Tag Archives: illusion

The Strange Case of The Striped Cow

Going out on a photo shoot takes time, concentration and, now and then, a bit of luck. The general idea is to carefully notice everything around me and look for potential angles and light displays that captivate my inner artist.  It could be the light of the early morning sun as it hits a bird in just the right way, or the shade of a palm tree protecting a flower from the harshest of the sun’s rays.

But, as hard as I try, sometimes I do not realize what I have captured until I get home and start intensively critiquing and processing my raw work. Such is the case with our new piece of art Striped Cow.   The pattern of stripes and color on her head and flanks was simply mesmerizing.

Striped Cow
Striped Cow

She turned her head in my direction giving me that classical bovine look of curiosity with ears propped up listening to see if I was a threat to her peace and quiet. In the field I noticed she turned her body slightly to get a better view of my approach.  She was only interested in what I was going to do. More than likely worried that I meant her or her herd possible harm.   I always find it humorous that cattle do not seem to think that the same fence that keeps them from harming you also keeps us from approaching and harming them.

In any case,  it wasn’t until the final stages of processing these pictures that my attention caught the unusual.   I was working on the edges to give it that classic overexposed vignette when I noticed the anomaly.

It appears out indelible friendly cow only has 3 legs.   It’s not true of course.   She had four legs when I took the shot, however, the angle of her far right front leg matches up perfectly with her left front leg.   Further adding to the illusion is the blackish striping she has at the top of her leg. It makes her shoulder appear to camouflage into the rest of her flank.

A strange illusion indeed and definitely not one that you see everyday.  Sometimes it is the hidden illusion in a picture that add that sense of wonder to a piece.  I believe this is such a case.

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What Do You See in Turtle Rock?

Ann and I walked through the garden producing the photographs that became the show Walking Through the Zen Garden.  We had just walked along a narrow winding path when Ann pointed at this particular boulder and said, “That looks like a turtle.”  I looked up from fiddling with my camera and said “That isn’t a turtle that’s just a … a… turtle.”  Yeah, that does look like one.”  click.


Thus, the artwork titled Turtle Rock arrived.  But what happened?  Why did I first look at the rock and never thought it looked like a turtle, but then it did?


The answer is form of Pareidolia. No, it’s not some tropical disease.  It’s a weird scientific word that basically means that our brains attempt to make visual or auditory order out of chaos.


I saw a rock and a random texture of pebbles and crags in the rock.  My brain did not enjoy it.   Human brains dislike visual or auditory chaos.  It perceives it as a threat.   So it does something about it.  It creates the illusions you see while looking at a cloud in the sky and begin to see houses, and faces, and expressions.


This stems from the days when we were hunters and gathers and depended on our five senses to survive. You need clear vision and pattern recognition to see your dinner running through the bushes so you can aim your spear.  You also need clear distinct hearing and auditory recognition to recognize the sound of a charging elephant so you can get out-of-the-way.


If your senses trick you and offer nothing but random sights or sounds, your brain will rebel and attempt to see what it thinks it should.   The reverse of this concept is why camouflage works.  Camouflage creates chaotic patterns out of something identifiable and tricks your brain into not see what is actually there by using the opposite visual technique.


When I heard the word “turtle” my brain, not enjoying the chaos and lack of patterns in the rock, made my eyes look for the head of a turtle.  I quickly identified the snout at the top, the eye in the middle, and the nearby rock as part of a turtle shell breaking the ground like water. Art created by the power of illusion through chaos.

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Optical Illusion: Reality Out of Focus

Optical Illusion is one of the most tricky photographs that I ever managed to produce.

Basically, it is a reflection of the tree tops in a rain puddle.  What makes this a difficult shot is getting the reflection in focus while attempting to keep the ground slightly out of focus.   The auto focus on the camera had a very difficult time determining what image it really wanted to focus on.  You could hear the focus motor of the camera constantly shift in and out trying to find the right balance.  So, I went to manual focus.

Why would this be tricky?  Well, the garden I was in does not readily welcome using tripods.  Evidently, there are past incidents with other photographers that have basically ruined it for everybody.

This is a shame and should remind all artists and visitors to respect the areas you work your craft or enjoy the outdoors.  It only takes one greedy worm to destroy to ruin the bushel.

I suffer from what photographers call hand shake.  In other words, it is sometimes difficult for me to hold the camera perfectly still using just my hands.

When you take pictures of things far away and in a wide-angle like a landscape, this rarely is a problem.  However, with an up close and personal shot with your lens zoomed in, a small shake can destroy a really good shot.  That is why I use tripods when possible.

What I find uniquely about this shot is the deep green of the leaves and the crystal clear refection in the water.  The image is so clear as to instantly transfix your eyes to the center of the photograph.

So interestingly enough, the slightly out of focus areas are guiding your eyes to the in-focused section much like a line would draw your eye to a subject.  Another item of note is the green of the leaves are offset by the yellow dead leaves lying, also slightly out of focus, in the pool.

It’s also interesting that the reflection in the pool is also perfect even where the water is so shallow it is starting to be affected by the groove of the boulder it is lying in.  In essence the fake reflected world looks more real than the real world.

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