Friday, 12 October 2012

The bigger picture!

 RushCan you work out what that is in this photo (right)? I can't! At least, I wouldn't be able to if I didn't have the rest of the photo. Just looking at the heavily cropped picture here, there is obviously a reddish object, shaped like a boomerang, which appears to be either out of focus or blurred by camera shake. Either way, there's not much else you can really say about it! Attempts to enhance the photo reveal some sort of linear pattern running along the length of the object but little else.

I sometimes see anomalous photos like this. They are clearly cropped sections from a larger photo (you can usually tell by the unusual dimensions of the picture). There may, of course, be good reasons why the rest of the photo is missing. For instance, it may feature a person who does not want their image shared without permission! But the problem is that the rest of the photo may also provide vital contextual information that could explain what the mystery object is.

Some people might see such an odd object like this one as possibly paranormal, if it was taken at a haunted location and especially if it was not noticed at the time the photo was taken. But in many cases, there is a simpler, mundane explanation.

RushThe photo, right, shows more of the picture that the photo above was cropped from. The red 'boomerang' is at the bottom of the image. Above it is a clear image of a rush leaf with water droplets. Suddenly, a likely solution suggests itself! The 'boomerang' is almost certainly an old rush leaf, turning brown.

In a wider sense, the same kind of problem applies to many reported paranormal incidents. Though the witness may describe, in admirable detail, the weird thing they saw, contextual information about what else was going on nearby is unlikely to have been noticed or remembered. As I noted recently, in some cases a witness may have actually seen the explanation for their mystery incident but either not noticed it or not realized its significance.

The central problem is that people can only pay full attention to one thing at a time. So if you see something weird you're likely to watch it to the exclusion of everything else going on around you. Even with a photograph, where you have time to study it and pay attention to all of it, many people concentrate on the bit they think is weird or unusual. So they crop the photo to just show the 'anomaly' as that is all that is important!

When you analyze an anomalous photo, it is vital to examine every part of it, not just any obvious anomaly. The rest of the picture may offer clues to explain the anomaly. For instance, if there is a bright light source at the edge of the frame, it is a likely explanation for large anomalous circles of light in the centre of the picture. It would almost certainly be an example of lens flare. If only we knew what was going on at the time around most reported paranormal incidents, they would be easily explainable!

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