On the Scale of Worlds

A bridge of water... 

I’m looking at a drop of water that spans two clovers.  Glossy and reflective.  The clovers stand apart—and in that space between them, the droplet of water stretches.  I know about water’s stickiness—it’s meniscus.  I know how at small scales it acts more like gel than the liquid we know it to be.  But here I am, staring at a droplet that is stretching across the span.  With little particles dotting its surface like the surface of a marble.  They are, in fact, sitting on a bridge of water.  

It’s 2015—a new year—and with that newness all of the new resolutions for something better.  There’s resolutions of health, resolutions of resolve, resolutions of discipline and temperance and bravery.  But what of something simpler?  Something smaller?  What of a resolution to see something new in this world of old?  What of a resolution of perspective—at the scale of worlds?  

Droplet Spanning

The other day, I finally screwed on the lens.  It was a small box—wrapped there under the tree: with love from Naomi.  And when I opened it I expected all of the usual gifts—but this one was different.  A small set of lenses for the small camera on my iPhone.  For years, I’ve been salivating over a DSLR that does video.  The Canon Digital Rebel XTi that I bought in 2006 lacks this feature.  It’s been a wonderful camera, but after seeing what’s possible by creatives like Gnarly Bay and Sebastian Montaz-Rosset, stills just don’t do it for me anymore.  The bulkiness of the camera, too, meant that I would only take it out on special occasions; an adventure here, a holiday there.  But over the last few years, the camera in my pocket has advanced. 

With groundbreaking apps and features like Panorama, Hyperlapse, time-lapse and HDR, my iPhone camera is becoming not only the most convenient, but the best camera I own.  There when I need it; smart, capable, and fast.  Out of the way when I don’t; scaling a ledge, balancing on skis, or leaping from stone to stone.  Moreover, as iOS continues to grow more capable, I’ve been able to marry image capture with image editing on the iPad.  It truly is the best creative suite available today.  

But there’s plenty of room for improvement.  If you had asked me a year ago, I’d say there were three major areas holding the iPhone camera back:  

  1. Image stabilization for video  
  2. Performance in low light 
  3. Zoom

Image stabilization.  With the release of the Hyperlapse app, image stabilization is effectively solved on the platform.  You can now get Steadicam-like quality video out of the iPhone if you use it right and in the right conditions.  Hyperlapse was such a revelation when it debuted last year that there was nary a day that went by without using it.  Hopefully soon Microsoft will release its software-based version (likely for the desktop) and the folks at Instagram will improve some small but annoying bugs (like glacially-slow focus).  

Performance in Low Light.  The iPhone’s tiny little sensor can’t let in a lot of light.  Yes, it makes up for it in very smart use of ISO and shutter speed, but when things get dark, the image becomes grainy or smudges out of focus.  Night scenes are difficult to capture and never nice to look at.  Now, there are apps out there that let you keep the shutter open for longer exposures, but I’ve yet to explore these in depth.  Stay tuned. 

Zoom.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen something incredible only to grab my phone and watch it shrink in the frame.  The digital zoom on these devices is a farce; effectively cropping the image and blowing it up to a pixelated mess.  I thought I’d have to wait for sensors to improve the sharpness enough for digital zoom to be effective—but this new gift of lenses by Camkix has changed all of that.    

The camera kit included a lens that indeed looks comical—protruding several inches from the phone.  But the pictures...the images are absolute magic.  Hang-on-the-wall quality.  Straight out of the camera.  No retouching. 

The lens is not without its imperfections; but imperfections create character and effect. 

I don’t want a perfect representation of the world; I want a distillation of a moment, a summary of a subject—a painting more than a snapshot.  A poem more than a dissertation.  Not because a poem can be smaller; but because a poem can be more.

These delicate leaves were captured with the macro-lens.  It's like turning your iPhone into a low-powered microscope.  

This nail is in the old fence behind our house.  We've all seen old rusty nails in cracked wood—but here's the fiber of the grain, the chipped metal, and the little particles of sand and silt like delicate flakes of snow dotting the surface.  

I think of the end of a stick of dynamite when I see this.  What is it?  Just a splinter of wood from that old fence.  Twisted more like rope than wood.  Think how long ago the phloem cells of the pine tree conducted sugar and starch along the trunk—feeding the growth of these fibers.  Think where, and in what air...  

There's a great story of Jefferson.  While on a trip, he had a caricature made of his face; complete with hooked nose and a comic chin that would make Jay Leno proud.  He was so pleased with the cartoon that he had copies made and sent them to all of his friends. There's humor in those eyes, if you look.  

