The Camera Lies
March 14, 2021 3:04 PM   Subscribe

I like how my face looks when I look in the mirror and in selfies. I dislike how it looks in photos. What is happening?

When I take selfies and look in the mirror I see a more attractive person. Why is this? I've read that the mirror image is "flipped" and it's a "reverse" (mirror?) image in selfie mode. Why does my face look better in these scenarios? All of my friends and family look how they actually look in group photos. I am surprised by how I look when someone takes my picture. My face looks completely different.
posted by loveandhappiness to Grab Bag (16 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Objects look different when they’re viewed up-close, like in a mirror or arm’s length for a selfie: on a face, the ears might be less visible and the nose will look larger relative to parts of the face further away from the lens. Other people’s photos tend to be taken from further away, so those relative proportions will change. Try taking some selfies on a timer from further away, see if maybe that accounts for the difference?
posted by migurski at 3:30 PM on March 14, 2021 [3 favorites]

Both selfies (with a camera on the front of your phone) and mirror images are flipped. So it's most likely just that you are used to seeing your image flipped, and the "regular" camera shows you not-flipped, and you are just not used to seeing that image. But it's what everyone else sees - and I guarantee you that they would think your flipped image (that you are used to) looks a little off and your not-flipped (camera, real life) image looks normal. Not because either the flipped or non-flipped actually ARE weird, just because it's not what they are used to. You see everyone else not-flipped, so you think they look their normal selves in pictures.
posted by sillysally at 3:46 PM on March 14, 2021 [21 favorites]

Different lenses give a very slight purportonal difference, try having someone with say an 18-70 zoom take a photo at different zooms each at a distance where the head fills the frame the same amount. It's subtle but the 70mm is the "portrait" lens, partly as the photo can be taken with the photographer not super close but also it often just feels right.
posted by sammyo at 3:50 PM on March 14, 2021 [2 favorites]

Do you like selfies taken with the front camera (not in a mirror)? If you flip a selfie that you do like horizontally (that is, "un-mirror" it—easy to do on most phones), do you still like the way you look? I suspect that you would not like it, while someone else comparing the two versions of the photo wouldn't perceive much if any difference.

A lot of what we think looks "good" is strongly tied up in what we're familiar with. When one flips a familiar image (like a selfie or mirror reflection), features to which one has grown accustomed can seem suddenly glaring, strange, "ugly." Artists routinely flip their work, turn it upside down, or view it in a mirror precisely to make overlooked features stand out. When drawing a face, for instance, it's shockingly easy to not notice that one eye is too big or too high or whatever, because that's just how the drawing has always looked. A quick mirror check can be alarming for this reason.
posted by wreckingball at 3:52 PM on March 14, 2021 [6 favorites]

If you want to test it, depending on the phone you can change the selfie camera mode to not flip the image, so you'd get a result that is the "right way around" (the same result you'd get if someone took a photo with a normal camera). Or just flip a selfie using a photo editor (the built in Gallery app on my phone can do this).
posted by BungaDunga at 3:53 PM on March 14, 2021 [1 favorite]

Additionally, if you have two mirrors and put them at right angles, you'll see yourself in the double-reflection the same way others see you (your reflection gets bounced twice, so it ends up the right way around).
posted by BungaDunga at 3:59 PM on March 14, 2021 [4 favorites]

Get a photo of yourself you don't like and use a photo editor and flip it horizontally like in a mirror and see if you like it better. (If you don't have a photo editor software, you can use a web photo editor like canva.)
posted by seanmpuckett at 4:01 PM on March 14, 2021 [2 favorites]

Put another way, mirroring (or in this case un-mirroring) your face creates an image that is familiar-to-you-but-not-quite, literally "uncanny"—something like an imperfect CGI rendering or a wax-museum model of you. The brain, bless it, tends to interpret that uncanniness as "wrong" or "ugly."

It's possible of course that you've also trained yourself to hold your face in certain, attractive-to-you ways when looking in mirrors or taking selfies, and other people's photos are catching you "off-guard," but in my experience the uncanny-valley-mirror thing tends to account for most of the discrepancy.
posted by wreckingball at 4:04 PM on March 14, 2021 [6 favorites]

If you use Zoom, they can flip your image. Go to settings and test your video both ways.

