Plein Air Photography at 50 mph aka Stretching My Perspective
I am a passenger in a car and I am looking out the window watching the beautifully textured tomato fields pass by. I am certain that what I am looking at is real and complete. Always been that way. Car goes down the road. Everything on the side of the road goes by in the opposite direction. Simple as that.
When we go out for drive on a country road outside Sacramento and look off to our right or left, the fields pass by, moving in the opposite direction we are traveling. Trees, bushes and mailboxes all fly by. We believe that what we see is reality. It is, but only partially. What we see is a subset, a slice, of reality.
This project began when I asked myself what would happen if I panned the camera on objects (mailboxes, trees, etc.) as I drove by them. I expected the photographs would look very similar to images produced when standing still and panning the camera on an automobile as it races by. I was right but there was much more to it. There appeared in some images inexplicable movement or movements that I could not see and could not explain. I spent nearly a year photographing weekly, trying to understand what it was that I was capturing in my photographs.
Then one day, I looked out to my right at a recently plowed field and things changed right before my eyes. Suddenly, the clods of dirt in the field that were passing by me in the opposite direction changed to clods of dirt circulating, counterclockwise, around a vortex about 40 feet out in the field. The circular motion was obvious and unavoidable. I looked to my left and there was the same motion, but it was rotating clockwise. I was amazed. How could I have not seen this before? Over the next few days I took my wife and a few friends out in the country, and as we drove along I pointed out the movement in a nicely textured field. With simple instructions, they were all able to see it.
This phenomenon is based on the principle of motion parallax. When we go for a drive and look out at roughly 90 degrees to the direction we are traveling and see the fields and trees passing by us in only the opposite direction, it is because we are focused on the horizon. If the focus point is moved towards us, to a point say 40 feet away, a completely different world emerges.
There is no image manipulation in these photographs. They are optically accurate and reflect what was recorded in camera raw.
This body of work was published by Lenswork Magazine in the May/June 2012 Extended DVD edition.
Seeing Motion Parallax
I first saw this motion from a car traveling about 50 mph and this description is based upon my experience.
Go for a ride with someone else driving the car. Sit in the front right seat. Find a open field that has some kind of texture. A recently ploughed field works well. No objects in the field. No trees, no rows, no fences. These things can become obstacles to seeing. Look out to your right at about 90 degrees to the direction you are traveling. Focus on a point about 40 feet out in the field and become aware of what is going on around that point. As you move along keep focusing on a point 40 feet out so that it does not move. Good luck.
The black arrows below show the direction of objects as viewed when traveling down the road. The direction of the objects becomes more evident as the focus point (focal point) changes relative to the observer.
When the focus point (focal point) is at the horizon (infinity), all objects appear to pass by the car in the opposite direction.
When the focus point (focal point) is moved towards the car, objects beyond the focal point appear to move in the same direction as the car while objects between the focal point and the car continue to move in the opposite direction. The movement of objects connect to form observable concentric circles emmanating from the focal point.