Photobombing and Change Blindness: When Cameras See More than We Do

Photobomb and Change Blindness with Photography

Ever look through your old snapshots and notice someone hamming it up for the camera, in the background of your shot? Though photobombing has become trendy of late, I suspect it’s been around as long as cameras have.

Photobomb and Change Blindness with Photography

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How fascinating that a whole person can appear within a photographer’s frame without being detected by the human eye. That’s in keeping with what science tells us about how our brains see. That is, we see far less than we think we do. Even when we make a real effort to take in a whole scene, our brains don’t comply. They edit things down. They are selective. They try to figure out what’s most important and piece it together into a whole. In doing so, they miss stuff.

Have you ever heard of change blindness? It’s when you don’t see a change that takes place literally right before your eyes. Magicians capitalize on it all the time. Because of the way the human brain works, change blindness is really common. We all experience it, every day, probably thousands of times a day. You would not believe the things your brain doesn’t see! Example: I recently read about a study where people were asked to count the number of passes a team of basketball players made in a 30-second period. Few of them got the count right, but far fewer of them noticed the man dressed as a gorilla moonwalking through the scene partway through!

Other than psychologists, people didn’t talk much about change blindness until film editing was introduced in movies. That’s when film editors learned that little changes to the background, from one shot to the next, weren’t generally noticed by audiences. So again we come back to what cameras see versus what our brains notice. The two just don’t line up.

What can we as photographers learn from photobombers and change blindness? A lot, I think. We can learn that it’s important to take multiple shots of a given scene. We can learn that it’s important to try different angles. We can learn that it’s totally normal to have trouble with composition outside of a controlled environment, like a studio. We can learn how valuable post-production tools like Photoshop are. We can be reminded our cameras aren’t extensions of our eyes. They have their own eyes! We can try to make them see more like we do, or we can let them capture so much more than we noticed. No need to go only one way either. Playing with what happens between these extremes? That’s more fun than a barrel of photobombers.