Monday, 2 December 2013

Looking closely doesn't always help

Blobs over waterI sometimes see anomalous photos which are clearly cropped sections of a larger original. This cropping may be done to protect someone's anonymity. More often, however, the photographer has cropped the photo to show only the anomaly itself. While this might seem a good idea, at first sight, it can affect how the photo is interpreted.

Take the example here! The photo (right) shows some water with some decidedly strange looking translucent blobs apparently floating above it. One blob, on the left, is shaped like a bottle while another, bottom right, resembles a pebble in shape. The other blobs look roughly circular. It's difficult to judge the scale without knowing how high those waves are on the water. If they are big, perhaps at sea, then it is difficult to imagine what those objects might actually be!

If, on the other hand, the waves are small, maybe in a pond or lake, then the blobs might be easier to understand. They could then, for instance, be droplets of water kicked up from a splash. And that is, indeed, what they are! The uncropped version of this photo shows a duck diving, kicking up those droplets, fortuitously captured in midair just as the photo was taken. Obviously, once the full context is available, the objects are no longer mysterious at all.

While this is a trivial example, purely for illustration, I have come across many others which were not. And, in almost every case, when the whole uncropped photo was examined, a natural explanation for something that initially appeared mysterious rapidly emerged. People often crop their anomalous photos to be helpful, concentrating the eye on the central mystery. It is, perhaps, an obvious thing to do, to look most closely at the mystery object itself in order to explain it. However, it is often what is going on elsewhere in the photo that provides the vital clue to solving such photographic mysteries.

PS: Regarding the last blog entry, MA later recalled having seen the 'fox' video at Verbier online with a French commentary! This might explain where the French accent originated.  

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