What if someone showed you this wedding dress picture? You'd be forgiven for thinking that it was edited. And if someone told you that it wasn't, you'd be forgiven for not believing them.
However, if it was your picture on your phone, and you were certain that you did not edit it, that would make it rather creepy.
This is exactly what happened to Tessa Coates, a comedian who went wedding dress shopping around Samhain, and found herself wondering about the thin veil between worlds, rather than the veils more commonly found in wedding dress shops.
After a frantic dash back to the dress shop (to check if the mirrors might be video screens, or the shop assistant had edited the picture), she ended up at the phone’s store, demanding to speak with tech support. It took several technical assistants before an explanation was found. Eventually, the store brought out Roger, who managed to provide a rational explanation.
As it turns out, the mirrors are not magic, and the dress is not cursed. The photo is simply a bad example of computational photography gone wrong. To understand what caused this image, remember that a smartphone is not a camera, it is a computer. Consider a high quality camera, either analogue or digital, used by professional photographers. They come equipped with large and heavy lenses, and often use different lenses for different types of photography. Each lens comprises multiple high quality glass components to capture and guide light to a detector.
This optical technology simply cannot be downscaled to fit inside a smartphone. So instead, phones use software to improve and enhance captured images. To get a great and accessible explanation and insight on how this works, Marques Brownlee, also known as MKBHD, has made several videos on smartphone cameras and how they create photos. In a first video, reviewing a smartphone camera, Marques states: “These smartphone cameras are so much software now, that the photo that you get when you hit that shutter button isn’t so much reality as much as it is this computer’s best interpretation of what it thinks you want reality to look like.”
In another video discussing smartphone cameras vs reality, he mentions moon mode, where a smartphone can superimpose high quality image data of the moon onto a picture you took of the moon using a camera with a lens the size of a pea.
So when it says the wedding dress photo is not edited, what it perhaps should say is that it was not intentionally edited by a human. The phone independently took the liberty to make some adjustments to the image.
While Tessa is satisfied with the explanation of her wedding dress triptych, part of her is left wondering if Roger is the man the matrix wheels out when you get too close to the truth. For the average smartphone user, what goes on inside a smartphone when it takes a picture is a mystery. However, it is possible to find information on the image processing features that are being developed. A quick search of patent databases shows that there is plenty of overlap between the image enhancement and photography classifications, and researching those may just lift the veil on computational photography.
You can (re)watch the whole mirror dress saga on Tessa Coates' Instagram page story highlights (@wheatpraylove).