A short timelapse from Death Valley

This past weekend I was joined by two buddies on a whirlwind trip to Death Valley. We left on Friday morning at 4am and returned Sunday evening back to Phoenix. We essentially had from just before sunset on Friday until Sunday morning to take pictures.

I would have loved to have 10 days there, to capture all kinds of angles and spots, but I did what I could with the time I had! As it is, these clips were taken at Race Track Playa (and the nearby campground), the salt flats near Badwater Basin and also Devil’s Golf Course.

This was also a practice run with some new gadgets I have. Namely an eMotimo TB3 Black and a Stage Zero system from Dynamic Perception. I have also been practicing with the Promote Control more, because while it’s many times a pain in the butt to get to work right, the smoothness of the ramping is impressive.

I encountered lots of issues on this trip…namely realizing with the old firmware I had, the Promote Control just couldn’t get me what I wanted with shorter intervals, like 5 seconds. I just upgraded to the 3.00 firmware this week and NOW I see that I can kind of get what I want. So I’m anxious to practice with it again.

I also learned that I have really trashed my Rokinon 14mm more than I ever thought and have some ugly scratches that really give me weird light artifacts at f/10+. Plus spots. So that lens is toast I guess.

But mostly I had a lot of fun. I enjoyed the rail a lot and the results I got with it. Can’t wait to use it more. The eMotimo is a lot of fun for big panning shots.

I really want to do a long project now of timelapsing for a year or more of a certain subject, like Arizona landscapes, etc., and put that together into a nice long film. A separate beast from my summer storm series.

Hope you enjoy this very brief taste of Death Valley.

The 2013 Arizona Monsoon in Timelapse

Earlier this year I released my first ever short film that collected a bunch of timelapses I photographed during the 2012 monsoon season in Arizona. I was incredibly proud of that film and I was amazed at how well-received it was by all of you! It’s been played over 45k times and the feedback was so wonderful…it of course spurred me on to do another one!

This latest film is from the recently completed 2013 monsoon season. Out here in Arizona the season runs from June 15th through September 30th but in reality these timelapses were photographed between July 1st and September 18th.

It was quite a summer. I drove well over 8,000 miles all across Arizona. I didn’t get to venture up north as much as I wanted, but I was all over central and southeast Arizona. In fact, I saw two fairly incredible storms down south this year…hail cores, shelf clouds…weather I don’t normally expect to see here in Arizona.

This year was a lot different than 2012. Other than one great haboob, the dust storms weren’t very intense this summer. But the lightning was better for me and I think you’ll enjoy that section a lot more than last year! One of the things people said they really enjoyed on the first film was the lightning sequences…and they were super short. Not this year!

I so loved putting this together. It’s taken me weeks of editing and re-editing, mixing music, etc., to get this to this final version. The music is mostly from Luke Neumann, but Kevin Macleod has a song in there as well. I love those guys for allowing artists to use their work royalty-free! Their websites are in the title credits.  The movie is just under 12 minutes long, so I suggest watching it when you can sit back and enjoy it. I tested it out on the ol’ plasma yesterday and it was fun to kick back on the couch and watch it on the big screen.

People usually have questions about my timelapse work, so here are some answers ahead of time:

  • At this point I don’t use dolly’s or motion because most of the time I’m setting up in a matter of seconds and timelapsing for short periods of time. Next year will be different though. I hope.
  • Everything was shot on Canon products. I used a 5D3 and two 5D2’s with random lenses (including a Rokinon 14mm). I list them all in the film credits.
  • Most of these were shot at 1-2 second intervals.

I hope you dig the film. If you have any comments or questions, please leave them below and I will do my best to answer every one of them!

Thank you for watching! I suggest the big screen, when you can sit back and enjoy it!

P.S. There is a little outtake at the very very end 🙂

An evening dust storm/haboob over Phoenix on August 20th, 2013

I’ve never shot an evening dust storm before…but I was taking the night off when some buddies to the south told me a decent wall of dust was headed towards Phoenix.

I looked out and could see it over the mountain, so I packed up and drove 1/2 mile to a parking garage that of course I love! You may recognize it 🙂 It’s still the best view of downtown and the easiest/quickest way to see over the city from where I live.

I’ve been trying to use a Promote Control to do bulb ramping but I’ve had difficulties learning how it works…probably because I don’t practice beforehand and just try to use it on the spot! I swear, I don’t read manuals, I don’t prepare and I don’t practice…it’s like baptism by fire.

One camera was using the Promote Control and it did do an “okay” job at ramping up the exposure as the sun went down, but I wished it had been better.

The second camera was just set at 4-second exposures and locked with a shutter release cable.

First camera was the Canon 5D3, Rokinon 14mm f/2.8…second was a 5D2 and Canon 17-40mm f/4 L. I used the lens twist method with the 17-40 and I’ve been loving that little tip.
Thanks to James Menzies and Bryan Snider for keeping my lazy butt updated on the dust storm 🙂

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 dust storm over the Tohono O’odham nation

I’ve been waiting for my first legit dust storm or haboob to roll across the Arizona deserts this summer and it finally happened yesterday, July 10th.

The day before I leave for Africa for 10 days. A beautiful send-off if you ask me!

I had been a bit further south on Indian Route 15 through the Tohono O’odham nation a bit earlier trying to get in front of a cell with a large hail core, when I looked east and saw the wall of dust in the distance.

I raced back to the north-northeast and setup on a hillside I knew. The hardest part when timelapsing a dust storm is figuring out WHERE it’s going. I took awhile and even switched locations, but still it appears the nastiest parts fly off to the left. Regardless, we got hit with the full brunt of the dust storm and it was a beautiful one at that. Being able to get up high, in the desert, and start timelapsing the haboob when it was so far away was pefection.

