Travails with my camera

The Reality of a Photograph

A friend in the pub: “I can’t get the photos I take on my ‘phone to look real”. This got me thinking! Can a photograph be real?  A photograph is an indexical link to a moment in position and time, but not a recording of what we see.

There are 3 major differences (leaving out colourimetry, binocular vision etc.):

1) foveation
2) saccading
3) perspective

The retina has most clarity in an area known as the fovea and is limited in the depth of field it can instantaneously see.  In order to look at a scene, the eye ‘foveates’ – rapidly moves and refocuses to take in an entire scene. The act of foveating can happen unconsciously due to stimulus (eg movement in peripheral vision) or can be part of a thought process.

Whilst changing location or focus, the optical nerve switches off, or ‘saccades’. Whilst saccaded, the brain interpolates the intervening image (which can cause problems when driving – imagine quickly looking left and right at a junction and finding out you’d missed a cyclist in a saccade).

Only a 50mm lens (on a 35mm SLR system) has a similar perspective to an adult eye.

So a photo is never real. But it can look natural.

When looking at a photo, the brain knows it’s flat, it doesn’t need to refocus to see much greater depth of fields. To look natural, the image needs keys to look 3D. For faces, flash light from straight on can remove shadows reducing any visual contours. Reduce flash by sticking a Rizla over it or buy a cheap, Chinese flash gun which can be fired by a smaller flash and fire it from the side. Remember, we’re used to seeing people lit from overhead by the sun.


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