Photography & Perception

Photography and Our Perception of It

People often ask me about photography and express various opinions about my photos.

As with anything, the more passionate you are about a topic, the more effort you’ll put in and most likely, the better you’ll be at it.

But, I get the impression that people already know that to be good at photography it takes effort –they’re just lazy and want a quick answer.

The quick answer is:

Just point your iPhone 8 Plus at something and press the white button, but first make sure to wipe your camera clean.

What is photography?

The quick answer is:

Photography is the science, art, application and practice of creating durable images by recording light or other electromagnetic radiation, either electronically by means of an image sensor, or chemically by means of a light-sensitive material such as photographic film.

Typically, a lens is used to focus the light reflected or emitted from objects into a real image on the light-sensitive surface inside a camera during a timed exposure. With an electronic image sensor, this produces an electrical charge at each pixel, which is electronically processed and stored in a digital image file for subsequent display or processing. The result with photographic emulsion is an invisible latent image, which is later chemically “developed” into a visible image, either negative or positive depending on the purpose of the photographic material and the method of processing. A negative image on film is traditionally used to photographically create a positive image on a paper base, known as a print.

This process is called film photography.

In 1991, Kodak released the first commercially available digital single lens reflex camera, which changed the way we currently take and edit.

Digital imaging uses an electronic image sensor to record the image as a set of electronic data rather than as chemical changes on film. An important difference between digital and chemical photography is that chemical photography resists photo manipulation because it involves film and photographic paper, whilst digital imaging is a highly manipulative medium. This difference allows for a degree of image post-processing that is comparatively difficult in film-based photography and permits different potentials and apps.

Let’s not forget about the variety of devices available in the world today. There’s compact digital cameras, digital SLR cameras, mirror-less cameras, action cameras, 360 cameras, film cameras, and the list goes on. Every single one of these devices captures light, proportions, and images differently, adding to photography variation.

Digital photography dominates the 21st century. More than 99% of photographs taken around the world are through digital cameras, increasingly through smartphones.

Understanding the technology of film photography and how color was eventually added is important in regards to how we currently edit photos. Without an understanding of what you can expect from a camera and a photo, it is almost impossible to consistently get your photos to look a specific way.

Thanks to photo-editing apps and software, you can apply filters with different lighting, shadowing, and coloring effects built in. On VSCO, IG, Mextures, Photoshop, and even the iPhone 8 Plus has some significant photo editing, you can not only choose filters based on color palettes that complement the person and/or setting the best, adding another layer of photographic editing that can dramatically change the picture, you can also add features to the picture that you would have added had you had the proper setting. For example, you can post-add all of the ISO and F-Stop features, like exposure, flash, sunlight, clarity, sharpen, etc. You can even post-add a cleaner lens by using the “dehaze” feature.

Photography As We Know It Today

It seems the world revolves around photography today, with social media, especially platforms like Facebook and Instagram, placing special emphasis on photographs posted and collected on each individual profile.

But knowing about the essentials of photography isn’t the whole picture.

Drama regarding photography occurs, especially on social media apps, because most people are lacking a basic understanding of how a physiology and psychology effect a photograph. This includes how the eye works and processes light and images, how the brain perceives that image, and how to develop a personal perspective and choose subject matter. Also, since everyone has access to various devices and aesthetics, all of the emphasis placed on photography isn’t grounded in any consistent standard. Additionally, since we all see and view the world differently every single day, what we view as important varies from person to person and what another person expects from pictures varies greatly.

For example, a lot of people still expect the olden-timey landscape photos with Ma & Pa Kettle in the middle saying “cheese” with big grins as the Gold Standard.

It’s important to understand how we individually process images and how even a slight variation can change everything.

Here’s the step-by-step process:

  1. Light Entrance:

Through the cornea, light enters our eye, bringing in the surroundings around it. Passing through the iris, the light immediately flips, showing a backwards image to the retina. The retina then takes the light and sends electrical signals to the brain via the optic nerve. The brain actually processes the signal and makes sense of what you are actually looking at. The retina is a complex part of the optic system, containing a variety of cells that process colors, as well as black and white shadowing.

  1. Brain Perception

The images sent along the optic nerve then reach the brain, traveling from the lateral geniculate nucleus to the primary visual cortex, which is located in the occipital lobe. When the information is in the primary visual cortex, your brain starts to reconstitute that image, and send you the information that your eyes use to make sense of what is around you.

  1. Pathology:

Everything stated above assumes everything is working correctly, which is almost never the case. The camera, the conditions and usually even something as simple as the lens is dirty. Everyone has physiological differences from each other; no two people are made the same.

Even something as benign as height changes someone’s perspective.

But let’s factor in just a few pathological examples

ie. pathologies in Cranial Nerves (CN) 2, 3, 4 & 6.

CN 2: Anopsia: visual field deficits

CN 3: Ptosis, Diplopia, Loss of Parallel Gaze, External Strabismus, Midriasis, Cyclopegia

CN 4: Weakness looking down, Diplopia

CN 6: Diplopia, Internal Strabismus, Medial Eye Deviation, Loss of Parallel Gaze, Pseudoptosis

AND THAT’S JUST A FEW OF THE CN PATHOLOGIES. We haven’t even begun on Visual Pathway Pathologies, Neurological Pathologies and Perceptual Pathologies including Psychiatric Pathologies.

  1. Subject Matter:

When someone goes to an event, for example, what each person decides to focus on varies from person to person. Personally, I know that everyone there is going to be taking the olden-timey landscape-type pictures with the people in the middle saying “cheeeese” with big grins on their faces, so I point my camera at the lighting or the shadows or something that catches my eye.

Plus, there are a zillion different subject matters presented to you in a singular photo. Whether it’s the background, the eyes, the mouth, a purse, or a cloud, you choose what you focus your attention on. That’s how one singular painting can have so many different impressions on different people. As part of your brain perception, you have a personal way of processing and recognizing the subject matter in your life.

  1. Personal Point of View

On top of all of that, point of view needs to be considered. Point of view refers to the position the camera is in when viewing a scene. Is the angle coming from the ground, eye level, or a bird’s eye view? Whichever point of view is selected impacts the final image greatly, changing angles, lighting, and an overall perspective of the subject matter. A blade of grass can look like a skyscraper, and a skyscraper can look like a tiny house if shot from above in a helicopter.

Photographic Variation

The moral of the story is: between personal perception, the optic pathway and brain perception, photography devices, photo editing, and photography skill and expectations, there is great variation in what you see on social media compared with what your friends see.


About Dr. Allegra Alexandra Powell MD

Dr. Allegra Alexandra Powell MD is a Physician and Social Activist with a passion for education, who holds five degrees and is a member of the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society and was recently inducted into the National Society of Collegiate Scholars. As an AmeriCorps member and volunteer with several nonprofit organizations, Dr. Powell’s work in the community supports children and the fight against hunger.