Learning Through Photographs

Haleakala Observatory. ©Alina Oswald. All Rights Reserved.

Images as Sources of Information

A picture is worth a thousand words, and much, much more. An image doesn’t only tell a story, visually, but it can also be also a fountain of information. It helps us learn more about photography, for example, how to interpret an image or “read” the visual story it tells. A photograph can also teach us about pretty much everything and anything, from nature and science to society, activism, history, and much more.

The other day I decided to update my Alamy stock photo portfolio and had to come up with captions and keywords for each uploaded image. Hence, I ended up doing quite a bit of research on the subjects and places captured in those photographs. In the process, I was reminded of, as well as learned quite a few interesting things.


I rediscovered Coconut Island, which is located off the coast of Hilo, Hawaii. (click here for a wide-angle aerial view of Coconut Island and the surrounding area) In the shape of a fishhook curve, Coconut Island (Moku Ola in Hawaiian) is a fun travel destination. When I visited, ten years ago, I spotted a wedding taking place right on the island. That, while a few youngsters were tower jumping off a rock only a few feet away from the ceremony.

Coconut Island, Hilo, Hawaii. ©Alina Oswald.
Coconut Island, Hilo, Hawaii. Off the coast of Big Island, HI.


Brocken Spectre. Haleakala National Park. ©Alina Oswald. All Rights Reserved.
Brocken Spectre. Haleakala National Park. Photo ©Alina Oswald.

Brockengespenst, the Brocken ghost, also known as Brocken Spectre or Brocken Bow, is an optical illusion that was first observed on the Brocken Mountain (hence the name), in Harz Mountains in Germany. The illusion can also occur in Scotland and Haleakala (dormant volcano, that is) in Maui, Hawaii.

Brockengespenst was originally noticed and described by Johann Esaias Silberschlag, in 1780. (The lunar crater, Silberschlag, carries his name). Silberschlag (Nov 16, 1721 – Nov 22, 1791) was a German Lutheran theologian and natural scientist. In his book, Geonetics or Explanation of the Mosaic Creation According to Physical and Mathematical Foundations, he attempted to reconcile science and theology.

The Broken “illusion” of halo-like rings (also called rings of glory or saint’s halo) can be observed when several elements happen simultaneously:

  • sunset (the sun is low in the sky and behind the observer),
  • clouds, fog, or rain
  • some kind of…backdrop or background, found, for example, while visiting Broken Mountain or Haleakala (at the right altitude).

When looking for spotting the Brocken spectre, time and place are important; as is timing. And so, do look for rainbows. For instance, Hawaii has no shortage of rainbows (“anuenue” in Hawaiian).

I was lucky enough to have the chance to witness this mesmerizing phenomenon. While chasing rainbows on top of the world, at Haleakala, right around sunset, I noticed our shadows (mine and my better half’s) beginning to form. I held my breath for the rainbow to appear and surround our shadows in a half-circle…and it did, only for a few moments. Then the Brocken spectre started to disappear, in reverse order–first, the rainbow, and then our shadows. I took a few pictures–wide-angle shot and a closeup.

Note: I once caught a glimpse of the Brockengespenst when flying (Air Berlin) from the island of Sylt to Berlin. I had a window seat and noticed the shadow of the plane encircled by a rainbow. It disappeared before I had the chance to reach for my iPhone. [sigh] But I did get to see it.

Brocken Spectre. Haleakala National Park. ©Alina Oswald. All Rights Reserved.
Brocken Spectre. Haleakala National Park. ©Alina Oswald.


When visiting Waipio Valley, on the Big Island of Hawaii, I happened to walk by a colorful tree. What I didn’t know, at the time, was that the tree was a rainbow tree or rainbow Eucalyptus tree which grows in Hawaii (and a few other places) and is the most colorful tree on Earth.

Rainbow tree bark. Photo by Alina Oswald. All Rights Reserved.
Rainbow Tree Bark. ©Alina Oswald

So, you see, there’s a lot to learn from images, looking at images and the stories they tell. Until now I’ve never quite thought of the meaning of photography, of photographs, in this way. And I feel I’m just beginning to scratch the surface.

Beach Creature. Photo by Alina Oswald. All Rights Reserved.
On the Beach. ©Alina Oswald.

What do you think is the role of photography in your life, and in life, in general? Maybe that’s something worth exploring in an upcoming post.

As always, thanks for stopping by!

Alina Oswald

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