Mike Olbinski Photography: Breathtaking Lightning and Storm Pictures

Mike Olbinski

Mike Olbinski

Mike Olbinski is a professional storm photographer, a monsoon storm chaser, who has lived in Phoenix, Arizona his entire life and grew up loving their summer monsoon thunderstorms. Mike is passionate about taking thunderstorms pictures and he really has a great talent for it. It was a great honor for us to take an interview with Mike Olbinski and we wish you a pleasant reading and viewing of Mike Olbinski photography.

AP: Hey Mike, thank you very much for agreeing to give us an interview. That’s a great honor for us to share your story with our readers. Could you please tell me what got you engaged in storm photography?

Mike Olbinski Photography

Sunset over Tucson

Mike: I recently found photos I took of stormy clouds from high school, but it wasn’t until around four years old when my daughter as born that I really discovered how much I loved photography. I started taking photos of her with a little point-and-shoot camera. I discovered that little camera could shoot 3 frames a second, so I took it out one night to see if I could capture lightning on it. Unbelievably, I got a few, including one amazing shot (at the time) and I was hooked. I knew I needed a DSLR to capture lightning the right way and I saved, sold DVDs and scrounged for cash until I could afford a Canon Rebel XSi. Since then it’s been a journey of getting better and better at landscape and lightning imagery, but also branching out into weddings and family photography.

AP: What a great start! Do you have any formal education in photography or were you self-taught? 

Mike: I’m a self-taught photographer. Taken a few workshops, but nothing major.

Mike Olbinski Photography

A dying monsoon storm

AP: By the way, Mike, what genre are your photos?

Mike: I think after doing this for around four years now I’ve discovered who I am, what I love and where I fit in the world of photography. When you first start out, you are so excited that you try everything. You want to shoot ANYTHING. I also started off with a real fondness for HDR photography. I’ve since grown out of that phase as I’m learning better, more natural ways to create vivid photographs. But as I’ve experimented and tried different things, I’ve grown to realize what I love: storm photography. I also highly enjoy shooting weddings and I do that when I’m not chasing storms. It took a while to find my path and to discover who I am…but once I did it felt right.

AP: That wonderful when you discover who you really are and find your purpose. How would you describe your works?

Mike: I feel like my storm photography is unique because I’m one of the few people chasing weather in Arizona like the guys do in the central plains every year. I will drive around 4-5k miles each summer in Arizona alone just to get that perfect lightning strike or amazing cloud structure. I’ve also begun timelapsing storms and captured that amazing July 5th, 2011 haboob that covered downtown Phoenix. Mostly though, I shoot the weather and clouds that I personally find awe-inspiring.

Mike Olbinski Photography

A color version of the haboob hitting Phoenix on July 5th, 2011

AP: Wow, that’s unbelievable! You did a great job! Please tell us more about your storm pictures. Is it difficult to predict the nature’s steps to capture lightning?

Mike: Capturing lightning is one of the most frustrating and rewarding types of photography that I do. I read weather forecasts during the summer on a daily basis. Sometimes many times a day. I watch radar; I try to predict where storms will eventually spread. When I’m out there chasing, I try to keep up with the storms, but they move quickly and in sometimes random directions. If you stick to a storm for too long, you’ll end up being unable to chase much more than night because they’ve already moved away too fast. But that’s what makes lightning so much fun. It’s elusive and tough to photograph at times, but that’s why it’s so rewarding.

AP: What kind of equipment and techniques do you use to take your pictures?

Mike: I have a couple of Canon 5D Mark II’s with various lenses. I use an ultra-wide Rokinon 14mm 2.8, Canon 35mm 1.4 L, Canon 50mm 1.4, Canon 17-40 L and Canon 70-200 2.8 IS L. Also use a wireless intervalometer, Manfrotto carbon fiber tripod and head. Having a solid, stable tripod is super key to photographing lightning. It can get windy out there! I mostly use Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop, plus some other software plugins, such as Nik Silver Efex 2.

Mike Olbinski Photography

Purple Rain

AP: Do you have any dream project? What is it?

Mike: Obviously as someone who loves storm chasing, it would be a dream to get paid to do it full time.

AP: Mike, we wish your dream to definitely come true. What is the formula for success in your activity?

Mike: I think any success I have is because I’m doing what I’m passionate about. I find in life if you have a passion and strive to do it and be good at doing it, good things will happen. Mostly for me I use social media, like Twitter, Facebook, website…and share my work with others. That has turn into a video going viral and seen all over the world, and to many connections created in the documentary industries where people need weather videos.

AP: Is there someone who supports you in your creativity?

Mike: My wife is my support. She let me drive over 7,000 miles this summer chasing storms. Without her, this wouldn’t work.

Mike Olbinski Photography

AP: Tell us three lessons you believe are really important for every photographer?

Mike: Three lessons…well, it’s easy for me to say this now, but the first would be to have patience. I think when you start off doing photography, you want to learn and do everything. All methods, all styles, everything. And then at some point you realize you don’t know who you are or what your style is. That’s how it was with me. I was frustrated with not really knowing what I loved. And then slowly it started taking shape. I focused more on what I was passionate about and now things are clear to me.

The second would be…always try to get better. Never settle for one method. Don’t be afraid to compare yourself to the greats and think you aren’t there yet. A lot of photographers make the mistake of thinking they are already awesome when you really need to be more self-critical and realize there is still tons to learn. I still have much to learn and want to get better and better.

Thirdly…just have fun. If you are passionate about an aspect of photography, go do it and do it awesome. The more passion you have, and the more you sink yourself into it…the better you will get at it and people will notice.

Mike Olbinski Photography

Mike thank you very much for giving such useful piece of advice to all photographers and sharing such amazing story on your breathtaking storm images. We wish you great inspiration, continued success and of course to make your dreams come true. To learn more about Mike Olbinski photography please visit his personal website.

Mike Olbinski Photography

A major severe storm dumps rain on the San Tan Mountains

Mike Olbinski Photography

Chaos of Light

Mike Olbinski Photography

Lightning over Phoenix

Mike Olbinski Photography

Mike Olbinski Photography

Mike Olbinski Photography

A show on Interstate 8

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