Saturday, January 16, 2010

The camera always lies

click photo to enlarge
"The camera never lies" is a saying that I remember hearing as a child, long before I owned a camera. To my young, growing mind it seemed like a perfectly reasonable statement. After all, cameras were unthinking machines that simply recorded that which the user pointed them at, unlike painting which was always an interpretation of what the artist saw. I think this is a view still held by many - both young and old - though the advent of digital photography and software like Photoshop has certainly raised doubts in the minds of a few more about whether a photograph can be believed. Ironically it's the more obvious manipulations such as the smoothing out of wrinkles around Twiggy's eyes, the removal of a film star's paunch, or the trimming of a starlet's waist that have prompted such thoughts.

It was only after I'd engaged in photography for a number of years that I began to question the wisdom of the statement that "the camera never lies." But by then, the more I thought about it, the more I came to understand that this saying was, in fact, the opposite of the truth: the camera always lies in one way or another. It lies by being more selective than the eye about what it sees, it lies by giving emphasis to things that the brain doesn't, the colours it shows are never accurate, the relative positions of objects are usually not as we see them, and the meaning that we take from a photograph is usually more to do with how we see the subject in the image than the reality that the photographer saw.

Today's photograph is just the sort of image that an opponent of a proposed wind farm or line of pylons might want to use. "Look", they would say, "these monstrosities turn the countryside into an industrial landscape!" But that's not true. At least it's not true as far as these pylons and these wind turbines go. By using a lens that is the 35mm equivalent of 300mm I've foreshortened and compressed this group of pylons and turbines into what looks like a small space, and I've magnified their apparent size. Anyone walking by this scene, or anyone living near it, would not recognise the photograph as the place they knew. It's just me making the camera tell lies for dramatic effect.

photograph & text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Olympus E510
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 150mm (300mm/35mm equiv.)
F No: f7.
Shutter Speed: 1/1250
ISO: 100
Exposure Compensation: -0.3 EV
Image Stabilisation: On