A massive monsoon rolls across the Arizona landscape.
A massive monsoon storm rolls across the Arizona landscape. (Photo: Mike Olbinski/Vimeo)

If you've never visited Arizona, you might assume it's just a dry desert landscape all year around, but this couldn't be further from the truth. Arizona is actually quite notorious for its dramatic monsoon season, which typically begins mid-June and wraps up the end of September.

During this time, the region's hot temperatures fuel the formation of thick, looming, shelf-like thunder clouds that eventually unleash a deluge of rain and lighting in the late afternoon and early evening. The storms die off by the late evening and the following morning starts off with clear skies — only to have the cycle repeat itself that afternoon.

Mike Olbinski selfieBecause monsoon storms appear like clockwork every day, they are a great subject for storm chasers and photographers like Mike Olbinski (right). The Arizona native has chased these storms for several years, but it was only after going full-time with his photography career in November 2014 that he was able to put a significant amount of time into documenting these fascinating meteorological wonders.

"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," Olbinski writes. "I was free to roam and had virtually no limitations. I even had multiple chases where I never actually went to bed, but instead chased all night."

If his latest video, "Monsoon II," is any indication, all that hard work seems to have paid off:

Continue below for an interview with Olbinski about his summer capturing this spectacular imagery, as well as a few storm chasing time-lapses that he put together in past years. Be sure to check out his website to see more of his work.

MNN: When did you start chasing storms, and why are you so drawn to it?
Mike Olbinski: I started chasing storms about 6 years ago or so. It's hard to describe why I'm drawn to weather and storms; it's just what I've known my whole life. Since I was a little kid, I'd watch storms with my dad on the patio and grew up learning about them. It wasn't until later in life that I really got interested in storm photography and started learning more about it, and things sorta exploded from there.

Are there any challenges or dangers you've encountered while chasing storms?
An interesting question because storm chasing inherently has dangers and is incredibly challenging. Obviously being close to storms with lightning is always risky, but out on the central plains there is large hail, heavy rains, flooding and of course tornadoes. The challenge is of course trying to find the storms, be on the good ones and also get yourself in position to capture the best views. At the same time, you are also keeping an eye on escape routes and roads. It's an adrenaline rush!

You capture stills in addition to video — what's your equipment setup like during your monsoon shoots?
Actually all my work is still photography, but I do time-lapse, which is just the compiling of stills into a video! So essentially I can do both with the same equipment.

I run with three cameras ... two Canon 5D Mark III's and a 5D Mark II. I use a wide variety of lenses, including Canons and Rokinons, plus Manfrotto tripods, SanDisk cards and lots of other gear.

Can you tell us a little bit about your process for editing and compiling footage for Monsoon II?
Editing a film like this is a ton of work. It starts with the basic organization of each series of images into folders which will be rendered into clips. I edit those in Lightroom and LR Timelapse and then render them with Adobe After Effects. Editing can be tough with dust spots and tough lighting, but mostly I try to keep things looking natural.

Once I have all my clips rendered, I start dropping them onto a timeline in Premiere Pro and hopefully already have a song selected beforehand to give me some direction. Then it's just a matter of hours and hours of moving clips around, testing, timing, and watching over and over until it's perfect.

Do you have any goals for next year's monsoon season?
Honestly, this year took a lot out of me and was so much work and time away from family. I think if I can just follow this up with a worthy successor, that will be good enough for me. I find that I generally don't have to make goals for new things to just evolve naturally out of my work. This year, I used five different lenses for clips instead of mainly just wide angles like last year. That was an unplanned change and I think it really helped me find new ways to tell the story of the monsoon. Next year, who knows what will happen! Each summer is different.

Catie Leary ( @catieleary ) writes about science, travel, animals and the arts.