The Photographic Process is an Outright Lie!

…and you know it. Yet you buy into it every day. “I can’t believe my eyes” is actually more true than you realize when it comes to photographic images. You have been a willing victim of this ruse for as long as you can remember, and you can blame it all on your brain.


Your brain offers no resistance to this most obvious of optical trickery. And for the sake of those of us who use this deception for our own benefit, its a very good thing.

Think about this for a moment. Aside from illustrations, your eyes have never experienced anything that isn’t three dimensional. You have two eyes designed to perceive depth– the third dimension, and yet typical imaging comes in only two dimensions, height and width. You’d think the brain would offer some sort of resistence to this gimmick, but it really doesn’t. It just plays along. Amazing!

Halftone-LeMayAnd… your eyes don’t experience real life in monovision either. Everything in real life is in full color, even black and white objects are perceived in color by the RGB cones in your eyes. By the way, the terms black and white are used quite loosely since black (in RGB terms) is the absence of light (like inside a cave at midnight), and white is a combined blast of all colors (like looking directly into the Sun).

And then there’s the whole pixel/halftone illusion itself. Your eyes register nature’s colors as continuous tones– colors that have no stages or gradations; a feat we graphic illusionists have never been able to reproduce. Every image we reproduce has to be broken down into minuscule particles of  colors so small that human vision cannot readily identify them individually (I’ve exaggerated the pixels and halftone dot sizes for those who don’t know the trick).

Monitor pixels

What’s more, those television images (regardless of resolution) are displayed as zillions of tiny vertical rectangular pixels, each projecting a slightly different intensity of three different lights, red, green, and blue. Put a magnifying glass on your TV and see it for yourself.

Photoshop Pixels

Photoshop even shows you pixels that are made up of pixels and your brain still doesn’t see object to the illusion.

pattern-inkjetInkjet printers seem to produce continuous tones, but they really don’t. They use itty-bitty little overlapping dots in an irregular pattern to produce their colors. The inks are colored, but translucent so the colors will blend.

Want to see how effective these illusions really are? Just take a close look at the three  black and white images above and notice how obvious the pixels and dots are. Now back away from your computer screen about 10 feet and look at the images again. Get the picture?

tgrainSEMJust for the record, even color photographic film (both transparency and negative) depends on the variable size grains of silver halide on three colored emulsions to pull off the misperception. There simply isn’t any way around it. We buy the lie in every mass media. Fine art (oils, acrylics, etc.) is produced one canvas at a time, so they don’t count as mass media.

To top all this, the new 3D television programming is perhaps the most insidious form of illusion to date because it preys on each eye individually. It flashes alternate signals to left and right eyes so quickly that the brain’s perception mechanism thinks it is experiencing actual dimension. Alright, it’s crude, but you get the point. It’s not nice to fool mother nature.

I’m not sure whether the human brain consciously accepts all this illusion or whether subconsciously it is really that gullible, but on behalf of those of us in this optical illusion conspiracy, we genuinely appreciate every opportunities we have to play with your mind.

And that’s the way eye sees it.

Think about it!

If you enjoyed this little rant, pass it along. See you next time.


If you have an iPad and want to learn more about how your eye buys into the camera’s insidious lies, check this out:

About Herb Paynter

Herb is a published author, photographer, retoucher, color reproduction specialist and a regular writer for Digital Photography School. Download his iBook "Digital Color Photography: A Deeper Look" from the iTunes store and view his Light and Color Fundamentals video series at
This entry was posted in Analog and Digital Photography, Tonality and Appearance, Underpinnings and Core Issues and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s