Storms rolling across the Arizona desert

This morning I woke up, looked outside and saw fluffy clouds. The photographer switch inside of me was instantly ignited and I left the house after a few minutes.

We just haven’t seen any weather in weeks and weeks…for a guy like me, that’s an eternity! It didn’t even look that spectacular out there, and in fact, the clouds you see above were the stormiest of anything and they didn’t even drop any rain.

This picture almost didn’t happen. In fact, most of my best shots end up being unplanned.  I had been shooting the clouds, the sky and some rays of the sun shining through. As I was leaving, I noticed this dead log just a few feet from where I had been standing. How on earth did I miss it before???

Anyways, I ran up and snapped this photo.  Love the sky framed with the foreground. I also love the golden field in the distance…which was green just a few weeks ago. You can already see dead tumbleweed next to this log. That tire hanging off the branch just adds an interesting element.

I shied away from HDR on this one and instead just went with an exposure blend.

Hotel San Carlos in downtown Phoenix

The Hotel San Carlos originally opened in 1928 and was the most modern hotel in the entire southwestern United States at the time. First hotel in Arizona with air conditioning and hand-powered high-rise elevators. It cost $850,000 to build…which doesn’t seem to be that much until you compare it to the $820 price tag of a Model “A” Ford at the same time!

You can read more of the history of this hotel by visiting their website.

This was just another stop on my little photowalk of downtown Phoenix Saturday night. I took a bunch of long, bracketed exposures ranging from 2-30 seconds. The top photo is an HDR obviously, using 6-7 of those bracketed shots. You can see a lot of streaks from the passing cars caught in the long exposures.

Now, while I enjoy the look and the colors of the HDR, I am also a guy in love with black and white, so the photo below gives you an entirely different feel when looking at the hotel. At least, it does for me.

The Alleyway: Downtown Phoenix

Saturday night was a bit of a first for me. I decided to do a little urban exploration (#UrbEx) of downtown Phoenix. I’ve been inspired lately by some really good photographers back east who do this on a regular basis: Brian Matiash, Bob Lussier and Jacques just to name a few.

The few hours I spent walking up and down streets was amazingly fun. It also went by in a heartbeat. Along the way I met a fellow photog from Mumbai and really enjoyed the brief conversation we had. I forget his name, I’m horrible at that, so I hope he finds my site via the card I gave me and we re-connect online. We met at the ASU campus down there, where there were some seriously cool light effects going on. At one point there were three of us photogs hovering around there.

The photo above is a 7-bracket HDR that I shot in an alleyway off 1st street south of Monroe. I’ve never really done more than three brackets for my HDR shots, mostly because I shoot a lot of weather and clouds move fast (plus no auto way to shoot more than three yet), so this was a learning experience. I essentially set up my tripod, took a very dark exposure around 2 seconds and then just increased the exposure time until I felt like I had enough brackets.

I also just loved the building itself, the decay, the details in the bricks, the hanging wires…all of it.

You’ll notice some blurriness in this shot. There are lenses called Tilt-Shift that do this kind of thing automatically, but since I don’t own one, I did it post with Photoshop. I am just experimenting with a few new ways to do things, this tilt-shift method of shooting urban scenes was mostly trying to emulate shots by Brian and Bob.

I like it…but I’m not sure. I may end up posting a few alternative shots to this scene…one without the tilt-shift and one straight black and white exposure. I absolutely love HDR for many things, but sometimes the original exposure is awesome as well. You’ll see an example later this week when I post a few alternate shots of the Hotel San Carlos.

Hope you enjoy this…feedback is welcome!

Storm chasing in May

(NOTE, all photos in this post are those of Shane Kirk)

It’s almost like Disneyland or maybe your 21st birthday, or something you’ve always wanted to do but it’s still a month away and you feel like you’re going to explode from what feel like an eternity to wait.

That’s sort of what is going on inside of me right now. All I see are storm photos flooding in from the weather this week in the midwest all the way to the east coast. And all we have here are sunny skies!

I have big plans this summer. The biggest is chasing the monsoon here in Arizona, but that’s another blog post for another time.

The more immediate event is storm chasing next month somewhere in the midwest with my friend Andy and perhaps a few more people.

I can’t even tell you how excited I am. The idea of chasing storms and lightning is so much fun for me NOW living here in Arizona, but to go to where the monster storms are, the real weather…the supercells and wall clouds and tornadoes and hail and endless strikes of lightning…oh man.

Shane Kirk

We’re not sure when we’re going yet. The forecasts are good sometimes 7-14 days out, so we’ll be looking in early May to see when the weather looks to be the best. Then we’ll fly out to a good city, drive all day, stay in crappy motels, process photos and then hit the pavement again the next day.

Four days of storm chasing fun! And don’t worry, while I may be nowhere close to a weatherman (although I pretend to be), Andy knows his stuff plus we may have an actual meteorologist with us anyways.

The plan is to keep up with all the real storm chasers are headed, like Reed Timmer over at Tornado Videos or Dick McGowan, another Facebook friend of mine.

My other friend Shane Kirk from Kansas may meet up with us too. He’s the guy who is probably responsible for inspiring me to get out and photograph lightning. He takes brilliant shots, not only of the strikes themselves, but of monster storm clouds. The photos to the right are all his work.

Shane Kirk

One of the storms he calls the best he’s ever seen is also to the right…the spaceshape shaped, circular looking stormcell. Amazing looking…simple amazing. More shots of this incredible storm are right here.

