Category Archives: Photography

Bottling lightning

Lightning strikes
Image credit: Rob Ross (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)
The last few days in my land have been marked by brief, yet intense summer storms. The lightning that laced the orange sky was so frequent as the storm receded that both Mme. Ross and I tried to get pictures of them, but our efforts were met with very different levels of success. Mme. Ross has a consumer-grade DSLR camera to work with, while I have my iPhone, and I think that might have had something to do with the speed of her success. I held the camera still and snapped hundreds of photos as electricity zipped across the sky, calmly trying to track the explosions of ancient wars across the whole my view, only being able to catch a quarter of that view at a time and so hoping that I was not shooting a dark section while another was lighting up.

Lightning is quick. The whole thing occurs in the fraction of a second, so if you’re not close enough to be struck, then by the time you see it it’s already gone, and that’s the challenge in capturing it. As the arc is formed between the sky and ground, the air column in its path is transformed into a plasma — the electrons stripped from the oxygen molecules, making that column a conductor. The light of the arc begins travelling toward your eyes at the speed of light. The heat of the arc causes the air around it to explode thunderously. As the light travels in a wave toward the sensor of a camera, the options for capturing a pretty picture of a lightning strike come down to quick timing.

With fancy cameras it’s a very attainable thing but when you’re shooting with an iPhone you enter the realm of probability. Hundreds of shots, I think, are likely to yield at least one good photo. Because as I noted while going through those shots, deleting all the lookalikes as I went, when you’re too late you mostly come up with phantoms: large fields of diffusing purple light. Less frequently you get the arc in its full brilliance and it washes out the camera sensor because in all reality, it’s only an iPhone. Fancy phone, ho-hum camera (in the grand scheme of cameras, I mean.)

Like any wave, you have to time it just right.

In hundreds of shots, I got two hum-dingers. It was so worth it.

Lightning strikes
Image credit: Rob Ross (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Looking for something to do with that fancy-schmancy camera and/or phone? Check out the Daily Post’s weekly photo challenge.

Blur —

The more photos I take, the more I realize that for the person who loves to take photographs but knows little about the mechanics of how photography works in the field, things tend to fall to either one of two laws: Murphy’s Law, or the Law of the Jungle; so it went as I attempted to create a photo for this week’s Daily Post photo challenge.

I do all of my shooting with my phone. It’s both a convenient and effective tool for capturing images, and so it’s not necessary for me to have a dedicated camera on hand, ensure that it’s charged, with enough free space in memory to take all the pictures I wanted to at the highest resolution. But it turns out that my phone’s shutter speed is freaky faster than a Jimmy John’s delivery driver. Yesterday when I got to shoot out at my in-laws’ place on the Missouri River, I intentionally tried to get some blurred photos by moving the phone quickly while pressing the shutter button.

A crystal clear, unexciting photo was the result.

I’m almost certain I frowned in confusion. Then I held up the phone, and spun in a circle, pressing the shutter button so rapidly that eventually the photo app threw up a circular arrow popup in an effort to get me to slow the heck down. I got about ten photos, all of them clear as a bell and about as interesting as an audiobook of Ben Stein reading a phone book.

So now I was done trying. Obviously when you wanted to capture an object in motion, you couldn’t; and when you wanted to intentionally blur a photo, you also would fail — Murphy’s Law.

So I began to look for interest in the world around me. This is where I often feel the daunt in photography: like, what really qualifies as an interesting shot? Am I just playing the part, or can I really find something that people would agree is visually appealing? Some day I will learn much more about photography. In the meantime, I figured out how to get my blur by trying to shoot in the direction of the afternoon Sun, while blocking it with my hand so it wouldn’t wash out the CCD and the resulting picture.

Auto-focus was the key here.

Pinching Out the Sun, by Rob Ross
Pinching Out the Sun, © 2015, Robert W. Ross. Creative Commons 3.0 CC BY-NC-SA

It turns out that my phone has a remarkably short focus field; you only have to be about an inch or two away from a subject to focus, and it automatically focuses on the closest subject. My current phone uses touch focus in the native camera app, but I happened to be using Hipstamatic, which doesn’t have a touch focus feature at this time so it focused on my hand. I held the Sun captive for a moment while I took this one. Then I wondered if I could do it with something so insubstantial as a pine needle, so as to get a more or less completely blurred photo.

Sunlight Cutter by Rob Ross
Sunlight Cutter, © 2015, Robert W. Ross. Creative Commons 3.0 CC BY-NC-SA

I got the opposite effect, but no less interesting: it looks like the light of the sun is cutting off the root of the blurry pine needle.

