How selfies distort reality

Selfies are not an accurate representation of your face and can make your nose look up to 30 per cent wider than it really is, research shows.

An American cosmetic doctor has finally established just how and why selfies distort your face, which he likens to the ‘funhouse mirror’ effect – Instagram vs real life. Your nose looks much broader, your lips seem smaller, and your face seems longer than it is.

The downfall of taking selfies so often is that you may think that you have a big nose, but this may not be true at all. You may just be looking at it all wrong – that is, from a selfie perspective.

Selfies are typically taken about 30 cm from your face – a regular school ruler – whereas it turns out that the optimal distance to take accurate photographs is 1.5 m. That’s five times more than your arm allows.

The thing is, we love selfies. We can’t get enough of not only our self-portraits but other people’s. Ever heard of the Kardashian Effect, or wondered how a selfie book ended up as a best-seller? What we are doing when we take a selfie is creating a somewhat abstract self-portrait.

Such a portrait used to sound a bit more meaningful and introspective, even artistic, than the selfie – the self-portrait – but the gist is, in essence, the same.

The science on ‘Instagram vs reality.’

The researcher, Dr Boris Paskhover, said: “For years, I’ve heard patients and family members say, ‘Oh, look at my nose, it looks so big,’ when they show me a selfie,” Paskhover said.

“I was always telling my patients, that’s not how you really look. I knew that selfies distort how your nose looks. So I wanted to prove it.”

Dr Paskhover and his colleagues created a mathematical model to scientifically determine just how distorted the face gets when photographed at different distances with various camera angles.

The researchers derived the software models from ‘average’ male and female faces, with the facial information taken from a wide variety of face types. The model face was put into a collection of parallel planes, the way that we are taught to draw perspective in art class – 3D shapes receding into the horizon line.


Calculations were made using geometric models to determine the relative distortion of facial features by the camera at different distances.

The forced perspective of a selfie makes the nose look much more significant compared to the rest of the face. Photos taken at 1.5 m (or five feet) are at the standard distance used in portrait photography and produce no noticeable difference in nose size. At 30 cm, we see a 30 per cent increase in nose size.

It appears so because elements in the foreground seem bigger than things a bit further away – i.e. your nose, which sticks out from your face more than everything else.

How to look better in selfies (without getting cosmetic surgery)

Since most people are not yet aware that selfies make them look different, they may seek out cosmetic surgery to correct flaws that don’t exist. This certainly can be a line too far, often based on false information.

Selfies are not an accurate representation of ourselves, and if that is what you’re basing ‘how I look’ on, you need to look again – from a different perspective.

To look better in selfies (and save yourself some money on cosmetic surgery), get a longer selfie stick, a selfie drone, or ask someone else to take photos of you from 1.5 metres away. Your face is not the problem – the camera proximity and lens are.

Imagine if everyone got cosmetic surgery to look better in selfies – we’d all look funny in real life!

You do not look like your selfie – you look good!

Instagram vs reality: understanding the big-nose long-face selfie

If you’re standing right in front of a building, it looks big because you’re close to it. The buildings around start to get smaller and smaller the further away they get. In the image below, imagine the buildings are your face. They change size the further away they get, right? That’s what’s happening to your face in your selfies.

If you stand on the outskirts of town, all the buildings seem about the same size. The guy in the next photo appears to have a long lower leg and foot compared with the rest of him, and compared to his other leg. You know that this is because the leg is closer to the camera.

It’s a great photograph using perspective to aesthetic advantage. We forget to consider this when we are taking selfies because we expect everything to look like it does when we get a photo taken from further away.

The concept is the same with photos of your face. The close-ups mean the nearest objects seem much more significant compared to the ones behind it – like the buildings close-up in the city. When you take a photo from a distance, where all the objects seem about the same size, it’s like being on the outskirts of town looking in. Everything seems much more proportional than when it’s up close.

When the camera lens is right up almost next to your face, your nose looks long and wide. It’s just the way a wide-angle lens up close works. If you were a photographer, you would never use a wide-angle lens so close to a subject in a portrait photograph for this very reason. This distortion is entirely typical, and what’s more, expected.

(Do a Google image search of ‘how a selfie distorts your face’. You’ll see the experiments people have been doing – 30cm away and 1.5m away. The difference is quite profound.)

Instagram vs reality: phone cameras are now glamming us up for the selfie – beware

To compound the distortions phone cameras are now adding ‘foundation’, or a sort of digital makeup, so our skin looks smoother and younger. Phone manufacturers – Apple, we’re looking at you – have not admitted to this digital makeup, but it’s possible that ‘beauty’ mode may now be the default setting on new iPhones.

While this might seem desirable in some respects, this smokescreen is yet another form of distortion that we should be aware of when we photograph ourselves. ‘Fauxtography’ can smooth out blemishes, freckles and redness, and wipe reality off your face.

Instagram vs reality: selfie technology

Each camera has an algorithm that helps it to determine which wavelength of light equals which colour so it can create a digital image. Good lighting makes all the difference to a photograph, particularly when it comes to photos of the human face. That’s why studios exist – to have consistent, excellent lighting. Phone cameras are now automatically adjusting to produce better pictures in imperfect light (which is most of the time in real life).

We don’t walk around with studio lights or golden hour upon us, so phone cameras now adjust as if we did. This feature is kinda cool, but it does come with distortions: Instagram vs real life.

Instagram vs reality: what’s wrong with looking different in selfies?Selfies Instagram vs Reality

There is nothing fundamentally wrong with a distorted image unless you believe that this is how you look in real life.

If you understand that the photograph is just a version of your real self, the Instagram version, you can shrug and accept the good with the bad. Having flawless skin and a big nose may just be where it’s at.

Selfie it up – from a distance!

We can help you figure out what you really look like with realistic photographs taken by our specialised camera and lenses. At ENRICH Clinic as part of your regular consultation, we take your photo – from 1.5m with proper lighting.

And don’t worry, you weren’t the only one who got tricked into thinking they had a big nose.

Find out what you really look like!
Contact our clinic for a consultation today

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