Perspectives Demonstration: How the Mind Can Be Tricked

Delightfully concise and visually descriptive, this video from Richard Wiseman defies our perceptions and vividly shows how perspective can be completely warped in the act of fitting a three-dimensional world into a two-dimensional image:

When observing scenes on our daily life, our brain is constantly picking up visual cues in order to deduce the distance of an object. Provided we have two functioning eyes, they will compare the view from either perspective (for the view from each eye is different than the other), and based on the difference in what they see, the brain determines depth with an innate sense of triangulation. However, when a flat image of something is formed, depth no longer exists; our brains must rely on other visual cues such as an object’s size and degree of focus as compared to the things around it. It is through this confusion of the brain’s natural process that photographs can be complete illusion, and we might not even realize it.

optical illusion

You can practice this technique, as he does, with dollhouse furniture and other oddly-sized props. If you set up small items nearer to the lens, they appear almost exactly as they would if they were larger, and the opposite effect happens when placing large objects far away. If you line these items up just right in front of your camera (a tripod will be necessary), you can construct completely false scenes that resemble reality. These images tend to have a very surreal feeling, for the brain will detect the small inconsistencies but, not immediately understanding what those inconsistencies are, will produce a vague feeling of unease – sensing that this isn’t real without knowing why, as in a dream.

Of course, this principle shown by Richard Wiseman has more practical applications as well, such as understanding how to compose any shot in order to emphasize or de-emphasize certain elements by moving them closer to or further from the camera. For example, in portrait photography you can shrink the apparent size of a person’s nose or forehead by turning it away a bit, or enlarge their eyes slightly by bringing them forward. The understanding of perspective is an essential tool of photography, and practicing with exercises such as this one are an excellent way to become familiar with it, and how to manipulate it.

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