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Ocean of Fire

A stunning, out of control monsoon sunset west of Gila Bend near the Paloma Dairy

Back in 2015 west of Gila Bend, near the Paloma Dairy I saw one of the most extraordinary sunsets I’ve ever witnessed during the monsoon. Dust was blowing across the ground. The sky lit up in all shades of orange. Lightning in the distance. It was astounding.

Ended up being a beautiful time-lapse! But here’s a frame from that time-lapse, complete with a nice little lightning bolt to top off a gorgeous scene.

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.

 

Bathed in Light

I must be learning how to be more patient these days, or at least, maybe finally realizing I can’t be on every storm, so might as well do the best I can with what I got. I was way down south yesterday, near Santa Rosa and Pisinemo with some really nice storms, but I had a bad feeling that they wouldn’t last into the night. At the same time, I see a nice line moving into Phoenix and realized I’m probably hosed.

In the past, I may have turned around and raced back home in a panic, but yesterday I stuck it out, got in front of the storms moving towards Organ Pipe and saw some of that magical monsoon light that shows why it’s special to chase out here.
Only captured two lightning strikes yesterday, this was the first and made the entire trip worth it. The rain was cresting the peaks, the sun was blazing on the desert landscape and it was all stunning. There is a little rainbow behind the left saguaro, plus an even fainter second one near the bolt. That Organ Pipe area has really grown on me this year. Always something awesome happening out that way.

And now it’s bed time. I had a time-lapse/photo gig at PIR shooting DC Solar construction lighting equipment at 1am this morning and got home around 5:30. Haven’t slept at all! Time to crash!

A good omen

Hoping this is a good omen for the Cards upcoming season 🙂

Wednesday’s chase was a long one and ended early Thursday morning around 1am with a final storm in the Tolleson area. I had seen a recent shot of the Cardinals stadium so it was in my head and I remembered where a good view was from when I did some work for ESPN back when we had the Super Bowl.

The storm was dying, but I got lucky that it still tossed out a few bolts, this one in particular being pretty nice! I swear I’m never in town for storms these days, usually far away in the desert or southern Arizona, so it was fun to play around with different compositions for once.

A great way to end the night…especially as things are once again dry for a few days. Hoping for more weather early next week.

Chuar Butte

The Grand Canyon has been an elusive prey. I’ve made countless trips up there the past few years trying to get lightning on a good storm and been skunked every time. Last year I finally got a downburst right in front of me…but no bolts. A few years before I got some strikes out on the Little Colorado plateau, but nothing in the Canyon itself. Always a long trip to come home with little success.

Well that all finally ended Friday, and it was with this shot that I didn’t even know I had captured until I was going through images in Lightroom. A perfect thunderstorm with a beautiful little strike hitting smack in the middle of an island plateau on the eastern side of the Canyon. I squealed a little bit when I saw this 🙂

The time-lapse of this storm exploding and dumping rain will be cool too, super stoked to have come away not only with some great stuff, but to have spent the entire day with my kiddos as well was well worth the time and sunburns!

Haboob over Organ Pipe

I always knew southern Arizona near the border gets interesting weather…I think I saw a brief landspout down south of Three Points last year, it seems like supercells occur more that way as well, so with some shear in place yesterday and models hinting at storms popping in that vicinity, I waited for a few hours until things started going. Wow once they got going, they exploded. Big hail cores, supercell structure, severe warnings, pea-sized hail hitting the truck. One of my favorite chases here in AZ, culminating in this epic haboob with a stacked shelf cloud rolling over the stunning landscape of Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument.

This is a 9-image panorama just to get the entire structure of thing thing in one frame. I have a couple time-lapses I’ll be working on later which should be pretty awesome…definitely up there with my favorites of all-time out here!
And rad to meet up with my buddy Trey Greenwood down there for this chase, we were pretty stoked to see this yesterday…although I have a feeling this kind of thing may happen down there more than we realize!

Crimson Bolts

Combing through the archives of photos I never edited, here’s one from monsoon 2015 west of Tonopah, AZ. I had the kids with me, I was running a fever, but this isolated storm started going up and we went after it. At the time I had no time-lapse clip I felt was good enough for the ending of Monsoon II, and I was pushing myself hard. But on this night, I knew I got it.

Incredible storm, at sunset, with crazy bolts and gorgeous colors. What a fantastic night.

The Hand

A creepy, electric hand stretches out across the sky, seemingly originating from the Sand Tank Mountains.

I miss lightning. This was July 1st last year during a monsoon that started early and epic (this cell was a tornado warned storm an hour earlier), and I was standing here with a few buddies watching some amazing lightning in the distance.

Just about three months before my usual chase season begins out on the plains. Can’t wait to get back.

Pulse

Song by Tony Anderson: “The Way Home” (Licensed through The Music Bed)
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For quite a few years now I’ve been wanting to do something different with my time-lapse films. I love color. Storms are full of color. The blues, the greens, the warm oranges and reds at sunset. The colors are sometimes what make a simple storm into something extra special.

But black and white speaks to my soul. I love it. There is something when you remove the color that lets you truly see the textures, movement and emotion of a storm.

And then you hear a song. I had asked my buddy Jay Worsley if he had heard anything lately that might rock for a black and white storm film, and he linked me to Tony Anderson’s “The Way Home.” The moment I heard it, I knew that was the song. My recent films have a frantic pace to them and people occasionally tell me they’d love to see the footage in a much slower speed. I already knew that going with the monochrome style sorta demanded something more solemn and poetic…and the song was perfect for that.

I also went with a much wider aspect ratio than I’ve ever done before. I feel like it actually feels like it brings you in closer to the action, almost like you were standing right there with me.

I held myself back for a long time in doing this project because I wasn’t very knowledgable about using tools like Premiere Pro to color grade footage, and all I thought was that I’d have to re-render all my clips as black and white before doing the film. And that’s a lot of work. But the past few years have brought me tons of experience in Premiere Pro, plus help from my buddy Jay Worsley, and I figured out how to do it all there and without a ton of effort.

The film is made up of some of my favorite clips from the past few years. A mix of the monsoon and supercell plains chasing. I’m so inspired by the songs I choose for these videos. Kerry Muzzey, Tony Anderson. Their songs are so powerful and moving and the stories they tell themselves are amazing. I went with clips that felt right with each beat of the song and while I usually try to tell a story with these films, I mostly decided to let the music be that here.

Thanks to Tony Anderson for such an incredible piece of music, and to Jay for pointing it out to me. And also to my friend and fellow time-lapser, Brian Miner (see him on Vimeo), who did some B&W work this past fall and reminded me of what I’ve wanted to do for so long now.

I hope you enjoy this! The creative juices were flowing and I also have some serious withdrawals from chasing storms. I HAD to work on something to hold me over until spring gets here. Only around four months to go before I hit the road to chase supercells and tornadoes in April, May and June!

I have a couple of tornado chasing tours going this spring, if you are interested in checking those out, visit here!

 

Swisshelm

A smattering of lightning bolts slam into the Swisshelm Mountains in southeastern Arizona

This will go down as one of my favorite chasing storms in Arizona this past summer. I didn’t end up with my best photos of all-time or anything, but it was just the night itself. I sat here watching gorgeous mammatus light up at sunset and as it got dark, the lightning started blasting on three sides of me, and I watched it slowly march over the Swisshelm Mountains to my east.

This was with the 135mm so I was super tight on the mountains hoping to get some close bolt action. I love how they are just destroying the mountainsides here while a powerful downburst is creating an exploding wall of dust that end up hitting us soon after.

The bolts were just so intense, it’s one of those nights shooting lightning that you live for.