Follow Up To How People See Photos Differently

Yesterday I posted about a photo I’d seen recently in which I absolutely fell in love with. I mentioned how my wife had the most opposite reaction to the photo that I could have ever predicted and the crazy reason why. So if you haven’t read the post, go back and read it before reading this. It’s short and I think you’ll find it really interesting. Anyway, I thought I’d post some follow-up thoughts on yesterday’s topic.

First, Some Unscientific Stats From Yesterday’s Comments (I posted this on Google+ too so I’m counting those comments)
• Only about 1% of people saw the face right away, before it was pointed out.
• About 90% of you saw the face once I pointed it out but there’s still 10% that didn’t.
• Generally (and I mean generally), it seemed to be women that caught the face right away. In fact, I showed this to Scott, RC, Pete, and two ladies here at the office from our video team (Nicole and Meredith). Pete, who’s just weird, saw it right away :) Nicole and Meredith saw it right away.
• Going on the previous point, just so you know – Scott actually had to have the face and exact contours of the face pointed out to him. His initial reaction was like mine – WOW! I also had to have the face pointed out to me at first, and every time I look at it, I still don’t always see it.
• Most of you said the presence of the face didn’t impact your overall feeling of liking the photo.
• Maybe 2 people said that now that they saw the face, they couldn’t get over it.
• 80-90% of you thought the photo was stunning as well.
• A small percentage of you thought the photo was overprocessed and didn’t care for it.

“Over-processed” or “It’s Not Real”?
Before I go on, the overwhelming majority thought this photo was beautiful as well. I think the photographer, Tobias Richter, captured an incredible image. But it’s that last bullet point that surprised me. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised right? Because the whole point of the post was how people see things differently. But of all the comments I expected, I never expected some one to say it looked too HDR’d or over-processed. Me personally, I barely use HDR software anymore these days. When I say barely, I mean maybe 1 out of every 25 photos sees Photomatix (my HDR software of choice).

I totally didn’t see an over-processed look. People commented on the saturated greens, the shadows (or seemingly lack of them), too much sharpness. To me, those are exactly the things I love about this photo. I don’t think he over-processed it. In fact, I think he processed it to perfection. He made me want to be there. The sun just coming up with the star-shaped burst around it… the beautiful greens with the warmth of the sunrise just touching them. The sky with the clouds and the subtle color and contrast in the clouds. Seriously, I see 10 places that he “could have” over-processed this photo but he didn’t. There’s still plenty of dark areas on the mountain and the photo has many layers in the background that you just can’t see, but know are there. Honestly, I rarely say perfect, but to me at least, this is damn close.

But That’s the Point Right?
But that’s the point here. I went into this thinking you’d either see the face or not see the face? But, to see that some people saw too much processing, took it in a whole different direction. Personally, I disagree. I think he masterfully accounted for the lack of range a camera can see compared to what our eye can see, and used post-processing to bring those areas back and give us a true representation of the scene. But I guess that’s where personal taste comes in. Who’s right, and who’s wrong (well, I’m right of course ;) ).

Anyway, thanks for the comments yesterday. They were all interesting to read and definitely kept me thinking throughout the day. Have a good one!

  • AC

    Oddly enough, I didn’t see the face yesterday, even after it was pointed out. Today, I saw it right away; it just jumped out at me. I think it does affect my appreciation once I see it because then I can’t tear my eyes away from it.

    • Matt Kloskowski

      That’s weird AC. It’s funny cause sometimes I simply can’t see it. Then other times, it’s pretty easy to see.

  • Dennis

    Just came accross this while looking at facebook. I must of missed the first post. Anyway, I saw the face right away, I am a guy. I try to find these type of images, where there is a face or figure in the rocks or places. Here is one sample that only a few can find, mostly people that know sigh langauge see it.

  • Bastian Sander

    Interesting post Matt. I like the picture very much and I do not think it was over processed. But that is all personal taste. People will always find something they do not like.

    However, I still can´t see the face. I have read both blogposts and I cannot see it. Can somebody draw the face on the picture?

  • Deb Scally

    I agree on the processing being just about perfect. I don’t at all think it’s overdone. Sometimes we forget, nature really is just “that beautiful.” ;)

  • Peter Nord

    I don’t think there is any right or wrong to it. It certainly has a lot of detail, the touches of lavender in the right side far far distant peaks, the little farm on the right side hanging on by will power. Having lived in Colorado I know it’s hard to see detail in the shady side of mountains when you’re looking toward the light, which is why it seems somewhat over done to me. However a painter would put in whatever pleased him. No reason a photographer can’t do the same. No right or wrong about it.

    • Peter Nord

      I forgot to say. I find the size of the photo makes a difference to me in whether I can see the face. Easy to see with small size, fades away full screen on the 30 incher. The mountains look more realistic to me in the smaller size. Are you still looking at it on your iPad?

      • Matt Kloskowski

        Nope. Been looking at it on the big screen since then.