I urge you to check out more of his work, it’s absolutely amazing and some of the best stuff out there when it comes to storm chasers. He’s also quite skilled and nature photography.

So that’s the big plan for May. I will be Twitpic crazy I’m sure…and try to post a couple of the best shots every night. Although I’m sure we’ll be plenty exhausted from non-stop driving and adrenaline rushes from what will hopefully be some powerful storms.

Follow me on Twitter to keep up or bookmark/subscribe to this blog!

Highway 60 to Superior

Not too long ago I posted photos from our little visit to the area west of Superior, Arizona in search of the wildflowers. Along the way, as I was running back and forth across Highway 60 to snap some shots, I stopped in the middle and looked east…immensely enjoying the road curving off in the distance and the mountain on the horizon.

I am in love with road photos…there is just something that connects me with seeing the way a line of striped pavement runs off into the horizon or bends to disappear around a hill.

You can see a slideshow of all my favorite road photos on my gallery. It’s sort of small now, but this summer I expect it to triple in size from the storm chasing I’ll be doing. The only thing better than a road photo is one with storm clouds hovering in a menacing way.

An Easter rose

Easter was a big day for my little family this year. We’ve made a big decision to help a church get started in the downtown Phoenix area, and not only that, but we’re up and moving there to be closer to the urban area and to my full-time job.

The first meeting of Day 12 was down at the Phoenix Theater, which abuts the Phoenix Art Museum. It’s a beautiful area, and in-between both places is a courtyard with art, sculptures, towering juniper and rose bushes.

I was photographing the event and couldn’t help but notice some of the other stuff around me, in particular this flower you see above.  The rose kind of bent away from the main bush itself, setting itself apart. That created some interesting depth-of-field, plus I loved the five buds splitting off that hadn’t bloomed yet.

The Tempe Center for the Arts

Back in early January when we had some amazing storms blow through Arizona, I was out going nuts with trying to capture it all. I posted a shot of the Salt River Dam all deflated (You can see it here), which you see from the walkway between the Tempe Center for the Arts and the river itself.

I drove to this spot just to capture the river, but after I had snapped all the photos I wanted, I turned around and realized what a fantastic piece of architecture the Tempe Center for the Arts actually was. Amazing angle and lines, lots of glass, a very cool negative edge pool…just brilliant to look at.

So of course, my focus left the weather for a bit and I took a bunch of bracketed shots to make some HDRs out of this fantastic work of art.

I’ve never posted them until now. I didn’t even process them until this weekend..they sort of went forgotten in a way, but someone was ordering prints from me of Tempe and was curious if I had anything else, so I remembered these.

This last one shows the awesomeness of a negative edge pool…it looks like this is the lake itself, extending all the way to the bridge, but if you look at the above photo, you can see where it ends.

Photos from the April 2nd ‘First Fridays’ in Phoenix

Last night we spent the evening with some friends that live in the Willo District in downtown Phoenix. Afterwards, our little group of people walked to the monthly art festival called First Fridays.

We had no idea what it was like, nor how insanely crowded it would be. Was such a fun event to attend, although a little hectic.

I love candid photography, which is kind of how I style the portraiture I am able to do from time to time. This was a haven of photo-ops and I took advantage. The photos below are of the festival itself and just some interesting things I saw while walking around down there.

All my shots are taken using the Canon 50mm 1.4 lens, no flash or tripod. Results sometimes are crappy because of motion, but the 1.4 aperture really renders some nice results.

The final shot is of the I-10, a 10-second exposure…mostly for fun, I only had a mini-tripod which didn’t hold too steady, but I really want to do more shots like that.

The slideshow of the night is below, I suggest clicking on the full-screen button on the bottom right of the window.

Phoenix First Friday – 04/02/2010 – Images by Mike Olbinski

Foggy day in Corvallis, Oregon

Yesterday I picked up a roll of film I had lying around from a long time ago. Now it wasn’t a “photography” roll of film, I really have only been doing this hobby seriously for less than a year now, it was just some pictures my wife and I must have taken over 5 years ago. But I had no idea how long.

Well, when I got them back, I found out it was almost 10 years old. A very long time ago, we looked like kids, lived in our apartment and most of them were just silly photos. But it made me think about old shots that I hadn’t ever posted or forgot about in the hustle of processing photos.

These two photos are three bracketed, hand-held HDR shots from my business trip to Corvallis, Oregon. This was a very tough shot for me, because the city was essentially all around this place, even though you may not be able to tell by looking. I had to squat low enough so the hill blocked some houses, and just to the left is a very busy highway.

But I couldn’t pass up the cloudy skies and the low-flowing fog floating across the valley between the hills.

I can’t decide which I like better, the color or the black/white, so I’ll leave it up to you.

Oh, and I’m trying out a new watermark on my photos…something subdued, maybe more professional looking. Curious what people think of that as well.

Deposit

When I was in Utah, I stopped to take a self-portrait on a little old bridge covered in snow (You can see that photo over on Flickr). While there, I noticed a post that is used for depositing money at the campsite in the summer months…stuff with an old rusty saw.

Now, I have no idea what it was doing there. Maybe the forest rangers shove it in there during the offseason to stop junk from being thrown inside it, or maybe some prankster stuffed this thing in there..who knows.

I thought it was funny looking and tried to get a good angle on it for a quick HDR.