A photo was released Monday with President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden kneeling next to Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter. The elderly couple are dwarfed by the Bidens; Joe and Jill look like ogre-sized heads of state, while the Carters look Smurf-sized and sink into their large, floral-patterned chairs.
It makes for a fun photo, but obviously doesn’t speak for the actual size of each person. Joe Biden isn’t big enough to dive in, and Jimmy Carter isn’t really that small. Why does it look like this?
Well, photographers regularly need to use techniques that make photos possible when their working conditions make them nearly impossible. With the Bidens and Carters, the photographer had to put four people in a single frame, all of whom were confined to a small space. The result is some common photo tickers that we actually see quite a lot but don’t think twice.
Why the Bidens looked so big (and the Carters so small)
Jack Crosbie, a photographer and writer, tells Lifehacker that the size differences are largely due to these two things: “Most of the time, what you see is poor framing as the photographer had to use a wide-angle lens, which was probably quite a bit small room, ”he says.
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“With a wide-angle lens, everything is stretched out at the edges,” continues Crosbie, noting that what you see in a wide-angle photo is the fisheye effect.
There’s also the fact that the Carters are smaller than the Bidens, just not to the extent shown. Sitting didn’t help either, as Crosbie explains:
Posture is also important in this picture as the Carters are both seated, folded in chairs, and the Bidens kneeling upright in front of the camera.
In reality, the photographer had to bring four people, all huddled together in a small room, together in a single picture. By using a wide-angle lens, the Carters were pushed back a little deeper and the Bidens appeared larger.
What other tricks do photographers use?
There are many other tricks photographers use on a regular basis, most of which go unnoticed by ordinary readers. Here are some of the most common ones we encounter:
Telephoto lenses can make places appear more crowded than they are
One thing that observers should always be aware of is the limitation of a single frame. There’s only so much space that handheld cameras can capture a snapshot, as Scott Heins, a New York-based photojournalist, told Lifehacker:
Thirteen people can show up for a protest / march, but I could take a picture of them up close with a pretty telephoto lens to make it look like the event is full of people.
Heins says telephoto lenses are often used to create the illusion of condensed space when in reality the The photographed room is not that full. “A telephoto lens compresses the distance between things so that people are much closer together in the depth,” he says.
In the early days of the pandemic, this type of photo caused a stir, especially when it was photographed in crowds of people gathering in parks. The pictures of night owls who did not distance themselves socially were shocking to the uneducated observer, but in reality people were far farther apart than they looked.
Compositing can make people look together when they really aren’t
Compositing is a lesser-known technique that occurs frequently, especially in an editorial sense. It usually happens when you’re trying to get lots and lots of people in one fell swoop when it’s unlikely that all of the subjects will ever actually be in the same vicinity. This applies to “photos that you often see in magazines that are large group shots,” says Heins.
He further explains:
As with the entire cast of a Star Wars movie, very often these photos are multiple images as it’s pretty much impossible to get all 6 to 20 people into the room at the same time. This goes beyond photoshopping a group of people on a cover, as the “set” of the photo (often a large pretty room) suggests pretty strongly that everyone is in the same place and posing.
Of course, you might be able to tell when to do this with a standard tool like Photoshop, as certain edited images can appear quite crude. When it comes to really professional jobs, however, it gets a little harder to tell when there are behind the scenes tricks.