If We See It


If We See It?

I love most of the GEICO commercials. Brilliant campaign with at least three different pitches. The gecko, the duet on the bandstand, and the quirky philosophical statements, like the pyramids were a mistake, or some owls aren’t wise. And my favorite is the tree falling in the wilderness. Does it make a sound?

The philosophical question is based upon the concept of ” does something exist if it is beyond our senses to perceive”. We might as well ask about ultraviolet light or infrared light. Do galaxies collide if we don’t have telescopes? I remember a science fiction story that was based upon a finite number of molecules in the universe. In other words, we ran out of molecules for complete creation. The combination of galaxies being created each second, the creations of man each minute, and the entire cumulative strain of creation in the universe created a cost saving factor. The universe kept changing according to the vision we had. In other words, as we looked upon the world, that which we saw existed, but as we turned our heads, the structure of the objects exploded and the molecules were shifted over to create the new objects in the field of vision that was coming up. The breakdown and buildup process was mostly instantaneous, but now and again the workload was so intense that if we turned our heads fast enough, we could see the step by step creation of the new objects.

The adage is about sound, “does the tree make a sound if no one is there to hear it?” My question is, “does it exist if you can’t see it?”

If you are blind in a room, with thousands of objects, and all of them are out of reach so that the senses that are left cannot perceive them, do they exist to you? And if they do exist, how does that make a difference in your life?

The first step is to understand what we mean by sight, seeing, or looking, and it’s not as simple as what we might think. For years I taught two separate principles in my photography classes- what is sight? And how does it work? The obvious answer is that sight is a sense perception that comes from our eyes. Can’t see if we don’t have eyes. Okay, but how does that work? DaVinci, who was possibility the biggest brain ever created, thought that the eyeball sent out a ray to the world, the ray surround the object gathering data, and then the ray came back to the eyeball, transmitting the information to the brain. Wow, did DaVinci precede the concept of Star Trek and the sensor probe? It was a very logical conclusion, further backed up by the light that was in our eyes, that disappeared when we died. It still seems reasonable until we realize that the light is light reflected on the lubricating moisture to keep the eye working while we are alive. If dead, we don’t produce moisture. And the eyes lose their sparkle.

DaVinci had it wrong. We see things based upon the quality and strength of the existing light. It could be daylight direct from the sun or stars, or reflected light from the moon or sky (during sunrise or sunset). The big thing for modern man is that we may have light from our fires, or artificial light from our creations, like lamps or chemical reactions. The key to photography is that not all light is as complete as daylight. Most created light is missing some color or another and is shows up in the color photograph and even the black & whites. That is a hard lesson to learn.

The next concept is that everything we see during the day, sunset, sunrise, or moonlight comes from the sun, and that it is old light. It roughly takes eight minutes for sunlight to reach the earth. The sun itself could have gone nova or collapsed into a dark hole, and we wouldn’t know about it for eight minutes. Old light. This knowledge doesn’t change the way we do things, but it should make us more appreciative of what we see.

The third concept is the hardest one of all to understand, but the most important one that directly affects photography. It is that everything we see is based upon light, either natural or artificial, and every color we see is not the color that the object is, but instead, it is the the opposite color. In truth, we see a red ball, but the rd ball is actually every color except red. We see a green field and the field is actually every color except that particular shade of green.

The truth is that objects reflect color based upon how the object reacts to light, full light spectrum falls on the object, all of the colors are absorbed into the object, the one specific spectrum is rejected and bounces back to the eyeball. We see reflected light for the most part. DaVinci had it wrong, Newton had it right. Daylight has a full spectrum the the normal colors we can perceive, the light falls on an object and then bounces off and back to you. A black object actually is an object that has absorbed all white light. A white object rejects all white light and sends it back. Black is white, and white is black. You can’t get more contrary than that.

The real issue for photographers is, does the light that provides the perception of the object have all the spectrum to give an accurate rendition of the reflected light? If red is missing from the light, can we perceive the red ball? We can still see the ball. But we can’t see red.

This one fact explains all those weird photos under table lamp or fluorescent lights, it explains starlight and moonlight. It explains photographs taken under strobes or black light, or shots taken at night under parking lot lights.

Everything we see is a reflected opposite. Oh yeah, and upside down. And don’t get me started on Goethe’s color theory or Newton’s.

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