Vox Thinks Lens Distortion From Selfies Are to Blame for Nose Job Trend

A photographer will know exactly what lens distortion you’ll experience with a wide angle lens up close. Does the general public?

Why is 85mm considered a great portrait lens? We know that it compresses facial features, as well as the background. In general, we look more human when shot with a long lens – which is something you can’t promise from a smartphone held at arm's length. Apparently, this issue is enough to warrant plastic surgery for some.

In the above video, Christophe Haubursin cites the American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery. They found that 55% of patients in 2017 receiving facial plastic surgery, wanted to look better in their selfies. That’s apparently an increase of 13% from 2016. This is in line with a general increase in demand, where surely most patients feel they want to improve their looks anyway. For men, rhinoplasty is the top requested facial reconstruction. For women, it comes second to Botox.

This is my test from Princeton's Perspective-aware Manipulation system. The differences aren't monumental, but perhaps I was holding the camera at a respectable distance.

Solutions (Other Than Surgery)

There are two fixes for the problem, for the amateur photographer. The first is the ever popular selfie stick. By throwing your smartphone a couple feet back, you’re eliminating a lot of that unwanted lens distortion.

The second fix is with software. Last year I tried out Princeton’s software solution to the problem, and honestly, I thought it did a pretty good job. The online tool takes note of your facial features and distorts the image to look like it was taken on a longer lens from further away. Using software is the best solution since the user will be retaining the appropriate framing too (unlike selfie sticks). I could absolutely see Adobe integrating this into Photoshop some day.

Perhaps it’s not the lens distortion that’s an issue, but a distortion of what we think we ought to look like. Besides, it goes both ways – sometimes a user wants parts of their body to look larger than normal.

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10 Comments

I can see a nose job plugin for Lightroom mobile or action for Photoshop coming.

Adrian Malloch's picture

In the video, Christophe Haubursin correctly describes the distortion created when taking a photo from up close. But your commentary Stephen, incorrectly attributes blame to the lens.
The take-away lesson from the video should be that distance – and distance alone – is what creates perspective distortion. It's not the wide-angle lens that's to blame – it's that our arms aren't long enough for selfies.
The wide angle lens is not creating any distortion at all. It's just the relative proportions of the face that are distorted when viewed at such a short distance.
This is not nit-picking, since as a teacher I need to spend considerable time showing often-experienced photographers how moving their butt creates far more changes in their photography than zooming their lens does.
Your assertion that a telephoto lens "compresses facial features, as well as the background" completely diverts blame from the poor technique to the lens used. It's important to remember that the distance is already compressed and the telephoto lens just reveals it by its tight framing. A wide angle shot taken from the same place as the telephoto also shows those same objects with the same compression. We just have to zoom in very close into the resulting image to notice it.

Stephen Kampff's picture

You're absolutely right — I was assuming you'd want a regular portrait the whole time. Figure photographers can relate to an 85mm prime, and it's uses. Hopefully didn't cause confusion!

Adrian Malloch's picture

I used to really annoy my news photographer colleagues when I would issue forth with statements like, " There is no such thing as lens distortion, it is the world that is distorted and the lens is just faithfully reproducing it"!
Thanks for your generous response Stephen, I do tend to get on the high horse about this sort of stuff

William Howell's picture

Vox, the bourgeoisie’s NPR. I could imagine Ezra Kline and Matt Yglesias saying something like that.
Is this real or fake news?

David Penner's picture

I have a really long selfie stick and a 85 mm lens for taking selfies when Im out. My forearms are very strong.

Jon Kellett's picture

I quite like portraits using a 70-200/f2.8 @ around 100... Your selfie stick big enough for that?

Funny thing is I can imagine somebody actually trying that. :-)

David Penner's picture

Just need some of them inspector gadget arms and Im good

Jon Kellett's picture

Alternatively... Google Russell Squires selfie stick

:-)

Chris Rogers's picture

People are so narcissistic these days that I don't doubt it.