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Reality in the Eye and Camera of the Beholder

Everything both you and your camera see is inextricably filtered by the act of seeing. There's no two ways about it. And that's a good thing.

It's well understood that that the choice of focal length, shutter speed and other settings affect the outcome when the shutter release gets pressed. Zoom in and what the frame crops out effectively doesn't exist for the purposes of the photograph. Zoom out and more of what exists before you will be included in the image. Speeding up or slowing down the shutter speed changes more than just the resulting exposure. It determines how motion will be rendered. You get the idea.

Mt. Baker, 6:03 AM
Mt. Baker, 6:03 AM

Mt. Shuksan, 6:23 AM from less than 20 feet away
Mt. Shuksan, 6:23 AM from less than 20 feet away

Where you position your camera relative to your subject and the objects behind it has a huge effect on the result as well. Get right up close and personal with your subject and it will appear huge in the frame relative to objects in the distance. Stand further back and its size will shrink to appear more in scale with the background. Playing with relative perspective can yield vastly different image of the same subject. Wildflowers in the foreground of a mountain vista will appear huge in the frame when you lay on the ground directly in front of them but those same flowers will individually appear quite small if you shoot from twenty yards away. Yet that shift of twenty yards will likely have no visible impact on the appearance of the mountain behind those flowers.

Moreover, the direction you point the camera has a huge influence on the image you will end up with without changing your position or any of the camera settings. There are some great locations in the North Cascades where you can point your camera one direction to photograph Mt. Baker, or point it a different direction to photograph Mt. Shuksan. Since the former has the shape of a traditional volcanic cone formed by eruptions over just a couple thousand years while the latter was formed by oceanic basalt plates uplifted by techtonic forces and weathered by millions of years of metamorphic forces, they look nothing alike. Both are covered with snow in winter of course, but there's no way one could be mistaken for the other.

There's no avoiding it. Your choices in the approach to the composition of an image coupled with the technical decisions regarding camera settings for that image have an enormous impact on the result. The subject itself is only one part of the overall equation. Two photographers standing side by side and shooting the same subject on a beautiful morning can end up with markedly different results when they later compare their images. If you've ever gone shooting with a group you know this to be true first hand. Allow those photographers to move freely and shoot from locations of their choice and the consequent impact will likely go up even more. Allow them to choose their own subject and obviously the differences possible increase yet again.

This is part of what makes the art of photography so compelling to many of us. It's more than just the technical choices necessary to get a good exposure. Those same technical choices and more allow us to be truly creative.

But it's not just your camera that affects the resulting representation of reality. You do the same thing yourself all the time, often without even being aware of it.

To begin with, your eyes are no different than the camera lens. They may not have the range of focal lengths as does a modern camera zoom lens, but it should be clear that you can turn your head and eyes as you wish. Stand in the North Cascades looking only at Mt. Baker and you won't see Mt. Shuksan. And vice versa. We make choices all the time that influence our perception of reality. Your eye and your brain together are a formidable combination.

To an extent, reality is what you preconceive it to be. Go looking for something in particular to photograph and you're liable to miss a lot of other possible subjects simply because you weren't looking for them. Think again for a moment about those photographers standing in the same place and only later finding out how different their resulting images were. Why is it they didn't all photograph their subject the same way? Yes, they likely didn't all have identical cameras and lenses, but that only explains a fraction of what goes into creating different images. Give everyone exactly the same gear and we all know they may well still stake different images.

Each of us is an individual, each the sum total of their experiences and preferences. That creativity that draws many of us to the art of photography is our opportunity to express their own unique perspective.

We all have our own ways of seeing reality. There's no two ways about it. And that's a good thing.

Date posted: August 31, 2014


Copyright © 2014 Bob Johnson, Earthbound Light - all rights reserved.
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