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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. I.e.,

Our perceptions =
f (objective factors, subjective factors)

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

Think about a situation 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 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.

And this brings us to photography and reality.

An unaltered photograph might be a snapshot of objective reality, but our view and memories of the original scene was altered by our perceptual filters.

This means that what we see in a photo is hugely different than our perception and recollection of the original scene.

Our eyes and mind will emphasize, ignore, or alter elements in that scene. First, our mind endows our visual perception with an emotional content largely absent in a photograph. Second, the photograph ignores context, and captures and 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 cortex.)

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 1024:1 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 we experience them in nature are vastly different than when we view them as traditional photographs.

So, 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 … “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, 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