeled Dead Indian Canyon on Google Maps…it’s a stunning location. I rode out a pretty good storm along this road, with pea-sized hail and heavy rain…I could see runoff draining through the landscape down to the canyon all over the place. As it moved by though…the sun came out for about a minute and created this beautiful rainbow…and seemingly disappeared into the depths of the canyon.

One of my favorite moments from this summer.

Angry

Angry
(please click to view on black // canon 5d mark ii, canon 16-35mm f/2.8 l, 16mm, iso 100, f/8.0, 1/6th sec // buy print)

April 16th turned out pretty amazing across the Texas Panhandle…such a long, six-hour chase and so many views of different supercells. This was the one that produced a tornado earlier near Groom. At this point the radar velocity was intense right up ahead along this road. This was as close as I wanted to get because of the rain and the intensity of the rotation. You can see how low the clouds are in there, how angry this storm looks. The blue color in the clouds is hail.

More to come from this day!

The Alanreed Supercell

Alanreed Supercell
(please click to view on black // canon 5d mark iii, rokinon 14mm f/2.8, iso 100, f/8, 1/40th // buy print)

Storm chasing can be frustrating and fruitless. Or it can be magnificent and incredibly rewarding. On April 16th of this year, I was able to chase solid structure for almost six hours. So many time-lapses and photos. It was just one of those days that keeps you coming back for more.

This storm earlier spawned a brief tornado near Groom, Texas. It moved to the east/northeast across the rolling farmlands…I caught up to it once again here just north of Alanreed. The hail core and structure was gorgeous. After the clouds nearly passed over me, I got back south and blasted east to chase it again.

More to come!

A March supercell in Arizona

Last week I was out chasing storms and saw a bonanza of shelf clouds south of Phoenix. Later in the afternoon, I went south past Picacho Peak and watched two large cells move closer and closer together until suddenly they merged into a large thunderstorm, with a hail core and structure. It look completely like a supercell and on this time-lapse, you can see the back end of it rotating for a little bit. Early on in both clips you can also see the bluish hail core dump on the right side of the base!

I have a few other clips of the shelf clouds, but really wanted to show this guy. Awesome to see this kind of storm in Arizona…and especially in March! Great start to the year already.

Below is just a still image from this storm. So beautiful!

A March Supercell in Arizona

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!

A Colorado sunset

A Colorado Sunset
(please click to view on black // canon 5d mark iii, canon 16-35mm f/2.8, 16mm, iso 100, f/8, 1/50th // buy print)

Sometimes you do all you can to get in front of epic supercells for those amazing structure and lightning photos…only to find out that a retreating cluster of storms at sunset can be equally as beautiful.

This was from last week on Interstate 70 on Colorado’s eastern border. We were chasing these storms in hopes of getting to the other side for some lightning imagery, when we realized we just had to stop for a few minutes. My dash Sony Handycam, that does my live stream feed, was bringing out some contrast that we couldn’t see with the naked eye too well.

And when I walked out and took a shot with my 5D3…wow, it really popped. It was almost like the camera could pick out the separation between two storms right there in the middle of the road. More than I could see with my own eyes.

Glad we stopped.

Near Sheffield, Texas

Near Sheffield
(please click to view on black // canon 5d mark iii, rokinon 14mm f/2.8, f/8, iso 100, 1/30th // buy print)

This past Wednesday through Sunday I chased storms across the southern plains with two amazing guys…Andy Hoeland and Matt Granz. This was by far my longest trip out there, so the amount of images and timelapses I shot were kind of astounding. I ended up at home with over 450gb worth of images. I’m barely done organizing them, but had to edit a few photos to post this week.

I’ll be coming out with a timelapse film from my two plains trips this spring…and I cannot lie, I got a lot of good stuff. Including this shot. This was actually a frame from a timelapse captured southwest of Sheffield, Texas this past Saturday.

Normally fences and stuff don’t excite me in a photo, but this one was kinda picturesque I have to say and I think it added to the composition.

Lots, lots and lots more to come in the coming weeks and months.

An Arizona hail core

Severe storm near Douglas
(please click to view on black // canon 5d mark ii, canon 17-40mm f/4 l, 17mm, iso 100, f/8.0, 1/13th // buy print)

I remember this storm like it was yesterday. I was even live streaming it and couldn’t have been more excited for the people watching to see a storm like this in Arizona. You can even see a timelapse of it right here.

This area had storms all over…to the left, to the right…but something about this one looked different. I was watching an area of intense rain when suddenly you could see the blue a lot clearer and the clouds started making some crazy looking shapes, especially on the right side of the image above. It almost looked like a wall cloud and there was some insane upward motion. Insane for this state that is.

I got so lucky last year to be on two storms like this that looked so unusual for Arizona. Hoping for more of the same in 2014!

A timelapse of the hail core near Douglas, Arizona

This storm evolved so fast that I wish I had been timelapsing it from the first moment I saw it. The right side looked like a shelf cloud at first and then changed and warped into this rounded shell appearance and suddenly the blue hail color really took over.

As the cell died, it sent an outflow towards me and it started raining, so we packed up. You can see the outflow clouds hit me in the first clip of the timelapse.

I’ve rarely done two timelapses of the same cloud, but I was trying to shoot lightning at the same time. I ended up pointing the 50mm towards the inflow section of the storm and locked down the shutter release. This actually got me frames faster than once per second, so it looked incredibly smooth. Also, for the first time ever I used the “Twist-lens” method with the Canon 50mm 1.2 and wow, that works beautifully. No flicker, even at f/18. A wonderful thing.

Plus there is a ton of lightning in that second clip…very cool.

This kind of motion in a monsoon storm is rare to see…I’ve never gotten anything like it before. It was incredibly beautiful and awesome and a wee bit nerve-wracking. Although I knew it wasn’t tornadic or anything, I figured the outflow winds could be super strong. Plus a lightning strike hit just in that field about 1/4 mile away when I was packing up!

A hail core near Douglas, Arizona

A hail core near Douglas, Arizona
(please click to view on black // canon 5d mark iii, canon 50mm 1.2, iso 50, f/16, 0.5 sec // buy print)

I’m super bad at chasing storms ahead of time. What that means is…I usually wait until I see them start firing up and then I go. Sometimes when you are busy with work, life and that kind of stuff, you can’t drive 3 hours somewhere and risk that nothing will happen.

But yesterday I said screw it and we left early in the day for southern Arizona, hoping to catch some storms that would eventually fire up around 3pm. And sure enough, we got near Sierra Vista and they started crossing into Arizona.

We ended up east of Tombstone and caught up with a line of storms that were just exploding everywhere. But this one cell in particular just north of Douglas caught my eye. It started lookeing fierce, so I found a clear spot and watched it. The right side evolved in such crazy ways it’s hard to believe. But eventually it looked like this. I’ve rarely, if ever, seen such a strong blue hail core on a storm in Arizona. It was amazing. Yes, the photo has been edited with some contrast through Luminosity Masking, but that color was real and legit. I was mesmerized by it. The movement in the clouds was astonishing for a monsoon storm.

It made me realize…these storms probably happen in Arizona all the time…maybe once or twice on a daily basis when it’s a good day. You just have to leave ahead of time in order to get them when they fire off like this.

The shutter speed on this was 1/2 a second because I was hoping for lightning, so the clouds may be a TAD on the soft side because of how fast they were moving.

Hoping to post the timelapse of this guy tomorrow!