How Does a Camera Perceptually Add Ten Pounds to a Subject?

Does the camera really add ten pounds? This episode of the SciShow attempts to clear up that myth. Or is it a myth? The answer may not be that easy to answer. To understand it, you need to first understand how the camera sees a scene vis-à-vis the human eye and how that information is processed:

The most obvious thing to overlook is the fact that our cameras don’t quite see the world the way we do. Cameras are cyclopses. They see the world with only one eye: the lens. Seeing the world with just one eye takes away a key aspect of vision—depth perception.

our cameras are cyclopses

When we look at something with both eyes, one of our eyes can see a bit behind a subject that’s directly in front of the other eye. This is what gives us the element of depth.

Now imagine what happens after an image is taken. Our eyes, which see a face or an object in an image aren’t able to see anything behind the that face or object. It feels that the face or the object is wider than it should be. In other words, the camera adds the dreaded ten pounds.

the camera can add ten pounds

Another thing to note is that we’re used to seeing our own face from a close distance. As a reflection in the mirror, for example. In the mirror, your nose appears a few centimeters closer, and your ears appear a few centimeters farther back. But with a camera, the distance to your face appears farther away, and that can make it look flatter.

The Effect of Focal Length on Your Face

Focal length is defined as the distance between the point inside the camera where light rays emanating from a scene meet and the sensor behind the lens where the image is recorded.

focal length can skew your face

A shorter focal length means your camera will record more of the scene. At the same time it means objects close to the camera will appear larger than usual. Thus, the added ten pounds. They would also make objects farther away appear smaller. The same way a tele-lens makes things appear thinner and flatter.

So, now you know why it sometimes seems like the camera adds ten pounds to your face.

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One Comment

  1. Wendy says:

    I’ve seen examples of “the camera adds x pounds,” and I have monovision.

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