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Your Eyes Vs the Camera

I enjoy photography and have been doing so professionally and independently for over 30 years. Hope you enjoy my hubs!

Learn about how cameras and the human eye interpret what they see.

Learn about how cameras and the human eye interpret what they see.

The Differences Between a Camera and the Human Eye

By now you should be totally aware that what we see with our eyes and what the camera sensors see is the light being reflected from a subject and back to you.

However, there are some differences in how we see things—colors, shapes, textures, etc.—and how these same things are seen, and thus captured, by a camera sensor and translated into what we call a photograph.

To begin with, science tells us that our human eyes can actually distinguish or see about 10 million colors. On the other hand, the camera sensor, even in the most advanced digital cameras, can only distinguish about 3 colors (red, green, and blue). However, it can't do this by itself since a sensor is basically color blind.

In fact, a filter is placed on top of the sensor that eliminates some colors that are not present in the light that the subject is reflecting. What's left is what constitutes the final image. Digital cameras can also see or distinguish about 15 more shades of colors than our eyes can.

Human eyes sample the reflected light in a way that can be thought of as a very quick time exposure, usually a few tenths of a second when the light levels are high like during the daytime. In low-light conditions, the eye's exposure to light can increase to several seconds.

A diagram of a human eye.

A diagram of a human eye.

Modern digital cameras actually allow more light to be recorded by the sensor than our eyes can and that is why when we look at photographs we usually see them in a brighter light. They are brighter than if we were looking at the subject directly.

What your eyes see is sent to your brain which processes this information and generates a complete picture based on several factors, including past experiences.

The brain fills in the voids to allow us to see more of the subject than any camera can, although the picture captured by the camera will be much brighter than our eyes can possibly show us.

Keep in mind that when we scan the subject, we look at its sides, we look up and down, we look directly at it, and also glimpse what's in front and in back of it, while the camera only shows us whatever is facing the lens.

The human eye is an organ that reacts to light and has several purposes. As a sense organ, the mammalian eye allows vision. Rod and cone cells in the retina allow conscious light perception and vision including color differentiation and the perception of depth. The human eye can distinguish about 10 million colors.

Similar to the eyes of other mammals, the human eye's non-image-forming photosensitive ganglion cells in the retina receive light signals which affect adjustment of the size of the pupil, regulation and suppression of the hormonemelatonin and entrainment of the body clock. Wikipedia

It would be unfair to think that any digital camera will ever be as good as our eyes in seeing light and interpreting it like it really is, but understanding this is the basis for improving how you take pictures.

A camera will never be able to use our human experience and past knowledge to interpret an image so how you work the lens, camera, and the surroundings is what gives the image its appeal.

Since you know that what you see is not really what you are going to see when you look at the final image makes you take more control of how you see a subject through the viewfinder.

You now begin to compose the shot better and include or exclude elements that may or may not aid in how the image finally looks. It makes you be more of a technician and more of an artist at the same time.

Our Eyes Would See This Image in More Detail and a Bit Darker

Public Domain

Public Domain

How Do You Become a Better Technician?

  • By knowing that your eyes take a few seconds to adjust in order to see a subject under low-light conditions then you now know that you also need to give the sensor more time to compose a better picture.
  • By knowing that your eyes look at the subject in various ways that a camera does not, you can now compose the shot to encompass some of the angles. For example, instead of taking a straight-facing picture, you may add more elements that are on top of the subject.
  • By knowing that our eyes can only absorb a limited amount of light, you can now allow the camera to absorb as much light as it needs in order to show a clearer and sharper image, while keeping in mind that the camera sensor combination can absorb more light than we can.

To put it in perspective—if you came upon a white rabbit sitting in a field full of snow, your eyes will quickly distinguish where the rabbit ends and where the snow begins. The same would be true if you saw a gorilla sitting in deep brush. You can distinguish what is what.

In comparison, the camera sees everything in mostly white or black tonalities and that is why when you come upon any of these two instances you need to adjust the camera settings and either overexpose or underexpose a bit to get the right tones to show.

I recommend this if you want to learn more about photography

Sources and Further Reading

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2016 Luis E Gonzalez


Luis E Gonzalez (author) from Miami, Florida on August 21, 2016:

teaches12345: Than you.

Dianna Mendez on August 20, 2016:

This is an interesting topic for photography. It surely must be part of each student's curriculum!