Photographing things Your Eye Will Never See…

Pictures Can - And Do Lie

There are some photographic techniques which are just too wonderful not to share with you. For me it was the techniques that demonstrate how differently your camera can see things compared with your naked eye that got me fascinated. 

Technically the camera never lies because it's constrained by the laws of physics (physics smysics). That said, if you call what the naked eye sees the "truth", your camera has a nose bigger than Pinocchio.


You are never going to see this scene with your naked eye. The bird is sharp - the background is blurred out. Your eyes just don't see this way - even if you are right next to the bird (which at the Farne Islands isn't a big ask - you can get really close). What your naked eyes would see is more like the scene below - everything around the bird is sharp.

One of these images is pleasing to look at, the other isn't. There are many reasons for that - many compositional elements, but it can't be denied one reason is that it's a view you'd never get with the naked eye

 This effect is achieved by one setting of the camera - the aperture setting. If you use a large aperture to shoot, you'll start seeing blurred backgrounds and foregrounds, an effect we call bokeh. It makes your subject really stand out from the noise around it, which creates a really pleasing effect.

Shutter Speed

With shutter speed, you can create ghosting effects, motion blur, or make things disappear entirely. Can you do that with your naked eyes?

A slow shutter speed has created a motion blur effect in the blacksmith's arm. The arm was moving fast while the shutter was open while everything else remained still.

Owl Landing

Owl Landing

A fast shutter speed has frozen this owl in mid air as it came to land on the post.

A slow shutter speed has created headlight streams and almost made the carts invisible.

While these may not be the most stunning images I've ever taken, I don't mind showing them to you as examples of the "lies" cameras can tell.

The first image shows a completely empty street - taken pre-lockdown. It is one of the most famous streets in the world - The Shambles in York - rumoured to be inspiration for Harry Potter's Diagon Alley. It's never empty. Footfall when I was taking that image was the same as ever. 

Both these images used shutter speed techniques. Leaving the shutter open for a long time blurred the moving people to create a ghosting effect in the second image. An even longer shutter speed in the first image (30 seconds) caused the people to disappear entirely.

High Dynamic Range - HDR

This is a more advanced technique, unlike the two above. It produces images that look other-worldly. It's a bit like marmite. Some love it, others hate it. When done badly it can look very fake. 

When you compare these two images, one of them looks ethereal, whereas the other looks far flatter. One of these images was licenced for a national newspaper, the other was not.

The technique used, High Dynamic Range, combined 3 shots into one. One shot is under exposed - which enables the camera to see the detail in the highlights really well. one shot is correctly exposed (enabling the camera to see the mod tones well), and the last is over exposed enabling the camera to see all the detail in the shadows and blacks.

Look again at the two images together. See how the detail in the highlights and shadows has disappeared in the second one, but is perfectly visible in the first one.

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