Are people flouting social distancing rules? How photos can distort perspective
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As lockdowns start to be relaxed across the world, many people are looking forward to getting out and about again. For the moment, social distancing measures are still in place, but some photos shared online and in media outlets seem to show people standing much too close together in public, which has provoked outrage. But be careful: the camera doesn’t always tell the truth.
This photo of the seafront promenade in Bournemouth in the United Kingdom, posted in a Daily Mail article on 26 April, infuriated some locals as it appeared to show large numbers of people flouting social distancing rules and thronging the boardwalk. Comments lambasted people out walking as “selfish” and said that they would be to blame if the infection rate started to rise.
Ok... buckle up, have I got a thread for you on rage inducing photos!Luke W (@alukeonlife) April 27, 2020
Our story begins earlier today and this "shocking" photo of people allegedly not social distancing at Bournemouth beach pic.twitter.com/1dVHFQH6sV
But Luke Williams, a local resident, spotted some clues in the photo that suggested it wasn’t all as it seemed. He wrote a thread on Twitter showing how the locations in the photo are much further apart than they appear, and it went viral.
And here's all those landmarks in the one original "outrage" photo.Luke W (@alukeonlife) April 27, 2020
So to reiterate, and why I think I couldn't sleep... those 40 people are split across half a kilometer.
***Or to put it another way, if they were stood in a line, they'd still be 12.5m apart*** pic.twitter.com/Ywfgwf6wMW
In the photo, people, objects and buildings look like they’ve been compressed together. This effect can come from different photographic techniques, such as using a telephoto lens, cropping a shot taken with a wide angle lens, or simply changing the camera’s position or employing inventive framing.
In Copenhagen, the same scene – from two different angles
The Danish media TV2 sent two photographers on to the streets of Copenhagen on 24 April to highlight this phenomenon. Each photographer took a photo of the same scene, but from a different angle, and using different effects. The results were remarkably different.
Danish news site reminds people of being skeptical of how news photographers take pictures. Here is the same place, one picture taken with a zoom lense, and the other with a wide-angle lense: https://t.co/lPMJDHXOfD pic.twitter.com/mOSpiFEsDxThomas Baekdal (@baekdal) April 26, 2020
There have been other examples of photographers using effects that compress images. Local journalists in Jacksonville, Florida, came under fire for showing images of a packed beach when people claimed that in fact the majority of people were following social distancing rules.
In the UK, the member of parliament for the coastal region of Hove criticised journalists for unfairly representing the local community.
Hove seafront yesterday.Peter Kyle MP (@peterkyle) April 27, 2020
Same spot. Same moment. Same camera.
Can the media please stop popping to our beautiful seafront and using zoom lenses to give the impression people are selfishly endangering others. Overwhelmingly they are not.
Photos can lie just as words can pic.twitter.com/hj2Ej03PdX
So before you jump to criticise others for not respecting preventive measures, watch our report on this phenomenon below: