This Bird Photo May Break Your Brain (And No, It Wasn’t Photoshopped)

“Gap” by Kenichi Ohno.

This mind-bending photo of a bird is making the rounds on the internet, and people’s brains are having a hard time processing what exactly the photo shows. It is a real single-exposure photo, though, and not the result of Photoshop manipulation.

The photograph, titled “Gap,” was captured by a Japanese photographer named Kenichi Ohno from the Saitama Prefecture in the Kantō region of Honshu, part of the Greater Tokyo Area. Kenichi entered the photo in the 39th “Japanese Nature” photo contest put on by the The All-Japan Association of Photographic Societies (AJAPS), which boasts 10,000 members across Japan, and the photo was honored as a “Special Selection” winner.

Organized and sponsored by Sony’s marketing arm, the contest saw 14,727 photo entries from all across the island nation this year, and the goal of the competition through all these years has been to showcase “the splendor of Japan’s nature through works that directly express landscapes, flora and fauna, and human activities.”

What the Photo Shows

While the photo may look at first glance like a composite image of a bird superimposed on two different backgrounds, it’s actually a single photo of the bird standing at the edge of some water with a wall and its reflection creating a fascinating optical illusion.

The bottom of the wall has a dark area (perhaps algae), and the symmetrical reflection of this strip can be seen in the water below. The height of the wall and the angle of the shot leads to the reflection of the wall extending downward all the way to the water’s edge, adding to the confusing appearance.

Still having a hard time understanding what the image contains? Here’s the image overlaid with colors and labels:

“Amazing photo with a strong impact,” the federation writes regarding this award-winning photo. “There’s something interesting about it that you can’t immediately understand how it was shot.

“This is a shot that was taken because there was no wind. It teaches us that a small change can make a big difference in a photo. It’s difficult to shoot nature when there are man-made objects, but in this case they play a good supporting role and enhance the photo.”

Update on 5/25/23: Here’s a photo showing an alternative view of the same wall and scene. It’s a photo that should help you make better sense of what you’re seeing.

Image credits: Photograph courtesy Kenichi Ohno / AJAPS