People Can’t Believe This Photo of a Bird Isn’t Photoshopped or AI-Generated

Kenichi Ohno Bird Illusion Photo

Japanese photographer Kenichi Ohno makes regular visits to a local marsh in order to practice his nature photography. But one image in particular, which shows an egret wading in the shallow water, is causing a stir. After being awarded an honorable mention in the Nature in Japan photo contest organized by the The All-Japan Association of Photographic Societies (AJAPS), Ohno's photo went viral. People weren't sure if what they were staring at was real or the result of Photoshop.

The image, which is titled Gap, has been confirmed as being completely real. Even though it can take a minute to understand what's happening, everything makes sense once it's been explained. The odd split in the frame, where one half is blue and the other half is pale orange, creates a strong illusion. In fact, this illusion is part of what made the jury single out the photo from the 5,600 images entered into the contest.

“A strange photo with a strong impact,” said members of the jury. “It is interesting that we cannot immediately understand how it was taken. It is one that was taken because of the windless conditions. It shows us that the slightest difference can make a big difference in a photograph. It is difficult to photograph nature when man-made objects enter the picture, but in this case, they play a good supporting role and enhance the picture.”

So what is happening behind the egret that is causing the illusion? In the upper right-hand corner, there is a cream-colored wall. What we see below the wall is its reflection in the water and the position of the photographer has allowed for a perfectly straight “cut” in the composition, so one side is all water and the other side is the wall and its reflection. If it's still not clear, AJAPS also provided a pulled-back photograph of the scene, without the bird, where the wall is clearly visible.

If you are still having a hard time wrapping your brain around what's happening in the scene, check out the helpful diagram we've created below. Either way, the fact that the photo got the internet talking only proves that it doesn't take Photoshop to make a mind-bending image. All you need is a skilled photographer with an eye for the scene.

Kenichi Ohno's award-winning photo of an egret in a marsh has gone viral thanks to a strange illusion.

Another vantage point shows us that a wall and its reflection in the water is what's causing the head-scratching illusion.

Marsh in Japan

If the illusion still isn't clear, this diagram allows us to “see” what's happening.

Bird illusion photo by Kenichi Ohno

Photo: Kenichi Ohno; Diagram by Jessica Stewart / My Modern Met

The All-Japan Association of Photographic Societies: Website 

My Modern Met granted permission to feature photos to AJAPS.

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Jessica Stewart

Jessica Stewart is a Staff Editor and Digital Media Specialist for My Modern Met, as well as a curator and art historian. Since 2020, she is also one of the co-hosts of the My Modern Met Top Artist Podcast. She earned her MA in Renaissance Studies from University College London and now lives in Rome, Italy. She cultivated expertise in street art which led to the purchase of her photographic archive by the Treccani Italian Encyclopedia in 2014. When she’s not spending time with her three dogs, she also manages the studio of a successful street artist. In 2013, she authored the book 'Street Art Stories Roma' and most recently contributed to 'Crossroads: A Glimpse Into the Life of Alice Pasquini'. You can follow her adventures online at @romephotoblog.
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