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Set in the modern day; fairies are tennis ball sized humanoids with wings residing within the dense rainforest throughout the world. Local human populations consider them to be guardians protecting the sacred forest and its inhabitants.

A lot of people have been venturing into the rainforest equipped with digital cameras hoping to snap an image of the elusive being without any success.

How do the fairies do it? They are as intelligent as us but never developed electronics or any technology which could pollute or harm the forest.

Please use magic sparingly.

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    $\begingroup$ I suggest that you read Eoin Colfer's Artemis Fowl series. It covers the subject of your question in great detail. $\endgroup$ – Marvin the Paranoid Android Feb 18 at 3:15
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    $\begingroup$ @SEistoopoliticallycorrect Specifically, faires in Artemis Fowl us high-tech stealth suits to turn invisible or they us magic to vibrate at such a high speed that if one looks at where they are, one only sees a haze, similar to hot air rising off a street or a fire. $\endgroup$ – Dragongeek Feb 18 at 7:02
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    $\begingroup$ In answer to the first part, fairies wear boots. And you gotta believe me. $\endgroup$ – Deepak Feb 18 at 12:23
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    $\begingroup$ I've always disliked the Artemis Fowl explanation, because to be transparent enough to not be seen, they'd have to vibrate several yards to each side, which would make going through small spaces impossible, not to mention the wind noise that would generate. $\endgroup$ – Skyler Feb 18 at 14:43
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    $\begingroup$ @Eonasdan no, but your comment reminds me of spherical cows. $\endgroup$ – RonJohn Feb 19 at 19:24

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They paint their wings like giant butterflies

Rainforests house many colorful butteflies, some with wingspans of 4-5 inches. With painted wings and carefully chosen clothes and a bit of bodypaint, fairies can be difficult to tell from real butterflies at a distance of more than a few feet.

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    $\begingroup$ Slightly disappointed that you didn't replace one of the butterflies with a fairy in bodypaint. $\endgroup$ – Spitemaster Feb 18 at 14:32
  • $\begingroup$ @Spitemaster: I did look briefly for butterfly bodypaint, but did not find any really convincing examples. I have now added two pictures of butterfly fairies, though. :-) $\endgroup$ – Klaus Æ. Mogensen Feb 18 at 14:56
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    $\begingroup$ @KlausÆ.Mogensen Those aren't butterfly fairies; they're tiny people with dead butterflies strapped to them. $\endgroup$ – wizzwizz4 Feb 18 at 16:50
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    $\begingroup$ @KlausÆ.Mogensen I like it! I've never really understood why flower fairies always seem to have transparent clothing though. Camouflaging yourself as a butterfly, all of which have bodies in shades of brown or black, would tend to need the pale skin covered up. Of course it's simply 19th-century fan-service for the adults. $\endgroup$ – Graham Feb 18 at 18:20
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They're not stupid.

They see the humans enter the forest and avoid them. They see the cameras left behind and avoid them.

It's hard to photograph something actively avoiding you.

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  • $\begingroup$ To add to this, camera's are really directional. Unless you approach them head on, they won't see you. It would be fairly easy to approach them from above for example, and disable them or cover them up. $\endgroup$ – Plutian Feb 18 at 6:54
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    $\begingroup$ What about hidden camera's or people wearing ghillie suits? The fairies won't see them. $\endgroup$ – Dunebro Feb 18 at 12:58
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    $\begingroup$ @Dunebro - they might be hidden now, but they were noticed when they arrived, and the fairies remember and warned each other. $\endgroup$ – Robin Bennett Feb 18 at 14:00
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    $\begingroup$ @Dunebro The hidden cameras and people wearing ghillie suits were spotted by the fairies' hidden cameras and people wearing ghillie suits :) $\endgroup$ – mjt Feb 18 at 18:21
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    $\begingroup$ This makes sense, but conflicts with the fairies' purpose of guarding the forest. If I want to cut down trees and start some fires, I just need to bring a few cameras and the fairies won't give me trouble? $\endgroup$ – scohe001 Feb 18 at 20:35
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Fairies are just hyper-intelligent butterflies

They are have two powers, telepathy and telekinesis. The first let's them Glamour themselves to look like versions of whatever is viewing them. If dogs could talk they'd tell you that fairies look like very tiny dogs with butterfly wings. This is a defense mechanism as most animals have a "cute" reaction to smaller versions of themselves. Telekinesis on the other hand lets them manipulate items that their butterfly legs wouldn't on their own.

So why don't cameras take pictures of fairies? They do, it's just that they capture their true form, rather than mental interpretation that we humans see.

