Mike Olbinski is more than just a wedding photographer. Much, much more.
You see, in the off-season, he takes off from his home in Scottsdale, Arizona to find, chase and photograph storms. It’s no easy task but he started small, with likely the wrong equipment, but he pushed on undeterred. Clearly, this man loves what he does.
I have long watched Mike’s work in utter awe and thought it was high time he and I got together to talk about his art. So, here is that conversation.
What I am moved by the most is Mike’s relentless pursuit of experiencing these storms. Clearly he determines the risks and knows where to go and how to photograph the storms in a safe manner. I trust that while you might be inspired by Mike Olbinski, you don’t jump head in without doing your homework. In fact, feel free to ask Mike any questions about his process below in the comments section.
Mike has been tirelessly working Monsoon II, a short movie showcasing the time-lapse videos he has been creating along the way this past summer. Take a look at the movie first below and then read what Mike has to say about the project:
I’ve been chasing the monsoon in Arizona for about six to seven years now. This summer was different though. Back in late July, I was wondering why it felt like I was out chasing more than ever before. And then I remembered. I had a job last summer. This year I didn’t. I went full-time photography in November of 2014 and haven’t looked back.
I was free to roam and had virtually no limitations. I even had multiple chases where I never actually wend to bed, but instead chased all night. I took the kids to New Mexico at one point early in the season.
Last year I counted roughly 31 total days that I chased a storm during the monsoon. This summer: 48. Yikes.
17,000 miles driven, which was about 3,000 more than last year. Perhaps the biggest difference this year was shooting nearly 60,000 more time-lapse frames than I did in 2014. 105,000 total. And what sticks out to me even more than any of the other numbers above, is that only 55,000 of those 105,000 frames made it into Monsoon II.
What that means is I was able to stuff this new film with only the best of the best. We missed out on some of the huge dust storms like I’ve captured in years past, but overall, I think this represents some of the best weather I’ve ever photographed in Arizona. There are stunning shelf clouds, gorgeous rain shafts, lots of blowing dust, tons of lightning, and even multiple mini-supercells or mesocyclones. The brief mesocyclone over Cottonwood at the 3:38 mark is one of my all-time favorites.
I can’t talk much more about the film without addressing the music real quick. The song is called Palladio (Rebuilt) and it’s once again by the amazing Kerry Muzzey who donated it to me for Monsoon II. He also let me use another song of his for my previous film, The Chase and I’m beyond grateful for his generosity. I mean, how do you thank someone enough for that? Click here to find the song on iTunes and please support his work! I’ve said it a million times … the music is at least 50% of these movies I make. Kerry’s art helps bring my films to life. Thank you my friend!
When I’m out there capturing footage for these films, I’m constantly thinking about the story I want to tell. For example, I wanted a lot of erupting, towering cumulus at the beginning to launch into the meatier clips. I started laying out the film back in mid-August. Certain clips I already knew would be in certain places in relation to the ups and downs of the song itself. As the season wore on, I gathered more and more clips and began to lay out the entire film. I’d remove clips when I got something better. There was exhausting editing, re-editing, looping music, reluctantly dropping clips that didn’t work or were unfixable and watching it over, and over and over, to make sure I was telling the story I wanted to tell.
At one point, about halfway through … I was telling Jina that I have a lot of great stuff, but still haven’t shot the final scene yet. I had no idea what it would be, but I knew I didn’t have it. And then that very night (or maybe the next day) … I was out west of Tonopah and I knew on the way home that the monsoon had finally delivered my ending.
That is what is so amazing about doing this. You hit the road with zero idea about what you’re going to see over the course of a summer. You might imagine scenarios or have ideas, but they get blown out of the water by reality. And that’s what I love about it.
My hope is that you can see and feel that love in this film. The beauty of the monsoon in Arizona. This is where I’m from and this is home.
This video, also by Mike Olbinski, was a Staff Pick on Vimeo:
Meanwhile, watch the drool as you peruse through some absolutely fantastic storm photographs by Mike Olbinski below:
For a limited time, you can buy “Superstrike” for 25% off. I’ve got my eyes on a 20″x30″ metallic print, Mike!