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Picture of the day - July 5, 2007

Stop-action photo of a waterfall

Stop action photo of a waterfall.
Image courtesy of Doug Thomson.

Waterfalls create some of the most beautiful scenes in nature, and over the years I have featured a number of them as "Pictures of the Day". After all, there is something about silky-white water rushing over the brink of a precipice that calms the nerves and melts away the cares of the day.

When photographers set up their equipment in preparation for photographing a waterfall, they typically set the camera to use a slow shutter speed in order to blur the motion of the flowing water. This creates that gorgeous silky-white look of flowing water that we're all familiar with. But to capture today's mesmerizing image, photographer Doug Thomson used a fast shutter speed to "freeze the action" - and the result is a real eye-opener!

When we look at a waterfall with our naked eyes, we see the flowing water much as it looks in the typical waterfall photograph. The human eye is incapable of reacting fast enough to objects in motion to discern the discrete drops of water as they plunge through the air on their way to the bottom of the falls. What our eyes really see are a rapid-fire series of "snapshots" with the brain "filling in the gaps" to make it appear that that we're seeing something akin to a motion picture. But a camera has the ability to "stop the action", allowing us to see a single "frame" of that "movie" of a fast-moving object - hence the ability to see individual water droplets falling through mid-air in Doug's amazing photo.

Like most everyone else on the planet, I just love watching countless gallons of silky-white water flow over a waterfall, but thanks to Doug's wonderful image it's easy to see that it's actually just an optical illusion created by the slow reaction time of my very own eyes!

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