Beyond Human Vision – Seeing More With Photography

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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.

1. Capturing time

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.

Beyond vision 01

A long shutter speed of several seconds lets you see movement that isn’t discernible at all or in the same way by vision alone. Exposure: 1/3rd of a second, f/14.0, ISO 100.

Beyond vision 02

Controlling shutter speed is also what makes light painting possible. Exposure: 134 seconds, f/5.6, ISO 100.

Beyond vision 03

Using a really fast shutter speed lets you transform continuous motion that you see as a blur into a frozen instant. I thought I was photographing a bird sitting on a snowy branch, but all I got was a miniature snow flurry. Exposure: 1/500th, f/2.8, ISO 800.

2. Capturing light

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.

Beyond vision 04

If you’re lucky, you can see The Milky Way with your naked eye. Capturing it with a camera, though, allows you to see even more details of our galaxy. Exposure: 35 seconds, f/4.0, ISO 1600.

3. Field of view

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.

Beyond vision 05

A wide field of view, but still not as wide as that of most humans. Exposure: 1/13th, f/7.1, ISO 400.

Beyond vision 06

A very small (narrow) field of view. This close-up, or macro, shows the tiny details of a fungus growing. Exposure: 1/25th, f/6.3, ISO 100.

4. Depth of field

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).

Beyond vision 07

Snow and ice crystals creating bokeh. Exposure: 1/100th, f/4.0, ISO 160.

Beyond vision 08

Starburst over a snowy sea. Exposure: 1/500th, f/20.0, ISO 100.

5. Color

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).

Beyond vision 09

A monochrome vision – this photo was taken as a color image, then converted to black and white in post-processing. Exposure: 1/80th, f/4.0, ISO 1250.

Conclusion

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.

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Hannele Luhtasela-el Showk photographs weddings professionally and nature passionately. Based in Finland and Morocco, they love going on adventures, learning, teaching, reading, science, and finding new perspectives. Hannele's photos can be found on their wedding website, blog and Facebook page.

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  • Wanderin_Weeta

    I often use the camera to see things too small to distinguish clearly with the naked eye, or moving too rapidly for my eye to capture anything more than a blur. Example: the other day, I photographed broom flowers over my head on a windy afternoon. All I could see was the yellow petals dancing; the camera captured – clearly – the hairs on the inner structures of the flower. (Hand-held, one hand; the other was holding a stem, trying to slow down its movement.)

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