How two photographers unknowingly shot the same millisecond in time
March 8, 2018 3:43 AM   Subscribe

Unbeknownst to each other, photographers Ron Risman and Eric Gendron happened to take almost the same photograph of waves crashing around the Whaleback Lighthouse in New Hampshire, USA.
I also didn’t know Eric; we each chose this location randomly; we both shot with different cameras (60D and 5D Mark IV) with different size sensors; the 60D has a burst mode of 5.3fps, the 5DMKIV is 7fps; we both used a 600mm focal length; our exposures and depth-of-field were almost the same as well (f/8 aperture, ISO 400, 1/1600th shutter vs. f/8, ISO 320, 1/1000th shutter); and ultimately we both selected the same photo from that day to promote. Come to find out we were only 28 meters away from each other. He was hunkered down under a picnic enclosure to help block some of the wind and I was up against a tree to help reduce the wind.
A similar thing kinda happened back in 2011 in Huntington Beach, California, USA.
posted by Vesihiisi (25 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
 
That is an amazing coincidence, (there is a crested wave in both pictures in the foreground, Ron's to the left and Eric's right under the lighthouse), but what it shows most is how post-processing and a UV filter (?) can affect the final outcome.
posted by Laotic at 4:02 AM on March 8


This is probably the ultimate "Find the differences" puzzle.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:05 AM on March 8 [12 favorites]


"I never even noticed I was standing on this other photographer!"
posted by chavenet at 5:06 AM on March 8 [21 favorites]


Risman's photo was in my fb feed; great shots. The ocean off New Hampshire and Maine is not usually so wild; we got the tail end of 1 nor'easter, especially swells and storm surge, and a direct hit from a nor-easter yesterday and this morning. I joined a fb group of photographers and excellent photos have been plentiful.
posted by theora55 at 6:15 AM on March 8


TFA mentions using continuously shooting (so you don't have to time things as closely) but discounts that as a reason. I disagree -- the odds of two folks getting the money shot (here: wave at a nice peak/crash) goes up substantially with continuous shooting, especially because the artist/photog can pick/choose.
posted by k5.user at 6:17 AM on March 8 [3 favorites]


I bet there's more than mere coincidence here, in particular about the fact that the timing of the photos was so perfectly synchronized. I'm not a camera guy, so this is merely speculation.

High-end cameras can generally operate as video cameras too, so they will have some kind of timecode system for synchronization. They also have GPS for geotagging. GPS is a very precise time source, and it's likely to be used as the timecode reference too.

The author left his camera firing through the entire wave break. I don't know what frame rate cameras have in that mode, but it would not be at all surprising if the captures were synced in some way to the timecode.

So then two photographers in nearby locations, each with hundreds of frames captured based on a GPS-synchronized time source, go through their frames and pick the crucial one. I mean, even if the frames weren't synchronized they could be pretty close. But these (and the surfing shot too) were freakishly close, so there might be something else going on here.
posted by sjswitzer at 6:25 AM on March 8 [5 favorites]


This is a wonderful coincidence. It's not a technology artifact.

The cameras are a Canon D60 (DSLR with an APS-C sensor) and a Canon 5DMkIV (DSLR with a full-frame sensor.) Neither camera has GPS or WiFi built in. They are just very good cameras. In "Continuous Mode" they shoot at different speeds. The 5D is a lot faster than the 60D (it's four times the price for good reasons).

Two photographers set up their gear in a straight line from the lighthouse. They were shooting through a lens/sensor/range combination that made the images almost identical.

By pure fluke, they both captured the wave at exactly the same moment to the millisecond. It's a true one-in-a-billion shot.

One-in-a-billion shots happen several times a day.

Bloody awesome pictures.
posted by Combat Wombat at 6:41 AM on March 8 [27 favorites]


Those photographers were standing in New Hampshire, but that is a Maine lighthouse. (Lighthouse photos always are more dramatic when a person could be killed in the next moment, as in the famous shot taken by Jean Guichard at Brittany’s La Jument in 1989, but no one has been stationed out at Whaleback for over 50 years.)
posted by LeLiLo at 7:22 AM on March 8 [2 favorites]


Yep. And they were both pretty constrained with their choices: shooting at their maximum focal length; fastish shutter speed to prevent wave blur which constrains the aperture; closest viewpoint to the lighthouse. And the author states with 45 minutes of shooting he got 3 shots that captured his vision so it's likely there was something special about this particular wave that made it a good subject.

Paired shots like this happen all the time; it is just that it usually isn't so easy to prove post facto or so obvious/unlikely appearing that it bears investigation. Take for example the Horsetail Fall of fire. The best view is tightly constrained, hundreds of photographers show up during the limited time it occurs and their exposure conditions are pretty constrained. I'd bet a "duplicate" happens every night it happens and we just don't find out about it.

sjswitzer: "I don't know what frame rate cameras have in that mode, but it would not be at all surprising if the captures were synced in some way to the timecode."

