October 27th, 2016
One blink (previous post) talked about the instant. Here I want to think about the human eye and our place when we view things. The human eye is remarkable in that it can see not just what is front but what is to the side, above and below. Without going into too much of the science of vision – we can see about 120-130 degrees. This is complicated as the retina of the eye has differentiated cells that enable us to “concentrate”, that is see some areas better that others as we look directly at them. Sort of what you point your camera lens at.
The camera occludes the peripheral. The eye does not. The outer limits of what we see is much greater than what the camera sees. This topic deals with the peripheral experience of the photographer versus the camera. It is always a reverse engineering project. The challenge is not just to get capture the image. It is to figure out how to get the viewer to sense the outer limits, beyond the viewfinder, the periphery, and to put the image into context.
At this point there should also be a discussion about the lens you are using. Wide angles do capture more of the scenery. But at the end of the day – it captures the image on a flat surface – usually in an oddly strange format of 4:3 ratio or 16:9, etc. (check your settings to see what options you have). To capture the wider angle, the camera must distort the image. Funny thing is the back of our eye is not flat! So, no matter what you do, you must “distort” the image to capture what the camera sees versus what you see. We have reached our outer limits; we just are not capturing it in the same way we experience it.
This dilemma is one I struggle with. How can I give my viewer a sense of the surroundings I am standing in, to reflect what I am seeing? The sense of standing in a field. And that I am active – not just looking straight ahead, but looking up, down, to the side and yes, often, behind me. So the simple answer? I take panoramas – stitching together multiple shots to try and capture as much data as possible. Some of my photographs are complete 360 degree shots.
Then most images are displayed on a flat screen. Or if I print them on a roll print, placed on a flat wall. When what I really want is to mount the photograph on the inside of a giant lampshade and have the viewer immerse themselves inside of it so they have to turn to experience the same level of detail and beauty of what I am trying to share. That they see the detail of what is in front of them and in their peripheral vision. As they turn their head they see more of what was really in front of me as I looked around. Imagine my frustration when I took a panoramic of being inside an overhang and took pictures of the view in front of me and then up over my head and behind me of the wall (A vertical panoramic). The results were intriguing, very artsy – but gave the viewer no sense of the overburden of tons of rock weighing down that framed the view.
Perhaps it is the media we have chosen. Perhaps it is the subject we are trying to capture. Should we even be trying? Recognizing this is our constraint, the challenge is how to best to try and deal with this. I write to help myself understand it and to be better – so not everything is simple. One clue I discovered lies within the word “Context”. It is perhaps part of the key to good panoramas, bringing the outer limits of the experience into the viewer and making them see why what you were seeing inspired and bringing them into the world you left.
I generally don’t use the panoramic features of a camera. I tend to stitch the results together. Rather than just think stitching or panning left to right (or vice versa), I often try and shoot tops and bottoms, and even capture what’s up above and down below. I also try putting separate pictures together that provide context. What I saw to the left or right of me. One picture may be worth a thousand words but series of pictures tells the story. In landscape photography, there are objects that present themselves when well framed, to help make a good picture. But it is the entirety, multiple objects that give you the sense of the whole. That sense of “wait, wait, there’s more” than just what’s in front of the lens. There is what you see on the edges, the outer limits of your vision. Capturing it, and displaying it.
PS. The Picture shown is from Horseshoe Canyon and used 25 shots. Up down and behind!
Addendum: This is not about the how to’s – there is a lot of technical material on this There are also a fair number of software programs that allow you to pan and move up and down, but I can’t always rely on the end user having them. And they don’t work if you use prints. I am also curious to see if virtual reality will allow conversion without the use of specialize cameras. As always, please feel free to comment.