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Samizdata quote of the day

Finally, in my last post I wrote of confirmation bias among journalists and bloggers. I have noticed the same thing among photographers. The camera doesn’t lie, but photographers can and often do. Their choice of lens can make the same group of people look rashly hugger mugger or responsibly social-distanced, for example. Their choice depends on how they want you to see the world – and who doesn’t want others to see the world as they do themselves? The photographer is sometimes consciously deceiving his viewer but more often is first lying to himself. Attending many photo workshops has proved to me repeatedly that photographers standing in the same location with similar equipment will produce very different images. That difference seems to depend just as much on their metaphorical point of view as their literal one.

‘Tom Paine’

17 comments to Samizdata quote of the day

  • neonsnake

    Their choice of lens can make the same group of people look rashly hugger mugger or responsibly social-distanced, for example.

    Yeeeessss, kinda.

    A telephoto lens compresses the shot and makes objects look closer together than they actually are. A wide-angle lens does the opposite.

    Telephoto lenses also straighten diagonals, and wide angles exaggerate them.

    A 50mm prime lens is allegedly (and it’s a subject of intense debate amongst us types) the closest to “what the eye sees” on a full frame camera.

    Given the sentence that I quoted, my suspicion is that the author is trying to imply shenanigans in the choice of lens. I see none in the photos of, say, the VE day parties. They all look, to my eye, to be shot on a lens of 50mm (plus/minus some, but not enough to be dishonest).

    The evidence is in the diagonals of the kerbs. The angle isn’t flattened enough to imply a telephoto lens.

  • Patrick Crozier

    It seems to me that long lenses have been used time and time again in recent weeks to suggest that people are crowding together closer than the are.

  • Phil B

    You mean something like this:

    https://politicallyincorrectcanadian.blogspot.com/2020/05/media-lies.html

    Neosnake,

    The choice of lens depends on the size of the “negative” – the diagonal measurement of the negative is the “normal” focal length of the lens required. The exposed area of a 35mm negative is 35 x 24 which old Pythagoras’ theorem gives a diagonal measurement of 42mm so a 50mm focal length lens is OK and, as you rightly point out, gives minimum distortion and looks “right”.

    For medium format cameras which use 6cm x 6 cm film, an 84mm lens is theoretically ideal but usually a 90mm focal length is selected.

    Yes, I DO need to get out a bit more at night. Why do you ask? >};o)

  • darthlaurel

    When I was writing for our local newspaper, the company photographer used a wide angle lens for the photo that accompanied my articles. I looked like a dope. I had a friend take some decent pictures and I asked my editor to use one that I submitted. This same photographer did the same thing to another conservative writer (who didn’t insist on a change like I did). He always used a regular lens on the lefty writers. They were practically glamor shots compared to the dopey ones he did on us.
    That was 25 years ago. Like we didn’t know and couldn’t SEE what was going on….Sheesh.

  • Shlomo Maistre

    I miss Laird.

    Off-topic. Zap this comment if you must, Perry.

    But I do miss Laird.

  • John B

    ‘ The choice of lens depends on the size of the “negative” …

    Wide angle lens to give a wider field, particularly if close up, telephoto to enable close up image from a distance, have nothing to do with negative size.

    Photographs can also misrepresent reality by cropping or during developing/printing.

  • neonsnake

    Wide angle lens to give a wider field, particularly if close up, telephoto to enable close up image from a distance, have nothing to do with negative size.

    Yes, but what qualifies as wide-angle or telephoto depends on the size of the sensor (or negative). A 20mm lens on a full-frame (36mm x 24mm) sensor is very much a wide-angle, whereas on a micro-four-thirds sensor (17.3mm x 13mm), a 20mm is much, much closer to being “what the eye can see” (with minimum distortion).

    The “what the eye can see” bit is debatable, but not hugely important.

    Photos like the one in this article aren’t dishonest as such; unless it’s an aerial shot, it would be very hard to show that the families were all 2m apart. To my eye it looks like the family groups are distanced – whether they’re safely distanced is a different debate.

    However, photos like the one near the bottom of this article would, actually, be arguably dishonest. It’s either been taken with a telephoto, or cropped massively (both have exactly the same compressing effect) to make people appear to be closer than might actually be the case.

    Compare to the second video, taken from a higher angle, where it’s easier to see that groups are at least separated.

  • Stephen Houghton

    The other way to lie with a photo is to take hundred of pictures of your subject and then select the one that supports your narrative. Want to make your audience think the subject is a happy guy use the one in which he is smiling, an angry guy chose the one in which he is frowning etc.

  • This same photographer did the same thing to another conservative writer … He always used a regular lens on the lefty writers. They were practically glamor shots compared to the dopey ones he did on us. (darthlaurel, May 21, 2020 at 3:25 am)

    That’s a useful example of what can get past even the not-so-left-wing reader who lacks photographic knowledge. (Of course, when the glamour shot is too crude, it can be both seen and mocked even by the unskilled. 🙂 )

    Some recent “look how close they all are – in this angled telephoto” shots have been competently exposed, but darthlaurel’s example of how lens-choice can spin was new to me.