It doesn't work that way. Canon GPS encoding is added as EXIF later not as a control measure. Even when using the Canon hack CHDK to control the camera it uses internal camera clock not the GPS time.

Thorzdad: "This is probably the ultimate "Find the differences" puzzle."

If you are good at free parallel viewing stereo images the spray on the right pops out as quite a bit different. These guys were very close in timing but still not perfect.
posted by Mitheral at 7:27 AM on March 8 [8 favorites]


It's no coincidence; this was the only millisecond where the waves weren't staring at their cell phones.
posted by tobascodagama at 7:29 AM on March 8 [6 favorites]


The amazing thing is not that they captured the same scene at the same moment, given that they (at least Ron, and presumably Eric) were shooting continuously; it's that they both selected that one to promote.
posted by Edgewise at 9:22 AM on March 8


The amazing thing is not that they captured the same scene at the same moment, given that they (at least Ron, and presumably Eric) were shooting continuously; it's that they both selected that one to promote.

I agree. I recently saw a Robert Frank exhibit that included many of his proof sheets, and observed that usually THE SHOT pops out and says 'pick me.' Same thing happened here.
posted by dubwisened at 9:38 AM on March 8 [2 favorites]


Laotic: what it shows most is how post-processing and a UV filter (?) can affect the final outcome.

UV filters don't (well, shouldn't) do anything to the image. In the film days there were issues with high amounts of ultraviolet causing haze on the final image, but that's not an issue with modern cameras. People these days use UV filters as lens protectors, specifically because they don't alter the image. Canon's 400mm lenses run between about $3,000 and $10,000, and then if you're shooting on a full-frame camera like the 6D you need to add a teleconverter to get out to 600mm. You probably don't want to get corrosive salt spray all over the front element of one of those beasts.

When UV filters do alter the image, it's undesirable. Any filter involves putting a piece of glass in front of your lens, which can add distortion, reduce optical resolution, reduce contrast, and cause flares and reflections. Good (i.e. expensive) filters minimize this, but it's always an issue. You get massive flamewars in the camera gear community around whether or not it's a good idea to put a UV filter on your lenses to protect them, or whether putting a cheap piece of glass in front of a very expensive piece of glass defeats the point of having a very expensive piece of glass.

But yes, editing choices can definitely alter the feel of a picture dramatically. These two aren't even that different. Eric Gendron's looks like it's probably straight out of the camera, whereas Ron Risman's appears to have had a bit of clarity and contrast and maybe some sharpening (hard to tell) added in post, along with a white balance adjustment to warm it up a little bit. Nothing crazy, just a few basic tweaks to help it pop and restore some of the drama of the scene that was lost in the translation from real life to a 2D image.

Just for fun, I pulled up Eric's version in Lightroom and played with it a bit to try and make it look as much like Ron's version as I could. This is what I came up with after about three minutes or so.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 10:02 AM on March 8 [1 favorite]


I've actually had this happen with much less drama or confusion. The photo subject was a small, local 4th of July fireworks show. There's only so many logical, clear vantage points for the show. And there's a pretty standard recipe for shooting fireworks that involves a tripod, maybe a shutter release cable and 1-6ish second exposures. There were several photographers around me doing the same thing.

Like the other photographers, I took a shot or two of basically every single airburst for the whole show because it's as simple as standing there behind a tripod with a locked down, focused camera and holding the shutter open for X seconds and watching/adjusting your exposure through aperture or ISO or exposure time. And of course we're all opening our shutters at about the same time after the shell fires, and trying to capture the same kind of image - some light painting trails from the firework, but not too much.

I was still momentarily really confused when I saw someone else's photos on the front page of the local newspaper and they looked practically identical to some of my shots.
posted by loquacious at 10:26 AM on March 8 [2 favorites]


High-end cameras can generally operate as video cameras too, so they will have some kind of timecode system for synchronization. They also have GPS for geotagging. GPS is a very precise time source, and it's likely to be used as the timecode reference too.

I don't know of any photographic or videographic system that uses in-camera GPS timecode for anything important besides setting the clock and normal GPS functions for timestamping and geotagging captured media.

Photographers in general would get very upset if there was anything like that interrupting the organic workflow and response time of a shot. They obsesses over shutter release and response times and burst mode frames per second, and any artificial quantification lag like that would be immediately noticed by sports, wildlife and birding photographers.

This is not a feature that photographers would want or leave activated outside of special uses. People pay a lot of money to get their shutter speed to do what they want it to do as fast as possible on pressing the shutter release button.

Tight video timecode is also a huge pain in the ass without a master SMPTE clock. All digital devices drift. Further, as far as I know GPS timecodes are intentionally relativistic. Two independent cameras separated by enough movement or geographic space. I'd be impressed if consumer GPS (even with WAIS) was accurate enough for decentralized SMPTE timekeeping between different cameras without a hardwired or local RF SMPTE master clock.

