You never know what you don’t see

Copyright 2024 Tracey Ormerod

I love the fog. There were times when our little lake was covered in it. I’d look out the window, see it, grab my camera, and run down to the dock.

My favourite lens for that kind of photography is my Nikon 55-300 zoom. On one particular day, the fog lingered in two bands around the distant islands, skirting the upper and lower edges and draping the boulders in a scarf of mist. The sun was burning its way through the middle and the way the light played with the mist was too much to resist, so I did my thing, running down to the dock and zooming in full at 300.

Even with that setting, I still wouldn’t see everything through the eyepiece viewfinder. It’s something I’ve grown used to, the limitations of my sight, though I often strain to see more, to the point where my eyes hurt. That’s when taking a photo becomes magical: it’s not so much about capturing what I see, as it is about revealing what I can’t.

Afterward, I loaded the photos onto my computer to magnify and study them on my high-res screen. When I get the original focus right, there’s often enough clarity to allow more zoom using software tools (I favour Lightroom, Photoshop and Topaz). On that particular day, I couldn’t believe what came through. At first, it was like a tiny aberration, something unusual perched on a boulder. I kept magnifying until I saw her. There she was, a blue heron. (Maybe it was a ‘he’. We’ll never know.) I didn’t recognize her because she wasn’t perched in her usual regal way. This time, she was taking a nap.

Copyright 2024 Tracey Ormerod

The Great Blue Herons were super-evasive on our little lake; it felt as though they were toying with me. We’d quietly kayak toward them while they watched in stillness. Then they’d bend a knee ever so slightly and their toes would quiver a little with their first step away. After a second tenuous step, take-off was imminent. Most of my photos are of that movement, away from the humans.

I’ve been thinking a lot this week about what we look for and what we fail to see – all around us and within. From what I’ve read about how our brains work with senses and memory, it’s a matter of survival. Our sight has evolved to help us focus on what we need to see, and to block out the superfluous. If it didn’t and we could see absolutely everything, our senses would be so overwhelmed they’d be unable to function. But that also means we never see it all, even if we fool ourselves into thinking we do.

When I took that photo I was fixated on the mist, so much so I didn’t even notice the napping heron.

And now, enter artificial intelligence. I’m neither an enthusiast nor a detractor of the technology, but I am curious. As with my zoom lenses and the technology I use to help me see beyond the expected when I study my photos, I wonder if AI will help us see more of what may surprise or enchant us. Alternatively, it may flatten our world, render it generic and deny us the experience of our flawed sight and our subsequent experiences of revelation and magic.

I guess we’ll have to wait … and see.


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