Storm Chasing Timelapse – The Power and Beauty of Nature

Mike Olbinski Storm Timelapse

As a photographer, one of the things I’ve long wanted to do was chase and photograph epic storms. Alas, all of my other responsibilities keep me from roaming the country for weeks at a time in hopes of capturing that awesome moment. For some brave souls however, it’s a way of life (at least during storm season). The incredible time-lapse video below was shot by Mike Olbinski over 18 days of chasing. He says of this endeavor:

“Blood. Sweat. Tears. Joy. That’s what this spring was for me. The miles, the grind, the failing, the epic days missed, the lack of sleep, the jubilation, the friendships strengthened, and the time away from my family. And when the chasing was all done…wondering, was worth it all?

Heck yeah it was.”

For a great write-up of the effort, be sure to open this in Vimeo and read the description.

Vorticity (4K) from Mike Olbinski on Vimeo.

My Photographic Journey

Where does this photographer’s evolution begin? Actually, not at all with photography. There are multiple facets of my life that influenced my current passion for travel, photography, and art in general. Read on to learn my story.

Humble Beginnings

As a child and early teenager, I loved to doodle and draw, particularly airplanes. Unfortunately, since my parents weren’t artistically inclined, my creative side wasn’t particularly nurtured. And while I had an interest in drawing, I can’t say that at the time I was really passionate about it either. I was equally interested in electronics and the mechanical workings of anything I could disassemble. So then, and even now, my brain is split down the middle as far as “analytical” and “creative”.

While in high school, I had the opportunity to travel with the Polish Youth Association – basically boy and girl scouts – from around the country on a two-week adventure to Colorado. I wanted to document the experience so I got my first camera, a basic 35mm film point-and-shoot. Again, since I was more interested in capturing memories than creating art, the equipment didn’t really matter. Even if I had better gear, I knew nothing about composition or light for it to matter. Still, hiking in the wilderness of Colorado, it was difficult not to capture a beautiful landscape.

Hikers - San Juan Mountains, CO

Hikers – San Juan Mountains, CO (35mm point-and-shoot)

Unfortunately, after high school the camera was tossed into a drawer and rarely used during my college years, other than during the occasional spring break getaway. I was too busy with my studies to travel or shoot. In my spare time, I did however, gain an interest in graphic arts and this amazing new thing called the World Wide Web. Thus began a new melding of multiple interests.

Stoking The Flame

Near the end of my college career, developing my website spurred the desire to show off my digital artwork. This quickly reignited my interest in photography, and I soon purchased my first SLR, a Canon Rebel 35mm film camera with the included kit lens. The camera was fairly basic, but had both automatic and manual features, and built in light metering.

Around the same time I gained some opportunities for travel, which became a complementary passion with photography. Over the next few years, this basic kit and additional Sigma 70-300mm telephoto zoom lens exposed film in the US Virgin Islands, Cozumel, Bahamas, a return to Colorado, and road trips to the northeastern and southeastern extremes of the United States.

While I was trying to learn about composition, light, and proper exposure, it was a challenge because there was no immediate feedback. I had to wait until my film was processed before realizing how many mistakes I made. I also read some books like Bryan Peterson’s Understanding Exposure and Learning to See Creatively which helped immensely.

Sunset at Siesta Key, Florida (35mm film SLR)

Sunset at Siesta Key, Florida (35mm film SLR, settings unknown)

The Digital Revolution

By 2002, I was ready to jump into digital. I started with a point-and-shoot again – a 4mp Canon Powershot S40. This great little camera had all the features of my film camera, including manual shooting capability. For the next year, I shot with this camera almost exclusively. Being able to shoot and learn from countless frames without wasting film was a wonderful learning tool. Being small, it was also the only camera I took on a three week tour of Europe. Thus began my “shoot everything” phase. Since I was no longer paying for film and processing, I could now afford to snap everything in sight. Though instant feedback was great, it made me think less about each shot, so I came away with a lot more throw-away frames.

St. Peter's Basilica

St. Peter’s Basilica – Rome, Italy (Canon S40, f5.6 @ 1/200s)

The next year, I decided to retire my film camera for good and start my collection of digital gear. My first DSLR was a Canon (notice the trend here) EOS 10D. Since I already had a few Canon mount lenses and was familiar with the brand, it was an easy decision. This is where I got even more serious about learning the art of photography. I studied technical aspects such as use of all the features of an SLR – shooting RAW, manual and program controls, and proper exposure. I read more books and learned more about creative exposure, depth of field, composition, light, and seeing creatively. I also started thinking more about every exposure, trying to plan ahead for the look and feel I was trying to accomplish in the final image.

