Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Oh My Aching Head

Welcome to another episode of OMG, are the self-styled serious people in photography this bad?

Dr. John Edwin Mason recently posted this picture to twitter, a Victorian era photo titled "Venice - Island of San Giorgio, San Lazzaro degli Armeni, the Lido" and asked if it was taken from a hot air balloon,

which, well, remarkably lazy but whatever.

In the replies Melissa Lyttle, some random photographer with a twitter blue check, said they'd looked on Google Earth for tall structures nearby and found nothing. Another person, thank god, supplied the right answer, but by then everyone had moved on and they're all pretty sure this thing was shot from a hot air ballon.

Narrator: it was not.

Let's take a look at it. First of all, one might well be forgiven for thinking that it just feels wrong for a Victorian era balloon/aerial photo, and for good reasons. The angle of view is simply too low, this is the sort of view one can get from a tall building, so in general the aerial views from this era are taken from much higher, and offer a much steeper view.

Secondly, let's take a look at Google Maps, satellite view, to see if we can identify any of these structures. Wow, it's all still there. Venice's 500 year development plan is, I believe, to do no development:

This immediately establishes a sight line:

What's over there? Let's zoom out on google maps a little:

why look, it's the Piazza San Marco, where these is a giant campanile, indeed, the tallest structure in Venice. Perhaps Melissa Lyttle should spend a little more time learning how to use google's tools.

There's some other stuff you can look at, you can see where the horizon line hits the campanile in the picture, and deduce that you're about that high off the ground (certainly under 100m up, the San Giorgio campanile is about 64 meters total). You can measure widths of various objects and establish a range, and so on. This is all fairly simple, but perhaps beyond the capacity of a simple historian.

Anyways, it turns out that this was shot from the campanile in the Piazza San Marco, and this exact shot exists in endless variation. That particular vantage point is not a large physical space, so everyone gets exactly the same proportions and arrangement of objects in the frame, because that's the only choice you have.

We have fundamentally two problems here: First, Dr. Mason posts stuff like this pretty often, without deigning to do the slightest research, and frequently offers wrong-headed speculation. Second, his idiot followers who either also cannot be bothered to do research, or who do very bad research, reply with their own wrong-headed nonsense. Collectively they arrive at wrong answers, and move on with their lives. The collective stupidity and ignorance of humanity increases incrementally.

I find this very depressing.


  1. They could have had a hot air balloon lifting off from Piazza San Marco and, just when the basket got to the height of the Campanile, a photographer in it shot the photo. No camera movement 'cause she got lucky, very calm day. So there, smarty pants.
    I've taken the same photo back the opposite direction, because that tower at San Giorgio was just 5 euros as opposed to the much more expensive and crowded San Marco.

    1. A small delight I noted in my brief research is that the Standard Photo of each of these campaniles is very obviously The Photo From The Other One.

  2. My advice would be to stay away from Twitter. :)