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If you're watching a composition course I assume it's because you've already recognized that seeing how to arrange the real world into a good photo is not easy. In fact, seeing is not easy. Now that may sound strange, given that you walk around the world using your eyes all day long, but as we'll discuss throughout the rest of this chapter, learning to really see the world around you can be difficult, and one of the reasons that it's difficult is because of the way your visual system is constructed. Now it's easy to think of the camera as like a mechanical eye, but that comparison really doesn't hold up under closer examination.
Yes, like your eye, your camera has a lens and an aperture and a light-gathering medium. It has a particular dynamic range, a field of view, it's subject to the laws of optics, and so on. But your eye differs from your camera in one extremely significant way, and that's that it has a human brain attached to it. Now it's tempting to think of the brain as simply the equivalent of the computer or film that's inside your camera, and it's true that like the computer in your camera, your brain serves an image- processing function, but it's a much more dramatic level of processing.
The computer in your camera handles the interpretation of color and perhaps contrast and sharpening of your image, but it has no impact on the content of your image. Now by comparison, fully 80% of what you perceive with your visual sense comes from your brain, not your eyes. Most of what you see around you is made up by your brain. Optical illusions are the best example of this. Consider this. If you were to point your camera at this, it would record precisely what it is, a set of lines on a flat screen. But when you point your eyes at this, something else happens.
Because of your brain's involvement in your visual sense, you are incapable of perceiving this as what it really is, a flat, two-dimensional collection of lines. Instead, your brain recognizes a configuration of lines that are very like those of a three-dimensional object, and so rather than showing you flat lines, it's trying to perceive this scene as an object with depth. But it's not an object with depth and so your brain can't quite pull it off, which is why the cube appears to flip back and forth.
Optical illusions are simply the result of your brain's expectation of a scene colliding with the visual reality. Confusion ensues and your brain interprets the scene incorrectly. To sum it up, your camera is objective; it captures an image of what's there. But your brain is subjective; it interprets the scene before you-- and this often gets in the way--of you actually being able to see the scene accurately. However, as we'll discuss next, your brain's interference in your visual sense goes far beyond your perception of simple lines and shapes.
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