Cryptozoology vs. Cameras I: Zoom! Enhance!

This will be a recurring series that technically and stylistically critiques photographs of cryptids (and any other such pseudoscience, minus the alliteration). I will offer snarky amateur suggestions on how to sharpen up your blobsquatches. Hopefully, this will contribute to a dramatic uptick in the quality of cryptid photographic evidence, unless of course these creatures only exist in a paridollic world of ambiguous pixels.

Today’s photo: Nessie, by Richard Preston:

© Richard Preston


According to STV News, Richard Preston, a landscape engineer working on the grounds of Aldourie Castle on the shores of Loch Ness in 2010, saw something strange out in the Loch. He fired off a few photos of some white bumps out in the water which were widely distributed in the UK and around the world.

“I was just walking through the castle gardens and I spotted something in the distance. When I looked closer I could clearly see the four hump-like features. I thought I’d take a picture of it, to see if there was anything in it, to see what others thought.

“I was surprised that it stayed there as long as it did. I took various shots of it before it suddenly disappeared. I literally just turned my back and it was gone.”

Now, let’s talk about the photo.

Technical (D-)
Ouch! Where to start here. The colors are over saturated, contrast is way to high, and the resolution is for shite thanks to obvious and extreme over magnification and processing of the original image. Whatever photo processing software that was used on this image is not quite up to CSI’s imaginary image manipulation technology. The point being that the “Zoom in. Now enhance.” cliche is nonsensical. In digital photos you can’t create pixel information where there isn’t any to begin with, and “enhancement” techniques actually destroy information and insert artifacts into an image. I can’t really say much beyond that; the poor quality of this shot actually makes the critique of it mercifully brief.

Stylistic (C)
Yuck. The subject is in the dead center of the frame, and there is no attempt to follow, or creatively transcend, the rule of thirds. The awful post-pressing, however, adds a slightly surreal element to the photograph that is befitting its alleged aquatic subject. Also, the autumn foliage is pretty.

Irrefutability (D)
The obvious manipulation of every other aspect of this photo makes it fairly poor evidence of a freshwater plesiosaur living in Loch Ness. The white bumps could have been intentionally added digitally, or arose from an everyday object on the lake being blasted into ambiguity through enhancement. This, or the myriad other pixelated lake-bump photos, does not help overcome the problems of a population of enormous, air breathing animals living in an isolated body of water surrounded by human civilization, without leaving a single piece of physical evidence over thousands of years.

My Serious Take
The image I posted above is obviously not the original photo taken by Richard Preston, though it is the most widely circulated around the web and in print publications. Here is the originally framed image, with the above crop indicated with by a rectangle:

© Richard Preston

And here is a second shot, taken from a slightly different position (based upon the foreground shrubs location in respect the house):

© Richard Preston

I can’t really conclude a whole lot from these shots, mostly since I can’t find them in their original resolution. However, if the widely circulated image at the top of the page is any indication of how informative they are at higher resolution, I would say they are pretty weak evidence of anything. Maybe it’s a wave. Maybe it’s a pod of albino otters. Maybe it’s Nessie. Scientifically, these photos are as useful as an anecdote, and unexplained ambiguity is proof of nothing.

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Not only will the 800 mm focal length of the Sigmonster get you up close and personal with Nessie, if the beast attacks this lens can double as a bludgeon.

There’s a new monster in this Loch.



About Mike Bok

Grad student studying the vision of mantis shrimp.
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