Proof of Simulated Reality—Or Cool Camera Trick?

I watch the History Channel TV show “The Proof is Out There” hosted by Tony Harris. Early this year (I think January), an episode featured a snapshot showing a woman who’s mirror reflection didn’t match her facial expression. It was striking. The question was whether this proved we live in a simulated reality (think of the film “The Matrix”). At that time, I think Tony and his panel of analysts (including a digital imaging expert) called the photo unexplained but stopped short of declaring it proof we’re all living in a simulation.

A couple nights ago, on an episode of the new season, Tony had to admit he and his colleagues got it wrong—because the snapshot can be created using the smartphone camera panorama mode. Somebody submitted a couple of photographs duplicating the effect of the one submitted in January along with an explanation of how to make them.

Sena and I checked this out. When I googled the term “panorama mirror trick,” I got several hits with step-by-step instructions and several YouTube presentations. Depending on what search terms you use, I could find internet references going back several years.

We played with the camera. It took a little practice, but we got the hang of it quickly. These are rough instructions:

Mirror trick:

Open the camera app and swipe to panorama mode.

Subject stands adjacent to the mirror, at an angle partly facing it and partly turned toward the camera operator.

Camera operator taps the shutter button while panning from one direction toward the subject and moving past, keeping the arrow centered on the straight horizontal line.

When camera operator has panned just past subject and before reaching the mirror, stop moving the camera and have the subject change position. This should take only a moment or so. If the camera is still moving, you’ll get a lot of motion artifact.

After subject has assumed the new posture, start panning again toward the mirror and a bit beyond, then tap the shutter button to end the shot.

You should get an image with the subject in one posture and the subject’s mirror reflection in a completely different posture.

Doppelganger trick:

I call this the doppelganger trick because the maneuver creates an image with two different images of the same subject in two different spots, creating a twinning or doppelganger effect.  

Set up is the same as for the mirror trick but have the subject stand in one spot to the left of the camera operator and strike a pose.

Camera operator starts panning to the right, then stops briefly.

Subject zips behind the camera operator on the left side and takes up a new position on the opposite side.

Camera operator restarts the pan right and completes the shot after moving past the subject.


It may take a few tries, but when you get it right, the result looks startling. It’s fun.

Now here’s a question for Tony Harris. Do Doppelgangers exist?

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