  • The other way to lie with a photo is to take hundred of pictures of your subject and then select the one that supports your narrative. (Stephen Houghton, May 21, 2020 at 12:08 pm)

    Or take a video and use a selected still – e.g. the frame when Trump’s fast-moving left hand is momentarily in the position in which a disabled liberal reporter’s left hand is usually frozen.

    When it is genuinely a hundred still photos, the spin can be hard to expose if there is no pattern to the shots – i.e. as against e.g. a time pattern. When US and UK MSM showed pictures pretending to compare Trump’s inaugural crowd to Obama’s crowd – Trump’s showing the crowd at 09:15 and Obama’s the state just after 11:00 – one can establish visual evidence of a time discrepancy and therefore immediately know intent: obviously both had more at 11:00 than at 09:15 and the MSM knew that. However if it is just selection from 100 random photos, it can be easy to suspect intent but harder to demonstrate that the best or worst or sole narrative-supporting still was taken.

    Aside: I was always a bit puzzled by why that inauguration crowd fakery was done. Washington has lots of bureaucrats who were very with Obama’s programme, plus a large black community for whom it would naturally have been an interesting day. Hence Obama might well have had the larger crowd in reality (without it meaning anything much). Overhead helicopter camera shots were being used to establish relative crowd sizes decades ago – and to count them (though the BBC then as now often just repeating lefty organisers statements unchecked). Were there really no overhead 11:00 shots for the two occasions? Was the idea that one needed to do that check, that it was not the merest instant slam-dunk, too far from the “Trump’s not just a liar, he’s always instantly absurd” narrative, or too unbearable on that “happy for Trump, sad for us” day?

  • darthlaurel

    Wow….I’m sure *she* thinks that’s a flattering shot but holy smoke! I don’t know how it could be more preposterous.

  • Dogulas2

    One photo-as-stealth editorial that I keep noticing is whatever photo has been chosen lately to illustrate the sidebar bio when you google-search Ann Althouse. The one I see today on both Google search and on Wikipedia is a particularly bad one.

    There is no shortage of Althouse photos that are great looking, and there are even more photos that make her look normal. I rarely see any of those as the one chosen to be the representative bio picture for Google, however.

    I surmise that wikipedia requires CC or free-er copyright status in most cases, and suspect that the what google displays has a bias towards what illustrates the corresponding wikipedia entry.

    So it’s not just a question of finding a good photo and editing the wikipedia article to show it. But in my memory the bad photos of Althouse preceded her wikipedia article having a photo, so they were coming from somewhere, and certainly gave me the thought over several years that someone was selecting them to give a negative impression.

  • Paul Marks

    The idea that a photograph is “the truth” is easily refuted.

    For example, what facial expression do you photograph?

    People change their facial expressions a lot – so what do you choose to photograph?

    If you like a person you will photograph them when their facial expression seems happy or thoughtful – and if you hate them, you will photography them when they appear angry or confused.

    It is as brutally simple as that – the photograph is not really telling you much about the person photographed. A photograph of a person is really telling you about the political and other agenda of the person taking the photograph.

  • Phil B

    “How to make the camera lie” for beginners:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e1MJOQfP4TE

    I recall seeing an article on line (I can’t remember where so no links) showing how about 10 Muslim women protesting something or another was, using the tricks in that Youtube video, made to look like a mass rally and had overwhelming support.

    Yes, Petunia, the camera does NOT lie but it can be used to selectively bend the truth to a particular viewpoint or give a misleading impression.

  • figures don’t lie, but liars can figure. Works for photos, too.

  • I had a bit of trouble discerning the point of the article for this post. Maybe complaining mildly about how photographers might manipulate their audience? Who that tells a story, doesnt do that?

    One of my superpowers is photography. I do not politicize it. Although I dont think of myself as an artist, I do think the science of photography is inseparable from the art of it.

    I bought a sailboat from this man… his face was so fascinating I didnt let him go until I stole his soul:

    Skip

    Rachel posed for me in Puerto Rico… lifestyle-type shoot. Once in a lifetime:

    Rachel

    Skip was shot with a 35mm old school journalism lens in bright sunlight. Rachel was with a 24-70mm lens to get more of the scene. Each has its uses.

  • I learned that photographs lie when I did a paper, back in grade school, and what is ostensibly the most famous photograph of the American was in Vietnam, the photograph of General Loan shooting a Viet Cong in the head.

    The photograph is a powerful one, and it told a story. The problem was it told only one instance of the story. You can see the photo here:
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eddie_Adams_(photographer)#/media/File:Execution_of_Nguy%E1%BB%85n_V%C4%83n_L%C3%A9m.jpg

    Photographer Eddie Adams had this to say in Time Magazine (still a new magazine then):
    “The guy [General Loan] was a hero. What the photograph didn’t say was, ‘What would you do if you were the general at that time and place on that hot day, and you caught the so-called bad guy after he blew away one, two or three American soldiers? The general killed the Viet Cong; I killed the general with my camera. Still photographs are the most powerful weapon in the world.”

    Needless to say in a primary school classroom where aging hippies had become the teachers this didn’t set well. It was a powerful life lesson at a young age. ALL people have agenda, ALL people can be willfully blind and hold to “truths” long after they are proven false.

    Along with the mechanics of the shot it must always be remember that a photograph is an instant – no contect, no past or future, just a moment.

    This, as always, is just my humble opinion.

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