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An objective reality does exist ... but we interpret this reality through a hazy veil of sensory perceptions.

In a professional lifetime of social-psych research I’ve concluded that what we perceive is partly an effect of objective reality, but largely an effect of individual perceptual differences. That is,

Our perceptions »
ƒ(objective factors, subjective factors)

When you ride in a fast car, might it be my slow one? Clearly this is so. Our understanding of reality is influenced by our pre-conceptions and biases, our attentiveness, the stimulus strength, our visual acuity, cognitive processing, and by our interpretation. And of course by the reality of what we have experienced … which is the least influential of these.

Think about a situation in which you and a companion both experienced the same phenomenon - say, an after-game fight between fans of different football teams. In discussing this, your interpretations of the event may have been dramatically different. Your conversation might end with, "Wow, that's not what I saw."

In other words, our perception is our reality. We each live in a unique microcosm of subjective reality. We are unable to perceive the world as it objectively exists. Our personal reality is unique and directly influences how we perceive the world. No one sees the world as we personally see it.

And this brings us to photography and reality.

An unaltered photograph is a small snapshot of objective reality, but our perception and subsequent memory of that reality has been altered by our perceptual filters.

And so the reality of the original scene is hugely different than our initial perception and subsequent recollection of it.

Our eyes and mind emphasize, ignore, or alter elements in that scene. First, our mind endows our visual perception with an emotional content absent in a photograph. Second, the photograph ignores context and time-order of events. The camera captures and then flattens an incalculably small piece of reality.

Third, in a natural viewing experience the objects that capture our attention loom large, but shrink to minuscule in a photo. Note that our central vision represents only 2% of the retina, but 50% of our brain’s visual processing power.

Fourth, the dynamic range of fully adapted eyes (contrast of darks to lights) is as much as 1,000,000:1 … while that of a fine digital camera is typically under 5000:1, and nearer 100:1 for a photographic print. Fifth, our eyes’ field of view is nearly 180°, while that of a camera is typically … well, you get the picture.

Conclusion? How we “see” things is determined by how we are predisposed to see them … by how we perceptually alter or emphasize them. So, scenes as captured in traditional photographs are vastly different than how as we personally have experienced them.

Conclusion? Rather than believing what we see, we see what we believe.

My vision is to create photographs that approach the vibrancy and emotional impact of the images as I originally experienced them.


“seeing is believing” … or is it … “believing is seeing”?

Photography is a lifelong a passion gained as an observer of the world, and from stellar photographers: my father, from staff photographers for international pictorial magazines, from Burt Keppler of Modern Photography & Popular Photography, from Gary Chittenden at Road & Track, and from countless others.

I am a retired marketing professor with scholarly interests in perception. Early on, I was the Marketing Director for the first Vivitar Series One 70-210 macro-focusing zoom. A short wiki about my involvement in the development of macro-zoom lenses – in particular the Vivitar Series 1 Lenses – can be found here.

Many of the photos on this site were captured in the majestic landscapes and mountains near our Utah home.



About bill swinyard