Pictures Don’t Lie (They Stretch the Truth)

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The Crab Nebula is cooler looking than it sounds.

There are many expressions used to represent the usefulness and necessity of images. Sayings such as “seeing is believing” have been around for as long as we can remember. Such sayings are applicable to all things in life, even science and theory. How can we believe that microbes exist without seeing them under a microscope? Faith is one thing, but hard evidence is hard to ignore.

Vicki Goldberg is an accomplished scientific photographer and critic. During the span of her career, she has seen many wondrous sights, molecules, macrophages, and the Crab Nebula. Doesn’t it all sound so science-like and interesting? Of course it doesn’t, it sound horribly boring. Photographs of such things however, are certainly something to marvel at. Without such photographs, how could we ever truly understand such complex (or simple) life forms or galaxies? Sometimes however, images alone aren’t enough. In Even Scientific Images Have Trouble Telling The Truth, Goldberg talks about how more often than not these images are edited. Don’t worry; they aren’t edited to hide fat or blemishes, rather they are edited to improve the photograph. Nebulas are recolored, as the photograph cannot capture the colors correctly. These edits are made in order to help people to better understand what they are looking at.

While editing pictures of molecules may help the viewer to get a better look at it, sometimes manipulation goes too far.  In The Boilerplate Rhino, David Quammen talks about how nature documentaries don’t do nature any justice. Quammen states that the dramatic soundtracks and slow motion effects present in such videos detract from the true nature of the situation. Often, these videos take animal encounters out of context, and add a bit of flare to them to add production value to the documentary. Quammen seems to think that it has a negative effect on the films, and I would have to agree with him. Seeing nature in person is unparalleled, and cannot be replicated by watching it at home, even with an epic soundtrack. In nature, there is nothing but the chirping of birds, the rustling of leaves, and the sounds of dying zebras being mauled by a lion. These sounds in themselves are part of nature, why drown them out for the sake of a John Williams score? Nature deserves to be viewed in all its natural glory (no pun intended). However, the case can be made with Vicki Goldberg and her science photographs that sometimes editing can be helpful. I suppose it’s about how you choose to edit an image, be it for understanding, or drama.

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