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I'm trying to get an accurate sense of what I look like with the following methods:

1) Phone Selfie, outstretched hand - horrible distortion

2) Phone Selfie, outstretched hand + Selfie Stick, total distance ~90-95 cm

3) Manual Zoom from a video frame in a video taken at a much bigger distance, from across the room

I can make Images (2) and (3) proportionally the same by zooming in (3), but they show slightly different faces. Which one is more accurate in terms of how what I look like to others in real life?

  • Do you perceive other people as "distorted" because they sometimes appear at distances other than ideal portrait distance? Probably not, so don't worry, you are not "distorted" either :-) – szulat Jul 5 at 0:15
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    Perspective from a selfie stick is pretty close to what you'd see in a bathroom mirror. – xiota Jul 5 at 2:06
  • Note that few people will ever see you at distance #1 (outstretched hand distance) or distance #2 (selfie stick), except your immediate family. Less than 1M is inside most people's personal space. – Mattman944 Jul 5 at 16:52
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The distortion is exactly as what is seen by a person at that distance.

At least, optically. The human vision system is complex, and integrates sensory input over time into a three dimensional mental model. This model only exists in the brain and does not correspond directly to the physical world.

Meanwhile, a photograph is a direct representation of light projected onto a two-dimension recording medium.

No photograph will ever give a complete impression of what you look like to other people.

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When you look at yourself in the mirror, or look at someone else from any distance, your brain re-interprets what it actually sees, so you can't tell that perspective distortion is making your nose look big & your ears look small.

As soon as you take a photo of that, your brain can no longer re-map it into 'reality' because it's just a flat image. That's why selfies look so bad - big nose, little ears.

The only way to fool your brain into thinking that what it sees in a photo is what you would see in a mirror, is to take the picture from at least 10-15 feet away. At this distance with a phone, you'll barely be taking up enough of the frame to consider it still a portrait, so ideally you'd need to crop the image or use a longer lens.
Note that even at this distance you will still see some slight distortion - your legs will look short.

There are several articles about this - usually explaining from a different perspective [no pun intended] to explain 'lens compression'
An example from FStoppers - How Lens Compression and Perspective Distortion Work containing a gif showing how this perspective distortion manifests. By moving the camera at the same time as changing the zoom, the subject's face is kept at the same proportion in the frame. The subject doesn't move.
This is an extreme example, probably requiring several lenses, as the shortest is 15mm [slightly shorter than even a phone] to 1000mm.

  • I like this explanation... but it may be relevant to add that the "distortion" of short distances is due to what would be 3D binocular vision being recorded as a 2D monocular image. And it goes away at longer distances (≥ 10ft) because human vision is also primarily 2D at greater distances, and spacial correlations (sizes/distances/etc) are based upon monocular cues. Basically, at longer distances the eyes are close enough together that they see the same image, and they function as a single unit (monocular) much more like the single lens of the camera does. – Steven Kersting Jul 7 at 13:25

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