So im new to photography. I was wondering, is there a difference in how our pictures appear in, say a selfie click (from the back camera, not front) and how we look in real life. I know the mirror image factor is there, but apart from that, what other differences are present?

  • One of the most important things to keep in mind in photography is that the camera does not see things like you do. You must get used to how your camera sees things in order to get the results you want. – user29608 Feb 2 '17 at 7:21
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    Everyone looks like a dork in a selfie, but some people don't always in real life. – Olin Lathrop Feb 3 '17 at 23:27

Here's a gif made of photographs taken with different focal length with same crop factor. So the focal length alters the shooting distance and thus perspective and shape of the object (you).

You can also (ab)use white balance, colour shifts and "artistic" filters.

And finally, you can photoshop!.


Our eyes have a look that is similar to what you'd get out of a 50 mm lens (standard lens) which is why so many people (including me) love shooting at 50 mm. Phone cameras have a much wider field of view and that distorts the image in certain ways.

Our brain also doesn't capture image by image as a camera does, it's more analog than that (somebody will sure explain better than myself). What I'm saying is that our eyes and brain work in tandem to do something like HDR, exposing different areas of our view with different levels. Which is why when we look at a room with a window, we can clearly see the inside of the room and the outside correctly exposed. Cameras tend to struggle and you can achieve results like the eye after fiddling with either multiple exposures by bracketing or in post.

Hope i helped.

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    The human field of vision is much wider than that given by a 50mm lens on 35mm film. It's easy to test: just look through the viewfinder with a 50mm lens attached, then take the camera away from your eye and note that you can see a lot more of the scene than you can through the viewfinder. – Nathaniel Feb 2 '17 at 7:41
  • Yes, I probably shouldn't have said field of view, my mistake. What i meant was that when you looked through the lens of a 50mm lens, while keeping your other eye open as well, you'd see pretty much the same level of zoom. Because of that, the depth of things we see and the depth the camera perceives is similar which makes the photo look closer to real life. – Tharindu Wijayasekara Feb 2 '17 at 8:14
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    This is true, but it's just a function of how the optics of the eyepiece are designed. If you use an eyepiece magnifier, you'll find that a 50mm lens gives a bit of zoom and a slightly wider lens is "the same as the human eye". I like the look of photos shot at 50mm (or about 30 on a crop sensor DSLR) but I don't think you can say it has anything to do with similarity to the human eye. – Nathaniel Feb 2 '17 at 8:40
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    There's a relationship between focal length, print size/viewing distance and whether the perspective in an image looks natural. Take an image with a [FF equivalent] focal length of 10mm, and it will look really distorted in a small print. But print that image so large it fills your field of view and the perspective will appear quite normal. 50mm is simply the focal length that gives natural perspective when an average sized print is viewed from an average distance... – Matt Grum Feb 3 '17 at 13:31

Yes there is potentially a big difference because of a whole range of factors.

One of the most important is that (most) humans have stereoscopic vision and that, combined with other more subtle clues allow us to interpret the world in 3 dimensions. In a flat image we have much less to go on and have to rely on variations in light and shade, combined with our experience of the general shape of human faces to deduce their 3 dimensional shape. This can easily be distorted by lighting and exposure.

Similarly the type of lens used can distort the image compared to what we are used to with our own eyes. With extreme wide angle lenses this can be fairly obvious but more subtle distortions are harder to spot, especially as a human face has no straight lines to act as a reference.

Another effect is that when we interact with real humans they are not static and even very subtle changes in expression can have a significant difference on how a face is 'read' while a photograph just gives us one static instant, plus the fact that a moving face allows us to see different angle which helps us to form a more accurate 3 dimensional image.

A related factor is that when we know are being photographed we tend to freeze and often adopt a somewhat unnatural expression and posture, especially if the photograph takes some time to set up. Professional portrait photographs will often take dozens if not hundreds of shots just to get the one expression they are looking for and may use various techniques to distract or relax the subject.

Equally lighting and exposure can hide or accentuate details, especially skin texture and the relative hardness of softness of the contours and lines of a face, especially for things like the nose, jawline and around the eyes.

Human skin is also difficult to photograph accurately as has a lot of very subtle variations in tone and texture as well as variations in translucency and shine.


1) The camera photo is not a snapshot. The camera records the effects of incoming light over a fraction of a second. This means that the effects of movement are recorded in the final image.

2) Our eyes are stimulated by light and the stimulation continues for a fraction of a second after the stimulation is taken away. This affects how we see the world too. We are never viewing a static image.

3) If you hand-hold your selfie, then it will be pretty close to your face. When another person looks at you in person, they will usually be further away from you than your camera. The distance between them and you, or between the camera and you, defines the perspective - from the camera, or other person, toward you. The closer the camera is, the more distorted you will look in the photo. It is not that the camera is making a mistake, it is just that from the camera's perspective, that's how you look. In real life interactions we very rarely get that close to look at someone (except maybe a lover :D ) - which is why the selfie looks unusual.

4) Finally, some lenses will noticeably distort images also - such as fisheye lenses.


The previous answers already cover a lot of ground, but just want to say that there is no mirror image issue with photography; that is, the camera/lens won't flip a scar from the left side of your face to the right side in a photo.

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