The Addiction

What comes next? More gear of course! The more you learn about your craft, the more you want to refine or upgrade your tools. First upgrades were lenses of course. I still had my 28-80mm kit lens, but I wanted something wider so I bought a Sigma 17-35mm wide angle zoom. Then I felt the 28-80mm wasn’t sharp enough so I upgraded to the Canon 28-135mm, which became my new go-everywhere lens. Next on the list was a better zoom, since my old Sigma didn’t cut it for airshows. I bit the bullet and bought my first piece of “L” glass – the Canon 100-400mm f4.5-5.6L IS USM.

Cuddling Zebras - Tanzania, Africa

Cuddling Zebras – Tanzania, Africa (Canon 10D, 400mm, f5.6 @ 1/250s)

This is about the time I started hearing people on the street say “Hey, nice camera, you probably get some great pictures”, which still makes me cringe. Good equipment does not make a good photographer. A good photographer can use the cheapest or simplest camera and still capture a beautiful moment. So my education continued through books, magazines, workshops (RMSP), forums, and lots and lots of practice and experimentation.

And…. more gear! As the years drag on, more and more pixels are packed into the same amount of space. Naturally, at some point I had to grow into a better DSLR – first, a Canon EOS 40D and eventually to my current camera, the Canon EOS 5D Mark III and 24-105mm lens. I also travel with a point-and-shoot when I want to go light or just be inconspicuous – the amazing Canon G7x. My cell phone is always with me, even when my cameras are not, and although I won’t be making large prints from a cell phone camera, I still take the opportunity to be creative.

Smith Barcadere Sunset - Grand Cayman

Smith Barcadere Sunset – Grand Cayman (Canon 5D MkIII, 24mm, f8 @ 1s)

Like camera technology, processing capability has advanced an incredible amount since I first started shooting digital. Techniques for increasing dynamic range, shooting ultra-long exposures, and stitching panoramic images have improved. Technology also fosters new creativity, and as more and more people jump into this art, photographers need to continue evolving and coming up with fresh ideas.

My journey and evolution as a photographer continues. I’m always trying to learn and practice new techniques both in the field and in the digital darkroom. I love to experiment with Photoshop, new shooting techniques, and upcoming or revolutionary gear such as mirrorless, micro four thirds, or light field cameras. There’s also a new camera technology emerging from a company called Light that uses 16 lenses and sensors to capture an image. It’s really fascinating where photography is going, and I’m glad to be along for the ride.

Parting Shot

Shops at Crystals - Las Vegas, NV

Shops at Crystals, Las Vegas, NV (Canon G7x)

How To Create Fake Real Horizon Lines in Photoshop

When photographing in the field, you don’t always have control over your surroundings, and you definitely don’t have control over the weather. I try to make images that accurately depict what I experienced at the time I pressed the shutter button. However, making artistic images is about conveying emotion, not just representing data. So, sometimes creating an image requires constructing your own environment, which is an art in itself.

One of my favorite photographers and Photoshop gurus is Glyn Dewis. Here he shows off his amazing creative and technical skills to show how to create a new horizon and sky out of multiple images while maintaining realism.

Warm Rays Over Frozen Chicago

Warm Rays Over Frozen Chicago

The other day I was flying back home to Chicago from a short trip to Raleigh, NC. As we approached the city from the east, all I could see below me was a white cloud carpet. However, as I always do when flying into Chicago, I pulled out my new Canon G7x camera to see if I could shoot anything interesting. Dropping in through the clouds exposed a cold, dull, gray city skyline. It was late in the afternoon, and the winter sun was beginning to cast an orange glow on the clearer horizon.  As we continued west towards O’Hare airport, the waning light briefly poked through the gloom to reveal its warm rays over the frozen city. I had just a few seconds to capture this before the light disappeared. Just another example of why it’s great to keep a camera handy.