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    $\begingroup$ +1 for the mental image of tiny dogs with butterfly wings! $\endgroup$ – dissemin8or Feb 18 at 17:51
  • $\begingroup$ (spoilers) I was thinking kind of like Vorlons in Babylon 5. $\endgroup$ – aslum Feb 18 at 17:52
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Government Conspiracy

This one only works if you are also using the Urban Fantasy trope where the government hides the existence of supernatural creatures.

Similar to how governments prevent the photocopying of money, when a digital camera captures the picture of a supernatural creature, government mandated object recognition software kicks in and either removes the creature, makes it blurry, or changes it to something else.

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    $\begingroup$ This is the funniest Government conspiracy I've ever read! You should post it on Reddit, 4chan, alt.news.government.conspiracy, ...! :D >:-) $\endgroup$ – Fabby Feb 18 at 19:08
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Speaking as one who has been birding in a number of dense rainforest environments, the only way you ever see something that small and fast is if it is not trying to avoid being seen.

I'm a big fan of hummingbirds, and realistically you only get to see them around feeders. Otherwise all you get is something whizzing by, impossible to photograph.

pic of humming bird from Jardin Encantado, Colombia

Even birds which make quite a racket are often completely invisible in the canopy. You can spend literally hours looking for something up there and never get a peek.

Any fairy with hearing is going to avoid camera-wielding humans without difficulty. Their only problem will be if people know where they feed and wait for them.

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They're really good at hiding

There's no reason to look for a complex answer when a simple one suffices. Fairies are very attuned to the forest, and can always tell when a clumsy human is bumbling through the forest looking for them, at which point they just hide in places that human unfamiliar with the wood can't find them.

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They camouflage very well

By leaving for so many years among the trees, their body and wings adapted to be able to camouflage very well, just like some butterfly do : https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kallima_inachus

Being smarter than butterflies, as you said they have human intelligence, they can make the most of such camouflage.

You can also add that they have one of the best hearing in the animal world, be able to hear humans entering the forest way before they could even notice them.

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There are a lot of real-life creatures of this size or larger which are almost impossible to photograph simply because they're very shy. In such an environment you don't need amazing hiding skills, you just go into a bush or under some leaves or up into the canopy and you will be virtually invisible if you don't move. And the noise humans make gives you plenty of time to hide with such poor line of sight.

That said it's unclear if these creatures in your world are hard to spot, or just hard to photograph? Rapid, erratic flight would make getting a conclusive shot very difficult especially in a forest and they'd be very easily mistaken for birds.

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  • $\begingroup$ A great real world example: telegraph.co.uk/news/earth/wildlife/9230731/… $\endgroup$ – Cecilia Feb 19 at 20:36
  • $\begingroup$ This! Please upvote it, even if it's too late to get it accepted. It's the right answer ... ask any amateur photographer who's tried to capture a kingfisher! $\endgroup$ – Will Crawford Feb 19 at 21:17
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Fairies are literally less than 3 dimensional, so if they figure out there are cameras or people in the area they just turn sideways enough to disappear.

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Well, rainforests are visually "busy" places, like a "Where's Waldo" picture, but mostly in shades of green and brown. So if fairies are green and brown, or dress in all green and brown, and you factor in their small size, they're not likely to be noticed in photos unless they're very close to the camera. To take this a step further, they could develop "stealth" clothing made from spiderwebs and dewdrops, which causes a scattering and refraction of light around them. This would "fuzz" their appearance, making them appear to take on the colours of their surroundings, and also creating indistinct edges for their form/silhouette. Their stealth clothing might actually be a liability in full sunlight, making them glimmer and glint in an otherwise empty sky, but in the speckled lighting under the rainforest's canopy, it would be nearly impossible to distinguish them from their surroundings.

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  • $\begingroup$ Having to dress in green and brown all the time sounds pretty dull for an intelligent race of people. Are they all cubical workers? $\endgroup$ – Jontia Feb 20 at 9:16
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Fairies are creatures of the psychic world.

While able to interact with the physical world, they do not have an actual physically visible form.

Seeing a fairy is a result of their psychic interaction with the visual cortex of a nearby brain, inserting them into the visual information coming in from the eyes.

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  • $\begingroup$ This is basically how the fae work in the classic World of Darkness, for what it's worth. $\endgroup$ – nick012000 Feb 20 at 11:24
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The shutter sound makes them twitch

Whenever they hear the sound of the shutter, they twitch by reflex (inherited from long ago when they were pray to a clicking snake). The twitch is faster than the shutter speed so that they always move out of the picture. They also hang out in the bright sun, where photographers use shorter exposure time, so there is no time for them to fly back into the picture before the shutter closes. If the exposure time is long enough for them to do that, the picture becomes way to bright to see anything anyway.

