the blog of Seldom Seen Photography

Perspective on Reality

Tacoma PilingsI recently read a blog post by Tim Grey on photographic perspective. In it, Tim Grey asks his readers:

Is it ever ‘wrong’ to present an image as ‘real’ if we’ve used a bit of perspective to create a scene that isn’t exactly representative of reality? Creating tricks of perspective can be done very easily by changing your position relative to the subject or changing lenses on the camera. Is that wrong?

In response, I commented:

“I don’t believe it is wrong to present something as ‘real’ just because of the perspective. Perspective has been an important part of photography as long there has been cameras. Am I suppose to label every image taken with a telephoto lens as ‘this image may not represent reality as you experience it if you visit this location?’

I love taking telephoto shots of Mount Rainier, such as the one shown here [my original response included a link to the the image shown below]. When showing images like this, many people comment on how it can’t be “real”, the mountain is not that close. But this is what the camera sees. It’s the same as the human eye sees at the same location, it’s just that the human eye also takes in a much broader view, so the isolate perspective is not realized. If you use binoculars from the same vantage point, you would get essentially the same view. Is the view from binoculars not ‘real’?”

I thought I’d explore this a bit further in this post. The image above and the image below, both of which show Mount Rainier, but with differing perspectives, where both taken from the spot just 4 minutes apart. The one above (which is actually a HDR image with 3 exposures) was captured with a setting of 24 mm (38 mm equivalent) on my 24-70 mm lens, and thus represents slight wide-angle view. The one below was taken with a setting of 175 mm (280 mm equivalent) on my 70 to 200 mm lens, and represents a telephoto view.

It’s images like the one below that get comments about not being real (I’ve been asked more than once if I’ve photoshopped the mountain in). It is easily shown that the image below is real, with no Photoshop trickery (at least if you believe the upper photo is “real”). If I crop the upper photo to the same field of view as the second photo (as shown in the third photo), the compressional distortion is the same, and the photos look very similar (except of course for the quality on the extremely cropped version). FYI – the pier in front of the buildings on the photo below is Les Davis Pier, featured in my last post on night photography.

I love to play with perspective distortion in my images, using various focal lengths  and camera to subject distances to expand (with wide-angle shots) or compress (with telephoto shots). There is a good explanation of the phenomena on Wikipedia.

Since Tim Grey inspired this post, I might as well put in a plug for him. Tim teaches about digital photography and imaging. He provides an excellent, free daily email service that provides answers to digital photography questions – often involving processing with Photoshop or Lightroom. I’ve gotten is daily email for years, and can highly recommend it.

Tahoma over Tacoma

Telephoto compression - taken from the same spot as the photo above, but with a telephoto lens instead of a wide angle one.

Crop of Tacoma Pilings

Extreme crop of the featured image showing telephoto compression by cropping field of view rather than using a telephoto lens. The image quality is poor due to the extreme cropping.

Advertisements

4 responses

  1. What first caught my eye while looking through WordPress was the old pier in the foreground, I love it! I just moved to Renton, and have enjoyed exploring the area to find places like this.
    This is a great photo, and I’m with you on the perspective debate.
    Also, was this Rainier photo taken recently? Every time I’ve been able to see the mountain lately it’s been through a vague haze and so I haven’t been able to gt very good shots. I’m happy to see (hope?) that it does clear up sometimes!

    February 26, 2012 at 6:13 pm

    • Abra, welcome to the Puget Sound area! The Rainier photos were taken a couple of years ago. Unfortunately, when it is clear around here, we often get temperature inversions, making the air pretty hazy with either moisture, smog, or both. When photographing Rainier from here, it helps to do so in the afternoon so that the sunlight doesn’t backlight the particles in the air. A polarizing filter can help too. Still, there are times when the air is very clear. You’ll be bound to have some of them sooner or later.

      February 26, 2012 at 7:07 pm

      • Thanks for the heads up! I actually just bought my first filter a few days ago, and I look forward to putting it to use.

        February 26, 2012 at 7:11 pm

  2. Beautiful!!! 🙂 **

    February 26, 2012 at 10:19 pm

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s