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For Mary

This was a magical evening and I discovered later that perhaps there was a special reason for it. When I returned home after these storms died out...I discovered that a kind lady named Mary Kathleen Johnson quietly passed away around 5pm that day. This photo was taken two hours later. She was a lover of weather, of storms and of living beneath the gorgeous views of the Catalina Mountains. She was a huge fan of storm chasers and would watch myself and countless others as we live stream our chases. She was such a blessing to everyone. She would help us when we weren't sure of the road network near her house. But mainly she had sent me countless messages of support, not about only my work, but about me personally and my family. I'd like to think that as she left this place, her gift to me at least was this storm and this lightning strike. And so I dedicate this image to you Mary...man you rest in peace.

Last night was a magical evening and I discovered later that perhaps there was a special reason for it. When I returned home after these storms died out…I discovered that a kind lady named Mary Kathleen Johnson had quietly passed away around 5pm that same day . This photo was taken two hours later. She was a lover of weather, of storms and of living beneath the gorgeous views of the Catalina Mountains. She was a huge fan of storm chasers and would watch myself and countless others as we live-streamed our chases. She was such a blessing to everyone. She would even help us when we weren’t sure of the road network near her house.

But mainly she had sent me countless messages of support, not about only my work, but about me personally as a father and my family. Here’s one of her final messages to me, just a month ago:

“Hey Mike, Just wanted to say, 1st video that I had seen that you posted over on Vimeo back in 2011 or 12, took me by surprise & took my breath away. Had to watch it a couple of times,saved it then sent it off to Jeff Beamish.
My best captures could never compare to (if you ever made one) to your worst.

Can’t express enough to you the appreciation, not just me, but so many others of the stunning gifts you provide re nature via your captures.
Respect yourself, Jina and what you have been gifted with.

Thanks again kid, you’ve got it stay on course, pleased as heck for you.”

I can’t believe she’s gone just like that. I’d like to think that as she left this place, her gift to me at least was a beautiful storm and this lightning strike.

And so I dedicate this image to you Mary…may you rest in peace…with the occasional thunderstorm.

An Arizona Meso

Sometimes in Arizona you get lucky when you're out chasing and happen to stumble on a storm that not only looks pretty great from far away, but it also suddenly begins to form structure on it  right before your eyes and the next thing you know, you have a bonafide mesocyclone. These are kind of a rare occurrence out here, but lately they seem to be happening more often. EIther they've always happened and no one sees them in the wide open lands of Arizona, thus an influx of storm chasers has suddenly revealed these hidden gems...or El Nino and climate change are the reasons. Or a combination of both. Either way...August 2nd south of Holbrook was amazing!
(please click to view on black // canon 5d mark iii, canon 16-35mm f/2.8 l, 16mm, iso 100, f/8, 1/60th)

Sometimes in Arizona you get lucky when you’re out chasing and happen to stumble on a storm that not only looks pretty great from far away, but it also suddenly begins to form structure on it right before your eyes and the next thing you know, you have a bonafide mesocyclone. These are kind of a rare occurrence out here, but lately they seem to be happening more often. EIther they’ve always happened and no one sees them in the wide open lands of Arizona, thus an influx of storm chasers has suddenly revealed these hidden gems…or El Nino and climate change are the reasons. Or a combination of both. Either way…August 2nd south of Holbrook was amazing!

Tonopah

For me, there is nothing better than an isolated thunderstorm at night. But this storm...it had the moonlight shining down to really show the structure and to top it off, the updraft was actually rotating, which is somewhat rare for Arizona. You can see circular motion in the tower. which adds some drama to this shot. Really added to the scene for me, maybe it a bit more special than normal.
(please click to view on black // canon 5d mark iii, canon 50mm f1.2 l, iso 200, f/8.0, 20 sec // buy print)

For me, there is nothing better than an isolated thunderstorm at night. But this storm…it had the moonlight shining down to really show the structure and to top it off, the updraft was actually rotating, which is somewhat rare for Arizona. You can see circular motion in the tower. which adds some drama to this shot. Really added to the scene for me, maybe it a bit more special than normal.

Lots more to come from this guy…the time-lapse should be amazing, can’t wait to start putting together Monsoon II later this summer. If you haven’t seen the first film, here’s the link!

The End

The End
(please click to view on black // canon 5d mark iii, canon 35mm f/1.4, f/4, iso 400, 1/500th, handheld 9-image stitched pano // buy print)

The summer monsoon in Arizona came to an end this past weekend when a major transition event in the form of a intense trough moved through the state and caused flooding and tons of damage. We storm-chasers live for these events, which don’t seem to happen but every 4-5 years. There was a tornado risk as well, which is obviously unusual for our state.

As timing would have it…I was actually shooting a wedding on this day. I thought about chasing in the morning, but the storms were too far away to risk not getting back in town in time. So I watched what all my buddies were doing from my office as long as I could, then packed up and went to shoot a wedding that I was pretty excited about. As luck would have it…I was up by Pinnacle Peak where the bride was getting ready when the storm started to move into the West Valley. It was time to leave to go to the venue and as I headed south, the most incredible shelf cloud I’ve ever seen in Arizona was rolling over town.

