Moon Boot Switcheroo Illusion

Let me introduce myself first. My name is Justine and I have been following Mighty Optical Illusions blog for a couple of months now. I was more than thrilled when Vurdlak asked me whether I’d like to contribute to this site. It will be my privilege to try, and bring fresh material to the wonderful world of optical illusions. I look forward hearing your reactions on my future posts. In the meantime lets’ start with my first post…

The picture below has to be one of the most famous photographs ever taken. On July 20th, 1969, Buzz Aldrin was the second astronaut to walk on the Moon. Neil Armstrong was the first. Aldrin had hoped to step out of the Lunar Landing Module ahead of Armstrong, but NASA ruled that Armstrong was best placed in the capsule for that momentous move. However, it’s interesting to know that Aldrin has managed to upstage Armstrong in history, by recording his very own “first” footprint. Unfortunately, Neil forgot to bring photo of his first step back home.

Buzz Aldrin Footprint Optical Illusion 2

But have you ever noticed how weird this footprint actually looks? It appears to be negative of the original photo, because it seems to stand proud of the moon dust. I suppose most people think (as I did) that its strange appearance had something to do with the fact it was taken on the Moon, where no atmosphere exists. Well, that’s half true… Back here on Earth, Sun never shines as brightly, especially from such an angle. In my opinion, the lighting is responsible for the way the picture looks.

The illusion has to do with the way our eyes perceive things. Our brain expects light to come from above, and that’s why we see this photo convex (embossed). For proof, view the same exact photo turned upside down.

Buzz Aldrin Footprint Optical Illusion 1

The footprint appears to be indented in the Moon dust, now. Same as it would be back here on Earth. This implies that the atmosphere has nothing to do with it this time. It is merely the way light falls, and the way our eyes perceive the resulting image. But that’s not all folks! No matter which version of the photo you are observing, if you contort yourself and try to look at it upside down, it won’t switch – Your brain simply won’t permit it. Try it yourselves!

Justine was a long time follower of this blog and was recently invited to help us bring more stuff to our society. and I proudly welcome Justine, and wish her success in her future writing. Hopefully we’ll manage to develop long-lasting relationship with Justine, resulting in many new illusions for You, our loyal visitors.Vurdlak

43 Replies to “Moon Boot Switcheroo Illusion”

  1. hi..iam from india where sun shines equally bright at 4:pm also but not in the morning…maybe that is the reason why i see the first image (original) to be concave footprint nad the second image(upside down) to be concave embossed…angle subtended in 1st image is somewhat the same as it subtend at 4-4:30 pm in india with equal briighness while angle subtended in 2nd image is somewhat like in the morning….so i have exactly oposite illusion to people living in cold contries :)

  2. I would like to join Vurdlak in welcoming Justine to this little party. He has always done a great job IMHO, and I’m sure that Justine will continue to expand our perceptions as well as he has done.
    Nice 1st post too. Good history lesson surrounding the image(s).

  3. Now that’s interesting. You are so right about expectations. Thanx for helping us see outside the proverbial box. You rock.

  4. That’s a very nice illusion, but I looked at both the pictures with my head as upside down as I can manage, and they both appear to change for me. Maybe it’s me?

  5. I do not see the illusion in this one, I am normally good at spotting it but not this time, for they are both the same with the middle being closer to the top and the heel and toe being more embedded in the soil.

    It could have something to do with my location since the sun is never directly above Scotland, whether it be summer or winter, so we always see shadows coming from objects.

  6. I see absolutely no illusion in this picture. To be honest, I can’t even imagine what you are all seeing.

    Both pictures look perfectly fine to me.

    is the “illusion” you see the fact that both the toe and the heal look depressed further than the center of the foot? if so, I don’t think that’s an illusion.

    If you walk through sand or snow with a stiff boot, you will notice the exact same thing. Your heel lands first creating the initial deep divot, and then your toe also creates a deep gouge as it pushes you forward.

    if you follow the link posted as my website, it will take you to an image from a beach here on earth showing more clearly what I’m talking about.

    What am i missing?

  7. I’m afraid Justine is not entirely correct. You will get the same illusion on earth if you take a picture of an indentation in sand, as long as the sun is not directly overhead. Also, I think the sand must be damp so the outline is crisp. Try it yourself it’s pretty cool.

  8. to be perfectly ohnest both photos look the same to me. they both just look as though ones upside down. maybe its just me but it looks like the same photo just upside down

  9. Sorry Justine but I’m not seeing it the same as you. It is a stange footprint but I don’t think it is any trick of the light. My reading is that he has come down heavily on his heel, rolled onto his toe and pushed off. The heel and toe give deep depressions because of the softness of the ground but because of the low gravity the centre part of the step makes a much shallower impression.

  10. Hmm, I don’t know, I’m from Wisconsin and I’m in the same boat as Zahid. The original photo already looked indented to me

  11. I can manage to get my eyes to change the footprint to change from an innie to an outie, but only when I concentrate very hard and look away from the pictures in between to refocus. Very spacey – pardon the pun!

  12. Clever! I’ve been confused with the footprint for a long time, but I never though it this way.
    to zahid: I don’t understand why this illusion has anything to do with the place you live in. The angle of light depends on the the direction you’re facing to.