Shot on a Canon 5d Mark II with a Rokinon 14mm f/2.8 and 2-second intervals.

Now I’m off to Zambia, take care!

Timelapse of dust storm near Willcox, Arizona

We drove over four hours to get to this spot and somehow timed it perfectly to intercept a dust storm hitting Wilcox, Arizona.

In the video you’ll see it twice…I captured it the first time in Willcox, and then we blasted southwest on Interstate 10, got back in front and timelapsed a little more.

The storms behind it had 1-2 inch hail in them and the winds were strong…especially right at the end of the final clip. You can see on the far left how they suddenly exploded off-camera. Was intense.

First dust storm of the 2013 monsoon season…hoping for more! This was a decent one, nothing to write home about, but definitely will be a nice clip for the 2013 monsoon film I’ll release late this year.

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

The 2012 Arizona Monsoon in Timelapse

Well this is my baby. All the hard work timelapsing last summer is now in one single place. A short film, 19 minutes long, that is the payoff for all the hours, miles driven and time away from family in 2012. The video took me quite awhile to produce. Most of the timelapses were completed in one form or other last fall, but with the busy wedding and family portrait season upon me, I had to put it on the back burner for awhile. But slowly this year I’ve pieced it together, organized it, cleaned it up, found music and finely tuned my simple presentation.

And now it’s here. I’m damn proud of it.

No, I don’t use a dolly. Yet. I’m not sure it’s important to have one but all the most amazing timelapses usually have some kind of motion in them. But timelapsing while you storm chase is quite a different beast than planning to shoot the Milky Way one night out in Joshua Tree National Park. You never know when or where a dust storm may crop up. Or lightning. Or a ridiculously awesome monsoon sunset. Sometimes I literally cannot get my tripod set-up fast enough. The secondary idea of ALSO having to get a dolly set-up, not to mention figuring out in my brain just exactly how long this dust storm will take to get to me, is fairly difficult. But I may yet be moving that direction this summer. We’ll see.

But for now, these are simple timelapses that show you the nature of the Arizona monsoon. Walls of dust…beautiful clouds, amazing sunsets, rain, gorgeous landscapes…all of that stuff. It’s what I love about this state. It’s what drives me to chase over 7,000 miles every summer.

Some of the clips in here have been posted separately before, but there are a bunch that haven’t been seen, including a storm moving over Tucson over the course of 90 minutes.

My only regret is that the lightning portion is super-brief. I debated putting it in at all, but there are a couple of clips I really loved and they needed a place to be seen. This coming summer I hope to have a bit more patience with timelapsing lightning for longer periods of time. But the monsoon is fickle and lightning doesn’t always last too long. It moves with the storms and makes it tough.

Everything was filmed on Canon 5D Mark II’s, using the Canon 17-40 L, the 70-200 f/2.8 L and a Rokinon 14mm 2.8. I use a wireless intervalometer to run the shutter and then I kick back and watch the storm roll in or take stills with the other camera.

I am showing it here for free, but if you love the movie and feel like purchasing it for your personal collection, or to view anytime on your iPhone, iPad or whatever, it’s available for $5. I will email you a link where you can download the movie. You can click the button down below the movie to buy!

Also…I’m posting this on my birthday! I never ask for these kinds of things, but as a little gift to me, if you enjoyed the film, I’d love it if you could spread the word via email, share this on Facebook, Twitter or wherever. It would mean a lot! When you put a lot of hard work into something that people are supposed to watch, you want to try to get as many people to see it as possible!

Thank you for checking it out, I hope you enjoyed viewing it as much as I did filming it and I truly desire for you to fall in love with Arizona like I have. It’s such an amazing place.


The creation of a dust storm | Timelapse


A powerful microburst fell onto the desert floor south of Gila Bend on August 13th, 2012. I was moments too late to capture the birth of it, but I timelapsed what I could.

This should really give you an idea of how these things form out of nothing…a strong draft of air falls from the thunderhead and explodes in all directions. When this happens out in the desert, the dust picks up and you can see how the air ripples outwards like in a pool of water.

This was a painstaking timelapse to finish because I sadly shot it at f/18 so I could have 1/5th sec shutter speeds to hopefully give myself a chance to capture lightning (ND filters next year). And I did get a few lightning strikes actually! But it resulted in horrible dust spots and bad flicker. This is made up of 838 exposures and I manually de-flickered them because third party apps weren’t working for me. That was a very, very long and tedious process. I never want to do that again.

But I felt this one was worth it and happy to be done with it now!

The image at the top is a quick capture of the initial outflow picking up dust as I was setting up for the timelapse. Below is the video itself.

The origins of a dust storm

I realized the other day that I never posted this timelapse I shot of a dust storm being created unseen on the horizon and then hitting me an hour later. I thought I did, but ended up getting too busy!

All summer I had been dying to capture a scene like this…where I started shooting way before you even saw any dust or anything. Having lived out here my entire life, I knew those storms would kick up some kind of dust cloud. So I took a chance and started snapping while the clouds were still far, far away.

The result was perfect. It’s actually kind of tough to aim your camera in one direction and pray that the dust comes right at you and doesn’t veer to the left, or veer to the right. I watched the storms on radar for about 10 minutes before starting the timelapse, just so I could be sure of where they were headed.

This was shot with an ultra-wide, 14mm Rokinon lens, so the towers out in the distance look a lot flatter than they really are, but that’s what happens!

Hope you enjoy!