When U.K. actress Tessa Coates tried on wedding dresses at a shop, she asked someone to snap a photo of her standing between two mirrors. But what appeared on the iPhone screen was downright “Matrix-y,” as Coates put it.
The photo shows Coates standing in a white gown, with a mirror on each side reflecting the scene. But strangely, each of the two reflections shows Coates in a slightly different pose than what her actual stance was.
In one reflection, her arms are down at her sides. In the other, her hands are clasped at her waist. All the while, the real Coates stands with one arm bent and the other straight down.
“My phone glitched and took this weird panoramic picture where I’m in a different pose in each mirror,” Coates wrote on Instagram.
So what caused this reality-bending camera trick? The answer lies in how modern smartphone cameras work.
Most new iPhone cameras use a technique called “computational photography.” They take lots of pictures in a split-second, then use advanced algorithms to stitch together the best parts of each one. The result is typically a single crisp, properly exposed image.
But when dealing with mirrors, this process breaks down.
Because Coates moved her arms while the panoramic photo sequence was being taken, each individual frame likely captured her in a slightly different pose. And because the iPhone camera didn’t realize the extra “Coates” images were just reflections, its software treated each one as a separate person.
So when it came time to stitch the frames together, the iPhone picked the best version of Coates from each part of the photo—without realizing that all three shots were supposed to be of the same person!
It’s a limitation in the computational photography process that can cause confusing captures. Tech experts say it can happen whenever the camera shoots reflections, especially if there is motion in the frame.
While glitchy, the resulting photos provide an interesting peek behind the curtain at how advanced camera software “sees” a scene. The next generation of iPhone cameras will likely be smarter about distinguishing reflections.
But for now, the weird panoramas remain a funky byproduct of smartphone photography. At least Coates was able to find the “Matrix” humor in her wedding dress optical illusion!