Photographing Optical Illusions

Just about all of us have seen or shared some of the optical illusion graphics that you can find on Facebook. However, earlier this week I came across one I hadn’t seen before that wasn’t a traditional graphic. It was a photograph of a car with a rather interesting paint job. The first time I saw it, I spent about five minutes staring at it before I figured out the trick. Not everyone who saw it got it right away because it is rather cleverly done.

Here’s the image:

Yes, there is only one car. However, the way that the paint job was done easily tricks the viewer into thinking that there are two cars. So, how was this little bit of optical magic achieved? With some reliance on the human eye’s weaknesses and the skilled use of shading.

First things first, the human eye is really terrible at judging size and depth from a distance. That’s why so many optical illusions work. There are many explanations of this phenomenon out there on the Internet so I’m not going to belabor the point here.

Now, in this photo, people will see two cars at a glance because the painter made use of the fact that a sports car will be much smaller in height than a sports utility vehicle. The painter also shaded the windows in the sports car and the windshield so that they appear to be tinted but still have some transparency, letting us “see” through the windows and windshield. The painter also integrated the SUV’s wheels and fenders into the illusion, making them seem to really be part of the sports car in the foreground. It isn’t until you glance back towards the rear bumper that the illusion starts to fall apart. The sun’s reflection in the photograph helps dispel the illusion of depth as well. While the headlights blend in on both vehicles quite well, the SUV’s tail lights are far too high to be part of the sports car which is another area where the illusion fails. However, overall, it is a very interesting paint job and a great optical illusion guaranteed to make the casual passerby do a double-take while their brains and eyes argue over exactly what they are seeing.

— da Bird