Why don't the photographer use a silent camera?

Because they don't know that fairies exist, so they don't know that there would be anything to take a picture of. Only professional photographers journey that far into the forest, and they bring those big expensive cameras where the click sound is part of the user experience.

Wouldn't fairies fly very far if the camera is distant?

The forest is so thick, that if the camera is say twenty meters away, they would end up behind bushes and leafs anyway. If they are so far away that they don't hear the camera, they end up too tiny on the picture for anyone to see them.

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I wanted to expand on a comment made by another user:

In the Artemis Fowl series, faeries are a group of HIGHLY advanced subterranean species, employing a combination of magic and technology to stay hidden. Their basic way to hide is their "shield", where they raise their heart rate and start vibrating fast enough to go invisible. They also have 2 varieties of highly advanced technological cloaking devices: Camfoil, either a sheet covered in tiny cameras or a sheet made of diamonds depending on the version, which makes you invisible to normal light; and Stealth Ore, a special metal that is invisible to electrical equipment, including cameras.

So you can simply say that all fairies wear special hi-tech clothing that makes them invisible to cameras.

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  • $\begingroup$ Multiple species. $\endgroup$ – wizzwizz4 Feb 18 at 16:54
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Fairies branched off from chameleon ancestors and as such, have chameleon-like camouflage abilities. Heightened senses and flight allows them to escape before being caught.

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They can shine so bright that they blind&damage cameras

Your question reminded me of cyberpunk-style anti-surveillance wear, in particular a project dubbed camo-flash. It boils down to a device that can shine very bright, enough to blind the CCD sensors of a camera, in response to a bright light (the flash of a camera).

camo-flash in action

The fairies could wear cloaks made of e.g. a symbiotic photosensitive/photoemmisive algae displaying this behavior - it's a natural defense mechanism evolved somewhere in fairy world and fairies adapted it. Or their skin could shine at will, and the counter-flash is a reflex action.

If they could focus this light source well enough (up to the point of creating something as powerful as current green handheld lasers), they would be destroying cameras CCD damage from laser is not pretty. After a camera has been damaged, horizontal or vertical lines will appear in any photographs:

example of CCD damage

If they can damage (expensive) cameras, that would give those pesky humans a reason to stay home and not try to photograph them. There would be some lucky one able to snap an out-of-focus, my-camera-is-almost-dead photo in extraordinary situations.

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Infrared

Fairies are mysterious little creatures made from infrared light which cannot be detected by the human eye, so we can "Never" see them, even though they are around all the time.

Digital cameras however can detect infrared. Fairies, being the creative little rascals they are, knows this very well, so they are able to change their light spectrum to a range that is unknown to humans. Therefore we cannot build a camera that can capture their images without knowing the spectrum they shift to.

There is an upside however. There is a rumor going around that when a fairy sleeps they are visible to the human eye because they switch of their special lighting features to conserve energy. Problem is, fairies apparently never sleep.

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Fairies are not things existing in reality...they only exist in the perception of the observer...and their actions are actually performed by the person 'seeing' them'.

Unique virus/parasite? Oddly intense but transitory psychosis as a result of the former?

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  • $\begingroup$ Welcome to the site. I don't think this is a useful answer to the question. While saying fairies are just a hallucination does explain why they wouldn't register on cameras, this answer fails to adequately explain such a hallucination. It also isn't useful for the OP's world - where I suspect fairies are real, imporant characters. $\endgroup$ – Zxyrra Feb 19 at 19:45
  • $\begingroup$ It could use development, and probably violates the OP's request to "please use magic sparingly", but I don't think it's that implausible. Maybe they're real creatures but are invisible, however humans perceive them as visible for whatever reason. Maybe they can't interact with our world, and the bit about humans only believing they can is accurate. $\endgroup$ – Matthew Feb 19 at 20:52
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Fairies are really translucent

Locals have learned to revere the voices-in-the-trees that talk to them and levitate objects and consider them as their protectors, but since they are inherently transparent to most wavelengths, no-one has ever seen or photographed one.

If you google "translucent animal" you can find results such as this : image of a translucent fish

Now imagine your fairies evolved to take that even a bit further and voilà ! Maybe if they sit still and you focus really hard you can see their outline, but that's it.

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  • $\begingroup$ Can you elaborate on why fairies are inherently transparent to most wavelengths? This is an interesting answer but it seems to beg the question. Fairies can't be seen because they're invisible. So why are they invisible? They're transparent. So why/how are they transparent? $\endgroup$ – Zxyrra Feb 19 at 19:48
  • $\begingroup$ @Zxyrra I added a picture of what I have in mind $\endgroup$ – Pierre Cathé Feb 20 at 8:45

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