Gray clouds over the frozen Chicago Skyline

Gray clouds over the frozen Chicago Skyline

Warm Rays Over Frozen Chicago

Warm Rays Over Frozen Chicago

25th Anniversary Pillars of Creation

25th Anniversary Pillars of Creation (square)

In celebration of its 25th anniversary, Hubble has revisited the famous “Pillars of Creation”, providing astronomers with a sharper and wider view than ever before. The pillars (a region of the Eagle Nebula, or M16) have been photographed in near-infrared light as well as visible light. The infrared view transforms the pillars into eerie, wispy silhouettes seen against a background of myriad stars. That’s because the infrared light penetrates much of the gas and dust, except for the densest regions of the pillars. Newborn stars can be seen hidden away inside the pillars. The new images are being unveiled at the American Astronomical Society meeting in Seattle, Washington (read full release).

Available immediately are the largest fine art prints yet of these beautiful images, in both square and tall crop ratios. These would look amazing as metal or canvas prints.  Check them out below.

Space Images as Fine Art

Orion Nebula Panoramic - Fine Art Prints

Being an engineer, and having a natural draw towards science, I have always been fascinated with the planets, outer space, the Universe and all its secrets. The immensity of it all is just staggering, and hard to comprehend for just about everyone. This immensity is a reminder of how small and insignificant we mere humans are. Take for example the following scale diagram of our Solar System, and how puny the Earth is next to our (small) Sun:

Solar System Diagram to Scale

Solar System Diagram to Scale (by Roberto Ziche)

Now let’s compare our little sun to one of the biggest stars currently known, VY Canis Majoris, which is 1,000,000 times bigger!

Sun vs. VY Canis Majoris

Sun vs. VY Canis Majoris

Starting to feel small now? Well, the purpose of this post isn’t to make you feel insignificant. It’s to point out the beauty and wonder in the natural universe, and our ability to see and photograph it. Below are just a few of my favorite images created by NASA/ESA/JPL with various ground and space telescopes, including Hubble, Chandra, and Spitzer. I’ve spent time modifying each of these images, by cleaning up stitching artifacts and enhancing tones and colors, while leaving the science of the image intact. These images make amazing pieces of abstract fine art, especially when printed as large metal or acrylic prints.


GoPro Famous

Trike aerial selfie.
Trike aerial selfie.

Flying my XT912 over IL.

This week, GoPro chose one of my images as their Photo of the Day!

That’s exciting because it gives me additional exposure online, and because GoPro is well known for adventure seekers (that’s me!).  This was fun to shoot for obvious reasons.  Flying my Airborne XT912 trike (powered hang glider) around Illinois is so freeing, it’s like riding a motorcycle in the air. I have some video from flying that I hope to edit and post on youtube shortly.

If you want to be in the loop on updates, check out my Facebook Page or join my mailing list!

Stay tuned for more about trike flying…

Helicopter Aerial Photography over Chicago

Adam in helicopter
Adam in helicopter

Adam in the chopper

I recently had the opportunity to take a helicopter flight over the awesome skyline of downtown Chicago. I met Chris Bachman of Bachman Aero at Schaumburg Regional Airport on a beautiful, albeit hazy summer morning. Since it was nice and warm, Chris had taken the doors off the helicopter so I have unobstructed access for my aerial photography. We took off around 8am and headed east towards I-290 better known as the Eisenhower Expressway (the Ike).

Chicago aerial haze

Hazy Chicago skyline in the distance

It didn’t take long for me to get that disappointed feeling in my gut, seeing the bright white haze that lay before me, shrouding the city from view. This of course, after several reschedules already due to weather. Alas, it would have to do… I’d have to make the best of this flight, if not for the photography, then at least for the thrill.

So off we went, heading east along the Ike as I happily snapped away at the sights below me. At Garfield Park we turned northeast, flying over Westinghouse College Prep, and Humboldt Park on our way to Wrigley Field, home of the Chicago Cubs.

Wrigley Field Aerial

Wrigley Field – Home of the Chicago Cubs

Wrigley Field Aerial

Wrigley Field and surrounding hood

 From Wrigley Field, we headed east to Lake Michigan, then down along Lake Shore Drive, flying over the beautiful Chicago shoreline, beaches, and harbors.


Montrose Beach Dog Park Aerial

Montrose Beach

Montrose Harbor Aerial

Montrose Harbor

Belmont Harbor Aerial

Belmont Harbor

North Avenue Beach Aerial

North Ave Beach

Finally, we’ve reached downtown, starting with the Gold Coast, the historic John Hancock Building, and the Magnificent Mile.  Continuing south, we circled around Navy Pier where I was able to capture this great panoramic.
Navy Pier Aerial Panoramic

Chicago’s Navy Pier Aerial Panoramic

Next up: Millennium Park, the Loop, Grant Park & Buckingham Fountain, Museum Campus, and Soldier Field.. So much to see!

