Monday, December 10, 2012

Reality vs Photography: The Case of the Flying Peacock

The following image was brought to my attention by Clark Anderson and has been making the rounds on the Internet.

 I looked at this image and immediately thought "fake", but after some research into it, I am pretty sure it is real, with some solid photographic help.

The peacock is the classic example in evolutionary circles of an out-of-control, positive-feedback loop in selection. Peahens like flashy peacocks and mate with them, resulting in more males with flash and more females who like males with flash. So it is believed.

It is also the case that the peafowl (as they are known to non-gender-biased zoologists) does not have many predators where they live, and the predators that they do have only eat them when they can not find anything else. Another helpful trait if you are going to have 2/3rds of your body mass invested in this huge dead weight on your ass.

But getting back to our photograph, what we have here is one in a series of photographs in India of a peacock who was jumping around that day in the presence of a persistent photographer who, with his trusty telephoto and probably image stabilized lens, was able to get a number of pictures when the peafowl was (very briefly) in flight.

So what I think you are seeing here is an unusual pose of the peacock in the process of leaping up, the foreshortening of the telephoto lens, and possibly the benefit of a camera that takes many photos as quickly as it can.   Either that or the photographer was remarkably quick and/or lucky to catch the pose that he or she did.   

Then, one of these photographs, which happened to catch a nearly full jump of the peacock, was cropped, color timed, and probably had contrast modified and some sharpening. Thus a very iconic and graphic image was created from an image of something that does exist in nature, although you are never likely to see it this way yourself, even if you lived near a flock of peacocks.  

Here is the original composition as photographed. 

Original image at

It has never been the case, that photography simply recorded what was there in an objective and unmodified manner. Photographers have always added their own spin and point of view, but usually it results in something that is not quite so dramatically graphic.

Photorealism is a style of painting, not of photography.

Here is a photograph from the same series of photographs of our jumpy peacock as found on Wikipedia.

Here are nine pictures from the same series:

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