7 Optical Phenomena Around the World

Optical trickery is taken for granted in today’s world of editing suites and image-enhancers, but as with everything else, Mother Nature got there first. Here’s a selection of fascinating natural phenomena that will have you questioning your own senses.

  • 1. Salar de Uyuni

    Salar de Uyuni is arguably the most recognisable natural illusion on earth, and yet still one of the most awe-inspiring. The sheer scale of this 10,500 km2 salt flat will completely overhaul your brain’s idea of perspective, giving you plenty of surreal photo opportunities in the process. If you’re lucky enough to visit after rainfall, the water creates a natural mirror on the surface, stripping another layer of reality from the already mind-bending surroundings.
  • 2. Strait of Messina


    The passage between the eastern point of Sicily and the Italian mainland is known for a remarkable optical phenomenon where phantom objects, such as boats, appear in the horizon, often upside down. The trick is due to the curvature in light reflecting off nearby objects, but in days gone by, it was attributed to the mystical sorceress "Fata Morgana" who would use the apparitions to lure sailors to their deaths. The illusion still bears her name to this day.

    See it here

  • 3. Storseisundet Bridge, Atlantic Ocean Road

    The Atlanterhavsveien is a real life road to nowhere. The raw, uncompromising 5-mile stretch connects an island group off the rugged Norwegian coast. The curvature of the earth, along the winding route, creates the illusion that many of its twist and turns lead to a sheer drop, but don’t be put off. The journey is regarded as one of the greatest road trips in the world.
  • 4. Hangman’s Hill, Epping Forest

    Ask anybody familiar with Dick Turpin’s old stomping ground and they’ll tell you the eerie tale of Hangman’s Hill, a spot in Epping Forest where ghostly forces can pull a parked car uphill. In fact, the stretch of road is a rare example of a magnetic hill, where the surrounding forestry makes a downward slope look like it’s tilted the other way, giving the gravity-defying effect. The fact that it happens to be in the beautifully haunting confines of Epping Forest is just a stroke of good luck.

    Watch it here

  • 5. Spotted Lake

    High levels of minerals such as sodium, calcium and magnesium are what give this distinctive lake its bizarre alien-like appearance. Situated near the city of Osoyoos, the Spotted Lake — Kliluk to the Okanagan Valley natives — has been celebrated for its healing qualities for hundreds of years. Although the lake itself is fenced off, the nearby highway provides excellent views of this otherworldly phenomenon.
  • 6. Apache Head in Rocks, Ebihens

    Faces in rock formations are a form of pareidolia, where the eye recognises patterns in objects and makes us "see" things that aren’t actually there — from Jesus in a bag of chips to the famous Face on Mars. Plenty of these optical illusions occur in our natural surroundings, one of the most striking being the Apache Head in the Rocks at Ebihens, France.
  • 7. The Sleeping Indian, Wyoming

    United States
    Another celebrated example of pareidolia occurs in the Rocky Mountains of Wyoming. Sheep Mountain has been nicknamed "The Sleeping Indian" due to its resemblance to a reclining Native American in full headdress lying on his back with his arms folded across his chest. The best view of the snoozer comes from the nearby valley town of Jackson Hole and, no matter whether you can make out the man in the mountain or not, presents a stunning image of North America in all its natural beauty.