Tall tales: Telegraph misrepresents turbine visualisations body's comments
- 23 Aug 2012, 17:00
- Ros Donald
Photo: Dirk Ingo Franke
The Telegraph is claiming that the body that oversees
visualisations for new UK wind turbine developments has accepted
photographers are using "tricks" to make windfarms seem
smaller. We contacted the organisation, Scottish Natural Heritage
(SNH), to find out more - and it turns out that's not quite
Small, or far away?
Is that windfarm small, or is it far
away? According to the article, deciding how large something is
in comparison to the landcape is more complicated than our normal
sense of perspective might suggest.
The industry standard for wind farm visualisation involves
imposing images of the proposed wind turbines onto a panoramic
photograph taken using a 50mm lens. The Telegraph article, largely
based on the
views of Inverness-based architect Alan MacDonald, argues that
this is misleading because it makes the wind turbines appear
smaller. The article says:
"....the wider the angle and the further
away the zoom, the smaller the objects in the picture will
"In the most extreme cases a turbine can
be made to look four times smaller than the reality, according to
Mr MacDonald. Expert analysis shows that a much more accurate
picture of what people living by the wind turbine will see is using
a single frame and 75mm focal length."
The expert analysis the article refers to is MacDonald's own
assessment. His company,
Architech, creates visualisations and 3D models for planning
The Telegraph includes photographs, provided by Architech, to
illustrate the size-related confusion photographs of windfarms
According to the article, the top picture uses the industry
standard 50mm lens, while the bottom one was taken using a 75mm
Very basically - we are not extending our remit to photo-checking
- the shorter the lens focal length, the wider the angle of the
photo it will take. So a shot using a 50mm lens takes in more of
the landscape than one using a 75mm lens. According to this
photography tutorial, you'd use a 50mm lens to photograph
"street and documentary" subjects, while a 75mm lens is often used
SNH published a set of guidelines in
2006 , which explains how different lens types might change the
scale of objects in the picture. Appendix D of the document says
"Changing from a 50mm focal length lens
to a 100mm lens will exactly double the linear scale of the
Later, it adds:
"The only difference between using the
50mm lens and the 100mm lens that the base image taken with the
50mm lens will have to be enlarged more than would be the case with
the 100mm lens."
But according to MacDonald, it's not just the length of the
lens that causes a problem. He says the accepted practice of
stitching together 50mm shots to create a panorama on an A3 page is
misleading. He claims the human eye does not take in the whole
panorama, focusing instead on the middle section of the picture. "A
printed 50mm photographic image will always under-represent our
perception of the scale of a more distant object because we are
looking at a flat image devoid of any depth information," Macdonald
submitted his concerns to SNH, which is holding a
consultation on ways it could update its guidelines. SNH's
guidelines are there to create a standard way to present
visualisations across the UK. He suggests that a 75mm lens
should become the standard for producing visualisations, instead of
50mm, and that photographers should avoid panoramic shots.
A little bit misleading
The Telegraph piece gives the impression that SNH agrees with all
of MacDonald's concerns. It says:
"His concerns have been accepted by
Scottish National [sic] Heritage, which issues planning guidance on
'wind farm visualisation' across the whole of the UK. Brendan
Turvey, policy and advice manager for renewables at SNH, said
developers have "definitely" made turbines look smaller than they
are.He said one of the biggest problem is pictures of the landscape
being taken at a distance and then shrunk to fit into a report so
that the turbines also appear to be smaller."
But that's not what SNH said, according to Turvey. He told us
the organisation accepts some of MacDonald's concerns, but that
doesn't mean it agrees with everything he says:
"We agree that a 75 mm image does
probably give a better representation", he says, and that "printing
images at a larger size is also beneficial".
SNH disagrees, however, that a single frame image gives a better
idea of what a development will look like than a panoramic photo.
Pointing out that "people tend to walk around", Turvey adds:
"We've always said to plan and consult,
you need a wider panoramic image that gives landscape and visual
He adds that the Telegraph also makes it sound like SNH has
admitted that the photographs are intended to confuse people - and
that SNH has "been complicit in that". He says: "We refute that
strongly", adding that some images may have made windfarms look
smaller but that it wasn't deliberate. "Photographers have been
following guidance and finding a compromise between giving good
representations and fitting the images to the page", he says.
SNH spokesman, Calum MacFarlane, says the organisation also feels
the article gives the impression that it admitted that developers
were deliberately misrepresenting the size of windfarms. He told
"The Telegraph article is not accurate.
We accept some, but not all, of Mr Macdonald's concerns. We don't
agree with the suggestion that developers have deliberately made
turbines appear smaller. In our view most developers have
followed our current guidance in good faith, and provided good
quality visualisations which are perfectly adequate for decision
making. Images are shrunk to make them fit on standard paper
sizes, not to deliberately underestimate impacts."
"Everyone's experience is evolving in
this field and our aim is to improve the guidance to reduce the
risk of underrepresentation in future."
Sounds disappointingly undastardly.
Turvey says SNH has written to the Telegraph's editor to clarify
that it doesn't agree there's been deliberate manipulation, and
that it doesn't agree with all of MacDonald's suggestions. So far,
though, the letter doesn't appear to have made it into the paper -
unless it's just been printed really small - or very far away.