What's a lot more likely is that they were both shooting in high frame rate burst mode and they happened to capture a picture within milliseconds of each other. Burst modes on some cameras can vastly exceed standard video frame rates, thus assuring that there will be multiple photos within milliseconds of each other, given a burst mode shutter release in the same general time frame.
posted by loquacious at 10:36 AM on March 8 [3 favorites]


Another fun photo thing to do is look at flickr heat geotagging heat maps of cities, especially toursty ones. (Example: Seattle.)

You can clearly see locations that have views of the Space Needle from the ground, as well as the Space Needle itself in the middle and left hand side of the image. Above that is Kerry Park in Queen Anne where a million pictures of Seattle's skyline have been taken.

I remember finding a live-ish zoomable heatmap on flickr and it clearly showed these hotspots on the ground all over the city where tourists would see the Space Needle come into view and they'd stop to take the picture. When I lived in downtown there were a bunch of places where you could watch people reliably stop, look up, and take a picture.

It was such a clearly observable phenomenon that an artist friend of mine once had an idea for a public/street art project that would involve spray-stenciling a subtle sign and box on the ground that bore some snarky words like "Approved tourist photo opportunity". And then maybe photograph and document people taking photographs when they inevitably stood in the box.

The same artist also had a whole collection of photos of people standing in front of a large but mostly unremarkable graffiti mural taking selfies or doing actual band photos. So, so many cliche band photos. I spent a lot of time in her loft house sitting one time, and sure enough there were multiple people taking photos in front of that wall every day, and a good half of them looked like random tourists just walking through Capitol Hill.

The mural itself wasn't really that notable or famous and was pretty tame corporate-funky condo decorations. But for whatever reason it was just a photo op magnet.
posted by loquacious at 10:53 AM on March 8 [3 favorites]


Missed edit and unfinished thought: Two independent cameras separated by enough movement or geographic space would inherently drift a little.
posted by loquacious at 10:55 AM on March 8


Burst modes on some cameras can vastly exceed standard video frame rates, thus assuring that there will be multiple photos within milliseconds of each other, given a burst mode shutter release in the same general time frame.

The camera specs are listed in the post. They are only 5.3 fps and 7 fps; they take a photo every 188ms and 140ms respectively. If both cameras started bursting before the peak of the wave and both photographers took the peak photo of their burst, they should still be on average at least 70ms apart.

It's remarkable that two photographers got exactly the same shot, but it's also remarkable that anyone saw both of the photos and remembered that one of them was from a different photographer. There are billions of photos on the web; how did any one person recall and identify this photo from the other one?
posted by 0xFCAF at 1:19 PM on March 8


My take is it's not all that remarkable that they got the same shot, that as noted above that probably happens to a greater or lesser extent a bunch of times every day because there are (a) a lot of cameras in the world and (b) a lot of places that are good choices to point a camera at a given time to take a given sort of picture.

So, yeah, the remarkable bit is that anyone noticed. And that seems like it's luck plus luck plus luck: two shots of that lighthouse and that crash of water seems pretty shruggo, either photographer choosing that moment out of the bunch to post where they post is shruggo, people looking at photographs from photographers also shruggo. That stuff lined up just right in the social media sphere is the interesting bit in terms of network effects, but then it's not necessarily that weird, across a large enough set of chances, that two photos of the same locality would be noticed by someone following photos from that locality.

So it's flipping a coin and getting heads seven, eight, nine times. The coin flips are all pretty banal events, and coming up heads isn't anything remarkable in any case, but lining 'em up like that is a doozy.
posted by cortex at 1:30 PM on March 8


This is just the tip of the iceberg.
posted by unliteral at 8:16 PM on March 8 [1 favorite]


UV filters don't (well, shouldn't) do anything to the image. (Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The)

Crap, I meant polarizing filter. The reflection on the metal roof shows.
posted by Laotic at 1:46 AM on March 9


And then there are the times you miss the photo by a fraction of a second. (Found via this comment, but with a different link since the original one is dead.)
posted by TedW at 2:59 AM on March 9


Probably viral marketing for the movie Annihilation
posted by ian1977 at 5:51 AM on March 9 [1 favorite]


Some recent cameras (including the Pixel 2's camera) are starting to hold a buffered stack of images in memory at all times, and then when you take a burst of shots it saves them starting from slightly before you pushed the shutter. It's an absolutely brilliant feature and will no doubt save a lot of shots that otherwise would be lost because the photographer missed the critical moment by a fraction of a second. As the article TedW links to above shows, fractions of a second can make a huge difference to the impact of an image. It can be the difference between a good photo and a Pulitzer.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 1:43 PM on March 17 [1 favorite]


You aren't ever going to see that feature on a SLR.
posted by Mitheral at 6:48 PM on March 17


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