Here’s the upshot: I didn’t think to save blurred photos. I have, up until now, considered them to be garbage (i.e., a good reason to click the garbage can in my photo app.) I haven’t seen one worth keeping yet, but now that I’ve made a few on purpose I’ll probably consider in the future whether a blurry photo I’m viewing has some worth. It’s the least you can do for that unimportant, frozen moment in time. If you think about it, these moments of life — each moment of which should be precious to those who live in it — are now more expendable than ever. The first visual capture device in history was the eye, and those images were recorded in the mind. They could only be transmitted through the spoken word of oral tradition.  Millennia down the road, we began to capture these moments on light sensitive media — first film, and now digital memory. We’ve innovated our way through the challenges — clarity, color, cost, convenience, &c. . . now it seems like these moments are expendable when they don’t meet the strict criteria of the the photographer — their needs, their current mindset, their idiosyncratic preferences.

But what if someone else thought that image was useful? Even if it was worth less than a penny and so had to be given away — would it be worth erasing?

I’m not saying we should keep every image we capture, but maybe more of our images are worth another look.

(Daily Post photo challenge: Blur | Header image by Sophie Asia)

Weekly Photo Challenge: Contrasts — The Empty Booth

The Empty Booth, 2 of 3
(“The Empty Booth, 2 of 3”, Rob Ross)

When is a phone booth not a phone booth? Continue reading Weekly Photo Challenge: Contrasts — The Empty Booth

Weekly Photo Challenge: Contrasts — The Sweater

The Sweater
(“The Sweater”, Rob Ross)

I took this photo this past Thursday when Mme. Ross and I went beach-hopping around coastal Oregon. Continue reading Weekly Photo Challenge: Contrasts — The Sweater

Weekly Photo Challenge: Between — on the road

This one is for the Daily Post: Continue reading Weekly Photo Challenge: Between — on the road

Weekly Photo Challenge – Twist – More Shameless Selfies!

I think I smashed the look today. A little twist of the mohawk, a little twist of the ‘stache, and voila!



This week’s Daily Post Photo Prompt is “Twist”.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Selfie III – SurfClops!!

So here’s a question: did it ever occur to you I might just be a monster? Continue reading Weekly Photo Challenge: Selfie III – SurfClops!!

Weekly photo challenge: Selfie II

Here’s the second shameless selfie for this week’s photo challenge, taken as a reflection in the touchscreen of my laptop, which is almost unbearably glossy:

Copyright © 2014, Robert W. Ross. All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2014, Robert W. Ross. All rights reserved.

We probably should be reflecting ourselves in our most commonly used devices, since sometimes we see ourselves in them more often than we see ourselves in the mirror. But hey, I figure as long as I look good, I’m not neglecting anything. 🙂

This post was prompted by the Daily Post’s weekly photo challenge.

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Weekly photo challenge: Selfie I

This week’s weekly photo challenge is to take a selfie, which was named 2013’s word of the year by the Oxford English Dictionary. It’s a photo taken of oneself. It’s the perfect photo prompt for me, because I’m totally narcissistic. I need a reason to take a selfie? Shoot.

I’ll be honest, I won’t be able to get anything as cool as Karen Shatafian’s Wahine Wednesday surfing selfies, but I think I can try to denigrate art to a more common pursuit – case in point:


Driving a forkift, selfie in the mirror. Sitting in front of a roll-off dumpster, in case you are wondering.

So . . . its an interesting coincidence that the PBS Idea Channel’s latest video is about selfies, asking “why do people hate them?” I recommend watching the video and weighing in on the comments.

This post was prompted by the Daily Post’s weekly photo challenge.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Juxtaposition 1 – the caramel roll run

copyright © 2014, Robert W. Ross. All rights reserved.
copyright © 2014, Robert W. Ross. All rights reserved.

This morning I was planning to make the usual run to Dan’s Supermarket for caramel rolls and the sunday paper, but every time I looked out the view was the same: pure white, blizzarding wind, and blowing snow. I avoided leaving the house for fear of disappearing into the frigid tempest, until finally the wind died down enough that I felt it might be safe to venture out. I marveled at the colors of the sky, the stair-step formations of clouds with the golden light of the rising sun highlighting the western edges. When I reached the store I took a moment to capture a picture of the barbed wire surrounding the train yard next door with the sky behind it, contrasting the wide open sky with the way we tend to fence things in – the things (we think) we own, versus the things we’ll never be able to control.

This post was prompted by the Daily Post Weekly Photo Challenge.