Seeing Differently

April 07, 2021  •  Leave a Comment

Whether it's a phone, professional-grade photographic gear or anything in between, all cameras have something fundamental in common: they see quite differently than we do.

Think of the things our eyes can see (and do) that the camera cannot. We see in 3D. Our eyes can automatically adjust color balance. They can easily interpret scenes with broad dynamic ranges (like deep shadows to strong sunlight). The human eye can discern a great deal of detail in dark areas, and is very sensitive in low-light situations. Nature's JewelsNature's JewelsScores of droplets cling to a day lily leaf after persistent drizzle and light rain. (Newfields, New Hampshire)

We’re able to focus selectively. How many times have you taken a picture and noticed afterward that there were distracting elements included in the shot? Your brain ignored them. The camera can't.

One other important trait that we bring to the table is our ability to "see" with emotion. The camera is dispassionate.

On the flip side, the camera is capable of capturing things we're unable to see. It can render subjects in creative ways. Often the photograph is more interesting than the scene we saw with our eyes.

For example, the camera can create silky water or skies (by blurring movement); freeze motion (like a crashing wave or a hummingbird in flight); make things disappear (slow shutter + subject movement = poof!); view minute details (via the macro lens); create soft background blur; see tonality; compress perspective (with a long lens); and render faint nighttime objects very clearly (like the Milky Way).

The image you make is the result of a series of choices, from optics and settings to composition and perspective. It’s not simply a matter of understanding the differences between how you and your camera see a scene: it’s understanding how the camera might interpret it.

Lots of decisions! But also many possibilities.  

Sometimes what comes off the memory card will surprise you; there may be circumstances when you won’t know just how much the camera “saw” until you begin processing. The storm pictured below is one such example. It was wild; I had my hands full trying to deal with stability issues as I struggled in high winds to make the four verticals I'd need for a stitched panoramic. I liked the visual of the heavy rain partially obscuring the mountains, so underexposed to capture as much about what was going on in the sky as possible. I didn't know just how wicked the clouds overhead looked until I pulled the images off the card, opened them in Lightroom, and could appreciate what my camera had been seeing. Moulton Barn Grand Teton National ParkTurmoil AloftA strong storm creates stunning, turbulent skies and brings with it powerful winds. As it passes, the mountains are rendered as shadows by heavy rain. (T.A. Moulton Barn - Grand Teton National Park Wyoming)


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