Also, some people's faces are not symmetrical. They really do look different in the mirror versus straight on. Just the way it is.
posted by AugustWest at 5:07 PM on March 14, 2021 [1 favorite]

When you look in a mirror or take a selfie, you know how to orient yourself to appear your most attractive. The camera catches you before you've had a chance to arrange your face/body in the way you find pleasing (e.g., accidentally opening your camera in selfie mode when you're just noodling around on your phone and being absolutely horrified by the number of chins on display before you have the presence of mind to tuck them away)
posted by coppermoss at 5:42 PM on March 14, 2021 [4 favorites]

Different lenses flatten and widen your face so your eyes and nose look smaller (telephoto lens), or narrow your face so your eyes and nose look bigger (selfie cam). I happen to think I look terrible on a long lens because my eyes look small, and much better on a selfie lens because the distortion makes my eyes bigger and I don’t mind my nose also looking bigger. People who feel they have big noses often hate selfie cam shots though.

Here’s a surprising demo video.. You can tap it to pause.

The angle you see yourself in the mirror is probably typically pretty much at eye level. Depending on your height, most photos of you may be taken from below or above you - if you are short, taller people will tend to shoot down at you, making your forehead look larger. If you are tall, people may be shooting up at you, emphasizing your chin and nostrils. That can make a huge difference too.
posted by nouvelle-personne at 5:50 PM on March 14, 2021 [5 favorites]

Response by poster: Thank you all. This is all very interesting and helpful!

It is true. I know how to orient myself to appear more attractive in selfie mode -- my best angle.

When the phone in regular camera mode and I turn the regular camera on myself and take a regular photo, I don't like it. My features look more lumpy and not as refined. I can see more of the hollows in my face (under eyes for instance) while in selfie mode this doesn't happen. I am aware that the selfie mode has the beauty face option. It is disabled and selfie mode remains better to my eye, most likely due to what you all have suggested -- familiarity, angles, distance, and lenses.

I want to try the mirrors at right angles trick. Hashtag obsessed.

I loaded up Zoom and examined myself in mirror and non-mirror mode and I look the same in each. So maybe people see me as I see me. Who knows. I walk around thinking I'm attractive as in selfie mode until I see a regular pic.

What I mostly notice in "regular" photos is that my face looks shorter and wider as nouvelle-personne has mentioned can happen.

Thank you again!
posted by loveandhappiness at 6:10 PM on March 14, 2021

One other peculiar aspect of both selfies and mirror images, is that we see a virtual world where our image lies behind the plane of the mirror/photo/screen - when of course our image appears ON the mirror/photo/screen and is thus closer to us than the brain would like to admit. The image we see reflected is not just flipped but also half life-size. *

* To demonstrate, stand in front of a bathroom mirror and place the finger of one hand horizontally on the mirror where the top of your head appears, and the finger of your other by the bottom of your head. Now bring both fingers back perpendicular to the mirror until you reach your face. The finger that marked the top of your head on the mirror will now rest at eyebrow level and the one that was at the bottom of your chin will now be over your mouth. We are all besotted with our mini-me flipped images.
posted by rongorongo at 11:09 AM on March 15, 2021 [2 favorites]

This is me, and this will always be me, and I hate it.

One thing I did that helped a tiny bit (and it was not easy to do and it genuinely took months because cowlicks) was I switched my hair part to the other side of my head. So now when I photograph my hair is parted on the "right" side and I'm pretty sure that at least that part of me (haha) actually does look better.
posted by Mchelly at 11:40 AM on March 15, 2021 [1 favorite]

You’re probably taking selfies from slightly above, and lifting your chin to do so, which lets more light into your eye area. If your eyes are a bit deep set, your forehead may cast a shadow around them at some angles- this can make a huge difference in terms of under eye shadows.
posted by nouvelle-personne at 3:37 PM on March 15, 2021 [1 favorite]

I've always thought I hated my photos simply because it's one-dimensional. I think photos flatten out the face/body - you can't see the curves because it's a flat look. Looking in the mirror I can easily see the curve of my face away from the front but a picture flattens that curve, making my face (and my body) wider.

Sigh. I'm a selfie queen because it takes me FOREVER to "set up" a flattering shot.
posted by annieb at 5:17 PM on March 15, 2021 [1 favorite]

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