Monday, 10 July 2017

Looking at an angle but seeing level

Perspective foxThere is something wrong with this photo (right), to me at least. The photo appears to be taken at the same height as the fox's head, looking straight at it. The thing is, the picture was taken from above at an angle I've calculated as at least 40 degrees.

The first question is this: do other people agree that the photo looks to be taken at fox head level? If not, then it is misperception and some people will see it straight ahead while others won't. If anyone sees the fox as if from above, please let me know (here). I have seen this effect before in other photos (see below). However, I've never seen the effect when simply looking at an object with the naked eye so I assume it's a photographic artefact.

So next question: what might cause such a photographic artefact / misperception? First clue: the photo was taken with a telephoto lens. This introduces a perspective distortion, namely flattening the scene. In other words it 'compresses' the scene so that objects appear closer to each other than they really are in real life. For instance, the out-of-focus leaves in the foreground look close to the fox but they are many centimetres from it.

I think such flattening of perspective may be part of the answer. I think also the lack of a visual cues to the angle of view is important. If the fox was near a fence or wall, for instance, I think would be obvious what the angle of view was. The fact that a camera has one lens may also be a factor as this removes the stereo vision that allows us humans to get a 3-D view with our eyes.

StorkI have come across other examples and here is one (right). This clearly shows a flying stork, apparently from the same height as the bird. However, it was taken from the ground and I would estimate that the stork was at an elevation of at least 30 degrees. Once again, a telephoto lens was used and there are a lack of visual cues in the background to the angle of view. And once again the point of view has been 'changed' to look at the object as if it were straight ahead.

It appears as if the viewer's brain is 'rotating' the image to make objects appear straight ahead, for some reason,. I don't know why but if anyone does, please let me know. More examples would help in solving this puzzle. Whatever the reason, it is clear that photos do not always show objects at a correct angle. This is worth bearing in mind when examining photos with few objects in them, such as views of the sky. Such photos may give a false impression of where the photo was taken from which could be vital in understanding any anomaly in the picture.

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