  • Don Fahnestock

    Why get defensive? A lot of folks take the position, “I know what I like, and I don’t like that.” Then they look for all kinds of “justification” reasons that may have nothing to do with the fact the photo or product may just not be their thing. It’s just “consumer behavior.” Do you like something(?) is a “yes/no” question, not a “why” question. I didn’t see a “face,” and don’t care about a “face.” “Over processed?” It’s art, so by definition, if the artist likes it, it can’t be “over processed.” As someone who lives in the Alps, the only thing I noticed was a tinge of what looks like “morning sun” on the cliff faces that would be in shadow, with the sun that low. But, who cares? It’s an awesome photo!

  • Thomas

    Colours don’t look like that in real life. Can one still like the image? Absolutely, but one must also appreciate if some people feel that the processing created something larger than life.

  • Mike

    You might find this Flickr group interesting.

    Pareidolia is a psychological phenomenon where we see significant patterns in random visual stimulus, often times faces. It’s the basis of the famous Rorschach inkblot test for personality assessment.

    Similar to your conclusions above where most people saw the face after it was pointed out, browsing the images in the group you can usually find interesting patterns that resemble something familiar if you look for them, but without the groups context you might be hard pressed to find anything interesting in most of the images.

    I’ll leave it to your readers to critique the photographic merit of images where the subject is a significant pattern resembling something else, properly exposed or otherwise! :)

  • mattrupp

    The first thing I saw was a serpent like creature. I assume the face is the same face that everyone else is seeing but for me the body continuous as the peaks of the mountains (think Chinese dragon parade costume).

  • JF

    Striking but over the top. Just at the right of the face, rocks are incredibly back lit!
    I see halos all over the place.
    The low res screen version is impactful. I am convinced a big print would die fast as small errors would become more and more obvious and unnatural.

    • Matt Kloskowski

      Are you serious? Halos all over the place? What photo are you looking at cause it sure isn’t the one I am :)
      I think you may seriously be overthinking this one.

      • JF

        yep. Maybe a little bit. But looking for it, I see the retouch, I think. ;-)

      • JF

        But then, the image I see is quite small and I’ve never been there. Just might be like that and simply amazing!

  • Vince O’Sullivan

    The main problem with this picture is the same one that applies to all pictures posted on 500px, It’s far too small.

  • Katherine Mann

    Interestingly, I didn’t see the face until it was pointed out. I also had a conversation with myself about the saturated greens and the blocked shadows, but decided in the end that it is a very nice photo. After all, I don’t know what of the original survived the translation to the web.

    It is a quandary in which I find myself as I have begun to process my landscapes a little more aggressively. HDR can be overdone. Once a photo begins to look like an illustration I think I have gone too far. But the impact of wider range of tones is certainly pleasing in many cases.

    Jury’s still out on the latest style. For me, at least.

  • Ross Bannister

    I still cannot see a face!
    I would like to think that I am a reasonably creative person and I often see shapes in clouds and mountain skylines but cannot see one here! I can see some shapes that could be an upside down face or even a right side up face but not a clear face that jumps out at me.

  • Standa


    People, please! I still cannot see the face and it is really driving me crazy! Can someone please draw it on the photo? Pretty please. I have a work to do and only thin I am doing is staring at this :-)

    • Standa

      writing this helped. I saw the face a second Ive finished this:-)

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  • Auntipode

    My theory is some folks had their expectations set by long experience with the rendition limits of film and find a digital rendition too vivid because they hold the film rendition to be the “natural” one. I find the vivid digital rendition much closer to my perception of “reality”. For example, some folks expect a sky in a print to have grain. When I see a sky with my own eyes, I never see a grain pattern. Different expectations….

  • Dennis

    Woohoo, I’m in the 1% to see the face straight away and as a guy that’s even more impressive :)

    Is it overprocessed? You’d think 99.9% of population who see it wouldn’t know or care. It’s either nice or not and to me it is a nice shot. For this particular situation though with the morning sun smack bang in your eyes, human vision would surely struggle to capture such detail anyway?

    • Matt Kloskowski

      I agree with you that 99% wouldn’t know or care. It’s a beautiful photo. I disagree that the sun in your eyes would keep you from seeing the detail though. It’s not like it’s high noon sun you’re looking right into. It’s early morning and I think you’d see every bit of detail that we see in this photo. I think our camera would NEVER see it, but the human eye definitely would. Just my take :)

  • Mike Wilson

    Ok, I see what could be the face of a Howler Monkey, but where are the eyes, the nose? But it is still an air scoop to me.
    And about the color being too over the top, what else do we want? Its all about emotion! We want people to feel, not just see. It is not history, it is art. The photos we like are not snapshots. When we see one we like we ask, how did he/she do that? We like to see the contrast, the sharp edges and the strong colors. And for me, I do Photoshop to bring out the emotion I had when I first saw the scene I photographed. Our mind lets us look at the whole view and process the colors and shapes as they impact us. We automatically “adjust the exposure” for each area of the view. If we see the sun’s glare and think, “wow!” we also see the details in the shadows and think, “wow!” A camera can not do that automatic switching our brains do for us. We can enjoy a scene because we can see it all. A camera needs the help of post processing. Maybe Ps can’t do it as fast or as well as our heads, but it sure beats a snapshot.

  • Craig Forrest

    We have an annual event here in western NC. Each October the setting sun casts a shadow from Whiteside Mountain that to most folks looks like the silhouette of a bear. I wonder how many people drove past the spot before someone realized the effect. (Google “shadow of the bear”.)