Mike Olbinski chases storms and shoots weddings. The photographer and videographer from Phoenix, Arizona knows that that’s a weird combination, “but I love what I love.” Throughout the years, Olbinski’s Vimeo-page became a display window for some of the most amazing storm films – some of which (see below) catching the eye of Resource Travel before – and his most recent (third) monsoon video is another beauty.
- Stunning Film Shows the Dramatic Storms of the American Heartland
- See the Dangerous Power of a Tornado Through a Storm Chaser’s Eye
Monsoon-wise, the summer of 2016 was a slow season for Arizona. There were not as many storms as previous years, and it generally seemed more quiet. However, to a storm chaser, that doesn’t mean anything, Olbinski claims. We wondered why not.
I guess it’s a funny statement to make, but what I mean is that while the season is slow for places like Phoenix and surrounding cities, as a storm chaser, I can venture far and wide to wherever the storms may be even if they aren’t nearby. That’s sort of the beauty of storm chasing. On some nights I’ll end up seeing an incredible lightning storm only 50 miles west of Phoenix and yet everyone in town thinks it’s another bust of a night.
Olbinski chased storms for 36 days for “Monsoon III,” which was less than the 48 in 2015. After an early start in late June, things died for about three weeks. Still, Olbinski loved the season.
Maybe because as a filmmaker, having put out a few of these films now, I’m beginning to focus and hone in more on what I really love to time-lapse. As the years go on, and I learn more and more about chasing storms here in Arizona. I’ve found myself in better spots to capture the stuff I really enjoy.
Another reason why Olbinski says he loved this seasom, is because he finally got what he had been counting on for years: haboobs or dust storms. “My wish came true,” he says, on September 27, when he was able to capture glorious rolling walls of dirt and sand engulfing even Phoenix itself.
Any other experiences during those 36 days that will stick with you forever?
Actually, the craziest, most intense day of chasing was a nighttime haboob that was racing 70-80mph west across south central Arizona. It didn’t even end up in the film, but I was able to shoot a picture (see below). We had been chasing southeast of Tucson, followed the storms north towards Phoenix, saw a nice shelf cloud and sunset dust storm, but it raced quickly past us towards Phoenix. Knowing what the models showed, I knew the storms would turn west and aim to cross the state towards Yuma. We got out there and suddenly a massive wall of dust began to collect and head west. At Gila Bend, we stopped and with the help of some city lights, we could see the monstrosity moving towards us at breakneck speed. In 2011 we had a historic dust storm hit Phoenix that I time-lapsed and eventually saw it go viral within a few hours. This haboob on July 29th was just as huge and historic, but it happened after dark. It was a tough image to even capture in the moment because of how dark it was and how fast it was moving.
The storm eventually crossed into California and the next day from San Diego to Los Angeles. It left the sky a hazy mess.
Do you often end up in dangerous situations like that?
The only real danger I feel like I get in, are when lightning strikes are intense and close, so I feel like I need to sit inside the truck instead of risking my life for the shot. Or on the night of July 29th when we were trying to get out of the wall of dust… It was so insanely thick that visibility at times was zero and we’d pull off the freeway to make sure no one slammed into us from behind. It was a pretty sketchy chase that night and I’m pretty good and knowing how to maneuver those things after years of practice, but my nerves were on edge!
I never really track how many days I exactly spend editing, but I’d definitely say more than 60. I start rendering clips early on in the year, and about a month into our 3 1/2 month season, I pick out a track, lay it down in Premiere Pro and start dropping clips into it just to get a head start on the process. So sometimes it’s everyday working on it, tweaking stuff, adding new clips and seeing where the music and the scene make the most sense paired up.
Would you consider this third “Monsoon” film your best one?
I would probably quickly say that last year’s “Monsoon II” was better, just based on some of the clips I was able to get, especially towards the end, with the Milky Way clip and a beautiful, isolated lightning storm at sunset. But in terms of editing and all that, I think this one flowed very well, was a bit shorter and more concise and felt overall better. It actually earned a Vimeo Staff Pick within 12 hours of posting it, which was a huge shock to me, so I do think it may be my best work in the way of actually editing a film, but I do wish I had stumbled upon a couple more epic storms to have at the end.
How about compared to your other films?
It’s hard to compare, because of how different the storms are. The monsoon is more of a quiet beauty with lightning and dust, while the plains are chaos and tornadoes and super cells and craziness. I definitely think I’ve improved a lot with musical editing and finding the right clips that go with the ebbs and flows of a song to really help them mesh well together. I think in time-lapse films, music is just selected and clips are dropped without a ton of real thought. It’s one of the most important things to me to truly find that song or track that will help you tell the story you want, and then to use it as best you can.