  13. It’s interesting the way Zahid from India sees the shadows differently than others.
    Has this happened with other illusions?
    It’s good for Vurdlak to have some help. I don’t know how he does all that he does everyday and still have time for fun. Good job!

  14. Interestingly this is not an uncomon effect when the mind is trying ( with only two dimentions) to resolve an “image” in three dimentions. Specificity theory suggests the mind look for specific contextual things that would help ‘resolve” the image in three dimensions. If a recognizable context such as a small boulder with a “shadow” were in the pictue the the resolution would be much more quick and accurate. this presents as a Necker cube and I am actually able to “reverse” the effect in my minds perception moving from seeing the foot print as a depression or as standing “proud” like a lump of clay on the surface.

  15. maby im weird but they both look convex at first glance to me and i can switch them to concave at will, and while i will agree that the particulate matter of moon dirt is much more highly reflective and that the sun is shining brighter on the moon as there is no atmosphear it would apear to me that any body should be able to see this as it was intended to be seen like a foot print embossed in the dirt on an object floating in a vacume

  16. mmm.. not sure i get you. but the convex look is a natural form you get when you walk on sand, it has to do with the weight change across the foot when you take a step. This happens even when wearing flat soled flipflops, as I think Aldrins’ boot had. Stil interesting though…nice picture too..tnx!

  17. I see the exact same photo – just upside down. If you would bother to look at the details, you’d see there’s no illusion. It’s like this Justine guy just wants it to be an illusion.

    Notice how the bottom third of the (original) image is in focus and the top is out of focus. This shows that it was not taken parallel to the surface, but at an angle and with a shallow depth of field. When you can see that, (it’s really really obvious actually) it gives you an understanding about the space this photo was taken in. You can easily tell the light is just coming in very low. If I didn’t know the history of the photo I would say it’s just a lamp.

    Whatever, it’s not an illusion. Maybe, if you pumped up the contrast, sharpened the image and did some tweaking, you could make it into an illusion, but as it is, it’s just a photo and a fairly clear and straight-forward one at that.

    And brad, I think you mean debossed. (embossed means it’s protruding out of the surface, debossed means it’s pushed into the surface.)

  18. The first picture did appear to be an illusion at first, however, if I start looking at the picture from its shadows, it becomes quite clear that it is actually a concave image.

    Grat job though, thanks very much

  19. Sorry dude, I’ve stared at this photo for 15 minutes now and it still appears concave to me…

    I’ve read over and over what you said but still can’t seem to see what you’re talking about.

  20. USA never went to the moon.. I’m sorry, but it never happened.. The film was shot in Nevada desert.. If you look on youtube you can find some proof about this.. It’s actually maybe on of the biggest lies in history of mankind.. It’s kind of funny :P

    1. Umm, That is why you can see the flag with a high enough powered telescope. You-tube and “proof” do not go together.

  21. I don’t see anything special. Isn’t that how a foot print should look? I mean we get that angle of sun on the earth too when the sun sets….. The writing doesn’t explain anything either, it just rambles on about how even if you flip it, “it won’t switch.” What the hell is “it?” What doesn’t change? The passage is so vague and doesn’t point out the subject. What’s the “illusion”? This gets more and more annoying every time I read it.

  22. In the first photo, there’s something that looks like a flag at the top of the print. At first I thought it was taken from high above the moon, and was just some weird crater.

  23. i don’t see anything.
    they both look imprinted.
    i’m from ohio, so i have absolutely no idea if that makes a difference. ha

  24. When the picture is one way, the foot print appears convex, the other way it appears concave. The illusion doesn’t work for everyone I think.

  25. It’s an interesting illusion. You try you can actually see the first image as an imprint if you try. I looked at what should be a groove of the shoe and once I saw it as it should be the rest just fell into place. Our brain is a masterpiece of God. we shouldn’t limit it :)

  26. Glad I found this, but I still do not quite understand. With Armstrong’s passing, this shot grabbed my attention as looking convex. In my searches for information and conversations on Fb, it is clear that some see and some do not. The “hollow face illusion” and the explanation described in CRASHING THROUGH, a book by Robert Kurson would seem to explain just the opposite. Interesting!
    Psychologist Richard Gregory and others argued that many visual illusions resulted when a persons implicit knowledge that instant, automatic, and unconscious set of assumptions about the world and its objects, dominated over contrary evidence from the eye.

    The hollow face illusion provides a powerful example of this dynamic. It can be demonstrated by showing an observer the front of a simple plastic Halloween mask. (ad lib) As expected, the observer sees the face as convex. When the mask is rotated to show the reverse side however, the features suddenly appear to also protrude outward, looking as robust and convex as they did when viewed from the front.


  27. sorry, can’t see any illusion here.
    it’s a mistake to compare this to footprints in sand. The material you walk on can and will alter the appearance of any footprint.
    In this case, the ground is NOT flat, and there is a buildup of rock/dust around the footprint which is uneven – this further distorts the shadows but does not alter the appearance (at least not for me)

  28. The true reason why there a so few photos of Neil is quite easy.
    He was the man with the camera the most time.
    So he took many photos of Buzz, but not of himself. :)

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