Tuesday, 14 March 2017

From goose to ghost

Egyptian GooseWhen I saw this photo (right) I knew straight away something was wrong. What is strange is the object, resembling a pale leaf, in front of the goose. I have a bad memory but I know for sure that there was no object in front of the goose when I took the photo a couple of days previously. So what is going on?

I have reduced the photo to a small size here deliberately. It is similar to the size when I first noticed the 'leaf' object. As soon as I zoomed in on the photo the mystery was resolved. As can be seen in the cropped version of the photo (below right) the object is not in front of the goose at all. It is some kind of flat concrete object in the grass, possibly an inspection cover or something similar. I admit I did not notice it at the time but since it was behind the bird, rather than in front of it, I wouldn't have regarded it as important.

The concrete object appears to be in front of the goose, in the smaller version of the picture, because it more or less matches the colour of the bird's neck at that point. So, it is coincidence based on a number of factors coming together. There is the similarity of colouration between part of the bird's neck and concrete object. Then there is the relative position of the bird, concrete object and photographer which need to line up in very specific way for the 'leaf' to appear. Finally, there is the way the goose has two different colours in its neck! Even though I know what is causing the effect it still looks like a leaf in front of the goose in the smaller photo to me. That would make it that rarity, a photographic misperception (see here for more on this).

Egyptian Goose (detail)This is a good example of how a coincidence can make things appear quite different to reality. Such coincidences can certainly give rise to paranormal reports. While no one is likely to report a 'paranormal leaf', a different set of circumstances could give rise to an apparent human figure that would 'vanish' as soon as the witness changed position. This might easily be reported as a ghost. With a photo it is possible to examine the scene again and again and zoom in and enhance the image. But with a casual observation the first impression is the only one available, wrong or right.

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