Photographer and Storm Chaser Mike Olbinski on How to Take a Great Outdoor Picture — Even on an iPhone
With the introduction of Instagram in 2010, photo sharing has become something of a novice's pastime, to say the least. With upward of 400 million 'grammers worldwide, people are sharing the good, the bad, and the ugly at an alarming rate.
For nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts, beautiful landscapes are pouring through social-media outlets by the second, often catching majestic sunsets or glistening streams. And how many times have you been drawn into a wide-angle shot of a road simply traveling off into the distance? Really, it’s just a road doing what a road does. But damn it if we can’t resist tapping the “like” button to show our appreciation.
So, to help uncover some of these mysteries and shed a little light on outdoor photography, we talked with Arizona native and renowned landscape and storm photographer Mike Olbinski. It's something he became passionate about after watching Storm Chasers on the Discovery Channel and realizing he wanted to become part of that culture and community. Olbinski has dedicated the past eight years to traveling the country in pursuit of extraordinary landscape and storm photography. Keep tabs on him and his work through Instagram, where you can follow him @mikeolbinski.
In your opinion, what is the most important thing to remember when shooting outdoors?
I think for me, it would just be to consider the time of day, the kind of light you have, and what you are trying to get. Generally the middle of the day has the harshest light so for me, I'm always in love with the mornings or evenings, when the light is soft and perfect. But in reality, it depends on what kind of photo you are trying to capture.
An example of how clouds can add drama and beauty to landscape photos.
What are some things to consider when shooting landscape? How does that change in terms of shooting wildlife, flora, and people?
I feel mostly drawn to landscape photos that have clouds in them. You'll rarely find me taking photos of places when there aren't any clouds in the sky. They add drama and beauty. Couple that with photos taken at sunrise or sunset, and you have something unique to add to a landscape that has maybe been photographed thousands of times. Wildlife, of course, is different. You want to get close to them, or use a big zoom lens, and then it's more of the background of the landscape that helps with that — same with flora. And for me, taking photos of people is the best at that gorgeous time of day when the sun is about 30 minutes away from setting. The light is incredible, and sometimes the sky gives you an awesome surprise.
What are some things to consider specifically in Arizona?
Arizona is all-around gorgeous, and there are so many places to photograph. And while I said above that the light matters ... sometimes a beautiful photo over the desert at high noon with rolling clouds is perfect. You do have to know where you are though, and the nature of the landscapes you are exploring. Dangers are everywhere, from snakes to bears, to the heat and the cold. Be prepared for where you are going to be. Have plenty of gas in your vehicle so you won't get stuck.
Tips for capturing sunrises and sunsets?
Capturing sunrises and sunsets are best when you have a great foreground. Take the time to explore areas that maybe have a great view of the city where you're living, or some nearby landscapes. As far as the actual snapping of the photo itself, you'll want to decide if you are after a gorgeous sky against a basically silhouetted foreground ... or if you want to take multiple pictures to get the foreground exposed better so you can blend the images. Or you can use things like graduated filters to help balance a single photo. Mostly though, it's just about being out there hoping for something awesome.
What lenses are best in terms of information you are trying to convey?
Generally, wide-angle lenses are what you are looking for when it comes to sunsets and sunrises. You want to bring in the entire landscape and huge sky of Arizona. But it's not always the only way. You can use a great zoom lens to get tight on, say, a wild horse along the Salt River, with a setting sun in the background. It's all a matter of what your subject is and seeing what works for you. Lenses range from ultra wide to incredibly zoomed.
Adding roads and/or people to your landscape photos add depth and help give the photograph scale.
Tips for achieving depth?
Sometimes you can get some great depth in a photo by having roads in them or perhaps a person standing in the foreground to help give it scale.
Any tips for iPhone photography?
Most iPhones these days can take great quality images. But it seems most people just point and shoot and that's it. One thing most people miss is that you can touch the screen before take a photo to expose properly for the area you want to be brighter or darker. And find a third-party app, like Snapseed or VSCO Cam to edit photos further to give them a nicer look.
In your opinion, what does a great shot entail?
Determining what a great shot is can be so subjective. I know what I love and what is special to me, but other people may be more drawn to something else. The key is to chase after your passion and photograph what you love, and the rest will fall into place.
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