Post #420: Which picture does not belong?

Posted on October 17, 2019




The middle picture is the developer’s view, as provided to the town.  The other two are pictures taken today, with a 35 mm “normal” lens.  They should approximate how this would look, to the eye, if you were standing where the camera had been (eye level, in the median strip).  (And I have to remind you, the setback pictured above is substantially more spacious than the current MAC 20′ requirement for Maple setbacks, and 15′ for other roads.)

In fact, the middle picture is the view that the Town shows on its development map, for this project.  As shown in the screen shot below.

To me, that plaza certain appears a lot more spacious in the developer’s 3-D rendering than it does in reality.  It’s almost as if the developers used tricks of perspective to make that plaza appear far more spacious than it actually is.  And that’s exactly what they did.  It’s what developers routinely do.  In fact, Councilman Noble called out a different developer for doing exactly that, and wants to write standards into the MAC statute to prevent them from doing that in the future.

I will point out that there is, in fact, nothing technically wrong with the middle picture.  For example, both depicted vehicles are small, but not impossibly small.  Best I can tell, the blue car as depicted is 14′ bumper-to-bumper, or 2′ shorter than a Prius.  The blue car is tiny by modern standards, but it’s not flatly impossible.

The people are harder to judge, which brings us to what’s going on.  The problem is how your brain perceives the image, due to the perspective.  The people are also plausibly 5-ish feet tall, but they are foreshortened due to the perspective.  By eye, the “camera” for the developer’s rendering would have been located about 70 feet above the Shell station across the street.  That “camera” angle reduces the apparent height, but exaggerates breadth, in the picture, compared to what you are used to seeing at ground level.  Hence, your brain perceives the plaza as spacious, relative to the people.  But in fact, the images of the people are shortened, relative to the breadth of the plaza, in this perspective.

My point here is mostly that pictures can be manipulated.  Which is why, in my opinion, the Town should not base its next survey on pictures.

Note that manipulating your perception with a picture does not require outright fraud.  E.g., In the developer’s 3-D rendering above, the car was tiny, but not impossibly so.  I believe that all the dimensions (plaza, road, building) are correct.  Instead, just by choice of choice of perspective, surroundings, color, and (lack of) detail, you can make one scene appealing, and another less so.

Beyond the trick of perspective, look at that perfect blue sky, the empty road, the lack of trash, lack of clutter, and that perfect green landscaping.  No crabgrass there, that’s for sure.  It’s not real.  It’s better than real.

You think of pictures as being some form of hard evidence.  But what you actually perceive, when you see a picture, depends to a degree on what your brain expects to see.  You normally see people at eye level, not from 70′ above and across the street.  Based on that, you (mis-)perceive the plaza as spacious.  Separately, actual buildings and plantings show wear and tear, dirt and disarray, so you perceive the 3D rendered building as being beautiful in its lack of mundane imperfections.

These things happen way below the level of logic and reason.  You can tell yourself all day that it’s a trick, and that it won’t really look like that.  Meanwhile, your brain is telling you what a nice place that is.  And that’s how the Town has to make its decisions.  But we get to live with the reality of it.

EXTRA FOR EXPERTS:  Take a hard look at the far left edge of the Town’s depiction of this building.  It plays a feature role in my next, very short posting.