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Out Their Front Door: Mike Olbinski

Brace yourself for a new guest post from Arizona’s own weather man, Mike Olbinski! This is the second installment in the series ‘Out Their Front Door’. If you missed last month’s post by Bob Lussier, you can find it here. As I mentioned earlier, the series is about getting together the photographers I visit on a daily basis who help to expand my world, by sharing theirs.

Not only is Mike Olbinski a great photographer, he is a tried and true storm chaser who has recently published his first book. I got my copy when it came out, and I would encourage you to get one for yourself. You can order Mike’s book, ‘Storm Chasing Arizona’, here.

Storm Chasing Arizona

Storm Chasing Arizona, Mike Olbinski

Ways to find Mike!

Without further ado, here’s Mike!

Outside my front door. Justin asked me to participate in this very cool series on his blog and at first I wasn’t sure what he meant. You mean, my front yard? Around the house?

No he said…just wherever you go when you leave your front door.

That’s a loaded question. Let’s take a journey back to a time not long ago…probably about two years ago, I wanted that front door to be anywhere but Phoenix. I’m a native of this place, meaning I’ve endured 35 summers that are usually amongst the hottest in the country. The winters are great…but each summer got worse and worse for me. Weeks on end of 110+ degree weather, hot steering wheels, sweating in your car, yardwork, not wanting to go outside…it just wears on you.

I had been on a recent trip to Portland and decided that place would be awesome. Let’s move there I told the wife.

But two summers ago I picked up a point-and-shoot and tried to capture some lightning using the 3-shot-per-second feature it had. The results were addicting. It was like winning the lottery everytime I got lucky enough to capture a strike. From there I knew I wanted a DSLR in order to do longer exposures. Of course, by the time I got one, the thunderstorm season was over, so I had a long wait ahead. I spent that time wandering Arizona whenever there was a storm brewing and suddenly discovered a passion long dormant:

Weather photography.

I went through some old pictures one day and realized I had a bunch of photographs of storm clouds that I took back in high school. I’ve always loved the weather, I knew that much, but never realized at all how much I craved chasing them and capturing them on camera. A mission formed in my head…to shoot as much of the summer Arizona monsoon season as I could and publish the photographs as a sort of weather journal photobook.

I completed that project late last November and the book has become one of the things I’m most proud about in my life. Behind my beautiful two-year old daughter and my amazing wife Jina of course.

Towards the end of last year we moved from the far suburbs of Chandler to the urban downtown Phoenix area. With an exhaustive summer of chasing weather under my belt, I felt the need to get into something else. I had already been growing my portrait/wedding photography business, but that stuff helps pay the bills, not fill the passion inside of me. Because I used HDR processing on a lot of my images, I ended up getting to know a lot of guys who do urban exploration. I’ve always loved history and old, abandoned things, so this type of photography instantly jumped out at me.

Suddenly I was a lot closer to the old parts of Phoenix and started exploring old alleyways, grungy walls and loading docks, and lost train platforms. Somehow, organically almost, I found myself integrating weather into my urban scenes. If I felt a nice sunset was headed our way, I’d drive downtown and find impromptu locations to become foreground elements to the evening sky.

Right before the year ended, myself and a couple of photographer buddies made a trip north of Phoenix to an abandoned dog track. Up to this point I hadn’t really done a whole lot of interior urban exploring, so being able to spend three hours inside this place was amazing fun. While I have a ton of images from inside the old building, I of course found myself finding ways to frame the building against the amazing Arizona skies.

From that came one of my all-time favorite photos. The broken windows faced west and because of the clouds that day, I figured we’d be in for a decent sunset. But it was ended up being a spectacular one.

So what is the point of all this?

Well, something happened to me in the last 18 months since buying that first DSLR.

I rediscovered Arizona. Actually, I don’t think I ever really knew what I had.

I’ve lived here for 36 years and not until last year did I finally see the desert wildflowers blooming. Because of photography I heard about Grand Falls in northern Arizona and saw one of the most amazing things this state has to offer. I drove at least a thousand or more miles over the summer seeing parts of Arizona I had never laid eyes upon. I had a lightning strike land a few hundred feet away from my car and got it on camera. I saw my first funnel cloud during one of the most violent weather days in Arizona history. I’ve seen and photographed sunsets that can only take place in this great state.

And where else can you see a Saguaro cactus and snow in the same shot?

What’s ironic to me about all of this is I just took a new job (full-time day job…for now) that has locations all over the country. And it wont surprise you I’m sure when I tell you that one of those places is Portland.

Furthermore, if I wanted to move up there tomorrow, they’d love to have me.

That’s all changed though. I have a nice portrait/wedding/event photography business going right now and moving out of state will be akin to starting over. But above all of that, I think I’d miss the hot summer months when those awesome monsoon storms come to visit. The weather here really is amazing. Gorgeous winters, spectacular sunsets/sunrises, wild storms, lightning, beautiful desert landscapes…and so much more.

A lot more that my lens and I need to discover…and that I’ve somehow missed this entire time.

(And now, for the cheesy, tie-it-all-together moment)

To think…it was all just outside my front door. It only took me 36 years and a camera to realize. †I can’t wait to see what Arizona has to show me in 2011.

Thanks Justin for letting me guest blog for you. I actually had no clue what I was going to write about, but I think in the process of doing it, learned something about myself. Appreciate the opportunity.

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  1. Fantastic post Mike and great series Justin! What a great way to get to know these guys I converse with every day! Awesome!

  2. Thanks my friend for inviting me to do this! Had a fun time writing it and appreciate the opportunity! Great series!

  3. Great post, Mike! Thanks for putting this awesome series together, Justin…looking forward to what else you have in store!

  4. Great post!

  5. Chris DeAngelis says:

    Great post Mike! It has been great to follow your journey.

    Justin, thanks for setting up this great series! Keep up the fantasic work on your site!

  6. Mike, that was a nice read. I like your optimism and find it uplifting and inspiring. I wish you the best storm chases ever this next Spring/Summer.



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