I waited until I had the best possible view I could from the 101 freeway, pulled over and snapped this quick 9-image pano.

I didn’t care about composition or where I was, or the fact that Best Busy is right there in the photo. I only wanted an image of this scene to have forever.

Simply amazing.

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!

End of the Rainbow

End of the Raimbow
(please click to view on black // canon 5d mark iii, canon 16-35 f/2.8 l, 16mm, iso 100, f/8.0, 1/20th // buy print)

One of my favorite roads in Arizona is this one that leads almost right into the Superstition Mountains. I only visited it ONE time this summer and this is what I saw. A stunning, light-infused scene with two rainbows starting on the left side, and a faint connection to one of them on the right. The rain, the sunlight, the cliffs, the color in the sky…was all amazing.

This is a scene from my time-lapse film that will be released on Monday or Tuesday next week! I didn’t shoot it from the middle of the road of course, but just off to the side!

Positive

Positive CG
(please click to view on black // canon 5d mark iii, canon 17-40 f/4 l, 17mm (cropped), iso 400, f/5.6, 6.0 sec)

One of my favorite kinds of lightning bolts are the ones that exit out the top of a cloud and have a long ways to go before they hit the ground. I feel like I must have known this before, but either way, thanks to Jeff Beamish down in Tucson, I now know these kinds of strikes are “positive cloud-to-ground” bolts (more info here).

I’ve caught one or two during my storm chasing adventures, but I’ve really been craving one from a distance. It was goal this year. That way you not only get the whole strike, but the cloud structure and maybe some sky…in this case…a few stars as an added bonus. If you aren’t sure what I mean by all of this…you can see in the photo above at the top of the cloud, there is a real BRIGHT part where the bolt exits the cloud. If you can picture things in a 3D environment, the bolt is likely coming towards us a bit before heading downwards.

Below is another example of one I’ve caught in the past (2012). It’s not so powerful as the one above, but you can see it coming out of the top of the cloud, making its way to the left and then down to the ground. Gives you more of an idea of what the bolt in the above photo might have been doing.

Stoked to nab this before the season ends.

From top to bottom

Over the Top

Over the Top
(please click to view on black // canon 5d mark iii, canon 35mm f/1.4 l, iso 100, f/5.0, 1/5th, lightning trigger // buy print)

Another gorgeous lightning strike from my time in the plains this past April. Yes, Over the Top is because of the movie about arm-wrestling…if this was only tomorrow, I could make it a “Movie Title Wednesday” which harkens back to something I used to do on the blog that a few of you may remember! I saw this and thought “Across the Sky”…the song that I only know because of that film haha.

This was captured north of Scott City, Kansas, with a Lightning Trigger IV, which I recently purchase. Loving it. Heading out to the plains tomorrow for FIVE days of chasing…cannot wait. Going to be absolutely amazing!

Lightstorm

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

A few weeks ago I went on a last minute trip to the plains to chase for two days. The first day was marginal for eastern  Colorado and Kansas…it was the next day that I was stoked about. But as things usually work out…day one turned out to be the best. Not only did I get some good structure with some crazy shelf clouds and lightning, but I also captured this guy…probably one of my all-time favorite lightning strikes.

I’m kinda proud of this one. Sometimes you see lightning and you just stop, pull out the camera and hope you get something without thinking much about where you are. But for this one…I saw the sun setting and knew a line of storms were coming towards me. As I passed this field, I saw those trees out there and pulled off the shoulder. I backed up and backed up until they looked just like this. I set up the best composition I could think of and then prayed for lightning.

It was actually amazing. Even without the lightning, this scene was breathtaking. The sun was setting, and illuminating the falling rain…and the trees isolated by themselves made it feel like it some kind of picture or painting right there in real life.

After that…it was just a matter of hoping. I believe I was using my new Lightning Trigger IV for this and wow has that thing paid off already. I have two good ones from this spot, but this is definitely my favorite.

The Watcher

The Watcher
(please click to view on black // buy print)

I rarely, if ever, post photos from years ago. I tend to hate my processing even as recent as 2012. I feel like I’ve really grown into a more polished look (with lots of room yet to grow), so looking back is rough.

But…when an image is one I love enough, I may actually go back and re-edit the thing. And that is the case here. I may have posted this before, but this time it’s been processed using my staple of luminosity masking.

The story behind this photograph, which I just realized a few days ago…is that it’s July 4th, 2011, which was just a day before the big historic haboob hit on July 5th. In many interviews I’ve done since then, people always ask “why was that dust storm so massive?” And I usually say something like “Well, it was early in the season, we hadn’t had a good dust storm yet, or even a good storm…drought…” etc.

But in reality…this was the scene the day before just south of Phoenix along Riggs Road. So we’d already had a dust storm prior to the big one. This one turned out to be fairly weak after a bit, but it’s still a nice wall of dust. Makes the next day seem even more intense because the storms were so strong that they kicked up even more dust after this one rolled through.

I love this image because of the dead tree, the dust wall and that epic, dying monsoon thunderstorm. It also marked one of the first timelapses I did, but I’m so embarrassed by the mistakes I made, I’ll never post it. Suffice to say…I sincerely wish I had done that one correctly, because this was a beautiful scene. But I think it was the beginning of my love for capturing the motion of dust storms.