Soldier Field Chicago Aerial

Soldier Field, Field Museum, and Chicago Skyline Aerial

Before heading back to the home airport, we spun around over the Loop, getting a close-up view of the Willis Tower Ledge (I still call it the Sears Tower), then zipped up and down the Chicago River for some great views of the Trump Tower. Heading back to the airport wasn’t a dull ride either, as any view from the air is a great one. I had a chance to also shoot the United Center, Chicago’s “interesting” West Side, and Medinah Golf Course and Country Club.

I spent a fantastic hour or so of flying around Chicago’s amazing urban scenery doing two of the things I love – flying and photography. It’s an unbelievable feeling flying over the city with the doors off a helicopter, up close and personal.  For the full set of photos, please see my gallery: Chicago Aerial Photography.

Schaumburg Regional Airport Aerial

Schaumburg Regional Airport

Bachman Aero Helicopter

Bachman Aero Helicopter


Aerial Photography Tips

So, now that I’ve inspired you and you’re itching to get in the air to do some of your own aerial photography, let me share some tips with you.

1. Plan ahead! Research the places and viewpoints that you’d like to shoot, and discuss them ahead of time with your pilot. If he’s flexible and you’re the only passenger, he should be able to get you the shots you’re hoping for.

2. Plan ahead! Yes, more planning… This time, in regards to weather. Most of the time, you’ll have to book your flight well in advance, so planning for weather isn’t always possible.  Also, weather changes.  As I described above, I thought I was going on a nice clear morning based on the weather forecasts, but it turned out to be hazy. Do your best to study the forecasts and conditions a few days in advance, and try to anticipate the best conditions.  Around cities, haze is an unfortunate reality.  Try using a circular polarizer to cut through some of the haze, and shoot with the sun behind you.

3. Time of day.  As with most photography, the best time of day to shoot is early morning or evening.  With the sun lower on the horizon, you’ll get more depth and texture in your images due to the shadows that the sun will cast on buildings (or rural features if you’re not in the city).  Mid-day light will most certainly result in flat looking images.

4. What gear to use?  I currently shoot with a Canon 5D MkIII and for this shoot I used my Canon EF24-105mm f/4L IS USM zoom lens. If you’re in a helicopter, you’ll want a good quality, medium range zoom lens to give you the flexibility to shoot frame-filling close-ups or wide angle scenics.  Helicopters can fly lower and closer to everything, so you may not need a long zoom.  If you’re in an airplane, however, then something like a Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM Telephoto zoom lens may be more useful. What about a lens hood? Leave it at home! On the ground a lens hood is handy for blocking stray light, but in a helicopter with the window open or the doors off, it’ll just be a scoop for the wind to catch. At worst, it’ll snap right off the lens and go flying.

5. How about settings? One of the big concerns with aerial photography is vibration from the engine and motion blur from flying through the air at 60-120kts.  So how is it possible to get sharp images in the air? First, set your camera to Shutter Priority mode (Tv or S), and use a high shutter speed. Typically, 1/500th to 1/800th is enough to freeze motion. Depending on the brightness of the sun at the time, you’ll probably have to adjust the ISO setting as well. If you try to shoot and the aperture value starts blinking, chances are you have to bump up the ISO. 400-800 should do it, and still produce nice clean images with a camera like the Canon 5D.  Point-and-shoot cameras suffer at higher ISO, so if you have to, try renting a newer Digital SLR for the shoot. The last thing that will help with vibration is Image Stabilization (IS or VR). Many better DLSR zoom lenses include this feature, so turn it on for best results.

6. Anything else? If possible, ask if the doors can be taken off or the window opened. Shooting through glass sucks, and will result in low-contrast images, reflections, blur, and bugs!  This also means it’ll be windy, so strap yourself and your gear in really well. Your pockets should be empty or zipped so nothing flies away, and no gear should be loose. Safety first! Dress appropriately, it may get chilly up there but skip the hoodie (again, wind). Lastly, if you’re prone to motion sickness, take some pills or use pressure point wrist bands.

Well, I think that’s about all for this post. I hope it was informative and enjoyable… if you’d like to know when I update my blog or post new images, please sign up for my newsletter using my signup form at the top of the page! If you have any comments, I’d love to hear from you.