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Have you ever been frustrated because you don’t seem to be able to photograph a scene the way it looks to you, with your vision? Maybe you can’t get a sharp image even though the scene is perfectly clear, or perhaps the camera fails to capture the beautiful variety of light in a landscape.
It’s possible that you’re having technical trouble in getting the most from your camera, but it might also be because the human eye and the camera aren’t the same, despite their compelling similarities. For instance, our eyes have a much broader dynamic range than any sensor or film, and our binocular vision gives us amazing depth perception.
But have you ever thought of the ways in which cameras can outperform the vision of your eyes? These aspects of your favorite tool are not obscure quirks, but commonly used techniques that broaden your perception of the world around you.
So let’s dive into the mysteries of the camera! Maybe realizing how photography expands your worldview will make you look at photography (and reality) in a slightly different way.
With the camera, you can capture time in different units than your eye does. This, of course, is done by choosing a shutter speed. There isn’t a direct counterpart to shutter speed in human vision, but that doesn’t mean we can’t take advantage of the camera’s ability to observe the passage of time beyond our own vision.
Even though your eyes are better than cameras at distinguishing a wide range of light levels in the same frame, the camera can extend your observation of very dark and very light scenes. You can accomplish this by carefully balancing shutter speed, aperture, and ISO. Modern cameras allow for ever higher ISO levels, which increase the light sensitivity and allow you to capture images in really dark scenes.
The human field of view is static, about 190 degrees depending on the anatomy of your face. By using lenses, you can vary that field of view from slightly larger to much smaller.
Although you can’t control it, your eyes do have a changeable aperture called the pupil. It’s difficult to find information on exactly what kind of apertures the human eye can pull off. But whether the camera can do more or less, the effects of a small or large depth of field differ between eyes and cameras.
Examples of this are bokeh, which is achieved by a large aperture (small depth of field), and the starburst effects caused by a very small aperture (large depth of field).
Although cameras have been designed to capture the same colors that we see, some can detect color in a very different way, including sensors used mainly by scientists to detect ultra-violet, infrared, or other parts of the non-visible spectrum.
The ability of some film to capture black and white offers us a new way to see the world, focusing on tones rather than colors. You can also make black and white photographs with a digital camera, though this is almost always a conversion from color to monochrome, either in-camera or in post-processing (there are a couple of monochrome digital cameras available on the market, but they are neither common nor cheap).
Can you come up with more things that the camera can do but you can’t? Do you think your camera helps extend your vision – both literally and metaphorically? I’d love to hear from you and see some of your creations in the comments section below.