Visually impaired photographer shoots severe storms up close
You can’t help but be in complete awe looking at Terry Rosema’s photostream. As a storm chaser, Terry witnesses and captures Mother Nature’s fury firsthand: deadly tornadoes, torrential rain, golf ball-sized hail, lightning, etc. His photos are incredible, but what’s even more amazing is that Terry is partially blind.
Terry’s love for storm chasing started in 2008 while working as a graphic designer in Grand Rapids, MI. He was asked by a meteorologist friend to create a vehicle that intercepted severe storms. Excited by the opportunity and a challenge, Terry accepted the offer.
The vehicle Terry designed was an SUV with an external roll cage, a exoskeleton and a 16 gauge steel plate that altogether weighed about 10,000 lbs. On top of that, the car had a kevlar coating for protection from flying debris and can lower to the ground preventing it from flipping over from high winds.
“I was really proud of what we came up with,” Terry says. “I was relieved and excited when we tested these vehicles out and they were able to hold up against severe weather. It was an incredible accomplishment.”
Shortly after the car was built, Terry’s life changed forever. He was diagnosed with Behcet’s disease, a rare immune disorder that attacks different parts of the body. For Terry the disease affected the blood vessels in his eyes, ultimately impairing his vision. Today, he has little to no visibility; most of what he sees is out of his peripheral and around his blind spots.
“I was in a really rough patch,” Terry admits. “I lost my job and honestly I lost a lot of the freedom and enjoyment in things that I used to be able to do. I couldn’t draw, paint or even go out on a drive — my life was extremely limiting.”
Not too long after his diagnosis, Terry’s storm-chasing community invited him out to Oklahoma to check up on the cars he designed. Upon arrival, he went out storm chasing with the team, and to his surprise, found a new sense of purpose.
“Part of being out there is everybody is trying to capture the most amazing photos and videos that they can,” Terry says. “So they want everyone to have a camera in their hand. One thing led to another, and they put a camera in my hand, and I ended up capturing amazing footage.”
Terry discovered he could adjust his camera settings appropriately to help him see better — simply by using magnifiers, zooming in a certain way through his viewfinder and even adjusting the contrast. He also realized that storms, clouds and tornadoes aren’t super detailed, so as long as he framed it correctly, he’d often capture a beautiful photo.
“Mother Nature gives me an amazing canvas to work with,” Terry says. “No storm is the same, and every shot I take is different. When you chase tornadoes, the amount of time that you actually see one is fairly small. So you have to learn to appreciate the structure, the way the sky looks, sometimes even sunsets. In fact, my favorite shots are of the actual storm structure, even if a tornado doesn’t happen.”
When Terry does come face to face with a tornado, he admits the unpredictability can be terrifying.
“Am I scared sometimes? Sure, definitely,” Terry admits. “We get close to some of the most powerful forces of nature on the planet like large hail, flying debris, cloud-to-ground lightning. But I find a lot of comfort behind my camera. For me, looking through the viewfinder makes me feel almost oblivious to what’s around me. It allows me to have the patience and remain calm in these situations.”
After several years of going out and documenting these storms, Terry eventually became addicted to it. But more importantly, Terry feels that documenting these storms has allowed him to be creative again — when only a few years ago, he didn’t think it was possible.
“I would say photography has really helped me overcome a lot of the problems and feelings I had about my eyesight,” Terry says. “It’s an awesome feeling for me to be able to do something artistic again. Just the beauty, the shapes and the artisticness of a lot of the photos that you can get by chasing these storms is awesome to me. I can’t imagine doing anything else.”
Visit Terry’s photostream to see more of his photographer.