But of course, eyes are far from flat. Here, just look at how pointed the lashes are—wide at the base and like daggers at their ends.  And so curved.  Designed to capture those little white figments of dust and keep them out of the eyes.  So glossy.  So reflective.  True windows to the world.    

Can't you feel your fingers closing around the stalk-like branches, climbing into the heights of this trunk?  But it is only a twig on a shrub.  But what a world of adventure it invites.  

Our world is defined in many ways by sharp edges and rounded forms.  But here, at this level, texture rules, carpeting every surface in high-definition.  Are these filaments to catch moisture from the air?  To absorb sunlight?  To deter insects?  Or simply to feel the breeze?  

The honeycomb structure is perfect in its modernity—looking like a million cubes stacked in digital space, blurring to infinity.  Then again, this is made to blur.  It's the crystalline structure of a car's brake light.  

Hanging from the head of a hose, this droplet of water shows off the perfection of its curve—looking more like the distribution of a graph than something you'd drink.  And suddenly I'm reminded of a little fact: that rain falls not as a teardrop—but a sphere; so great is the stickiness of those hydrogen bonds.  Holding it together like a planet in space.  

From afar, clovers of the three leaf variety always looked just like that—three leaves.  But here it's obvious there are six leaves with six distinct stem-lines.  They sit in heart-shaped pairs, and each is distinctive in coloration and health.  Also—look at the little filaments around the edges.  Here, a bug works his way from a thirsty breakfast to a gem like droplet of water.   

Looking more like a glossy pineapple, this acorn shell has been pasted with a thin sheen of water. There's so much unexpected color at this magnification, so much variance, so many surprising transformations.  

An acorn bursts to life, splitting its shell and reaching up towards the light.  Acorns are brilliant little marvels of engineering—featuring all of the nutrients necessary to build a new tree.  The top part arching out will make the stem, while the lower tendril reaches down to the ground and will become the roots.  

The strength of this flower surprises. Usually just a tiny drop-sized burst of yellow in the grass, here is an explosion. At the center you can see the female organs surrounded by a constellation of split ends. These split projections hold the speckled pollen, just waiting for a bee. But this isn't an ordinary flower. Deep down between these yellow florets are white filaments. Soon, this bright yellow flower will transform itself into the white dome of a dandelion. 

The stars of a dandelion puncture the frame in this image, taken just a few steps from the yellow flower above.  

Focusing in beyond the stars of white, we find the head of the dandelion, looking like a star of cinnamon sticks.  

Here, a tiny spider balances in the space beneath a palm frond.  

When I took this picture of these bright flowers, I couldn't see the busy bug pattering across the petal.  Half of the fun of the lenses is seeming something differently; the other half—seeing something completely new.  

When the Washington Monument was completed, the architects decided to cap it with a pyramid of solid metal—precious metal.  Just as the monuments of antiquity were capped by gold, this one would be capped with the world's most gilded.  At the time, though, that wasn't gold or silver—it was a new and little-used metal: aluminum.  Today, that same aluminum is discarded in the grass—and polished in iPhones and Macs.  

This tiny fly rests on the link of a chain hanging from a fire hydrant, its wings translucent and stance expectant.  Ready to fly.  

These tiny flowers stand in the center of a marsh—salty at dusk—where water flows through a desert oasis.  

Sand that flows thin and smooth as silk here looks like gravel.  So much color.  So much variety.  

Photo Jan 10, 4 42 16 PM.jpg

Looking like a pine cone, this sits at the end of a reed and sways in the wind.  

These droplets hold whole worlds, a solar system on a flower petal.    

For thousands of years, we depended on horses for transportation and sport.  But it wasn't until the 19th century and the invention of photography that we finally saw how a horse gallops: every leg aloft—from leap to leap across the thundering earth.  

A giraffe comes into focus, peeking over the hill line—this tallest of mammals looking small in a landscape of mountains and clouds.  

Without these lenses, you'd have to be in this camel's face to capture a shot like this—but you'd fail to capture his sly but suspicious glare.  Here, at this distance, he can be himself.  

A cactus warns against closer contact, ready to fight for its hard-earned store of water.  

These petals float in a perfect canvas of green.  

A mist of droplets form in this forest of grass and clovers.  A billion tiny Earths, each reflecting its own sun.  And that perfect sphere at the center of the image, balanced at the end of a frond—that's where we live.  Go tell someone.