Honey, we shrunk the Carters! Wide angle lens mishap explained

The Carter Centre
(Image credit: The Carter Centre)

A photograph taken with an extreme wide angle lens has caused quite a stir! The above image of President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden meeting with their predecessors, Jimmy Carter and his wife Rosalynn, has been getting quite a lot of attention.

This is because the former president and first lady have been made to look tiny alongside the Bidens. The use of a wide angle lens and some unfortunate composition has ended up giving the impression that President Biden and his wife have walked into a doll's house.

• Read more: Best wide-angle lenses

Contrary to popular opinion, the image had not been edited. Instead the difference in size between the Bidens and the Carters has been accentuated by an optical illusion caused by the wide lens’ distortion.

Both Joe and Jill Biden are closer to the camera than Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter, who sit lower and further back in the armchairs. Because the lens had such an ultra wide field of view, objects closer to the camera appear to be much larger than those only  slightly further away.

Evidence of this dramatic distortion can be seen by looking at Jimmy Carter’s feet. They are on the same plane as the Bidens, but look enormous compared to the rest of his body. Even the heads of Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter look comically enlarged compared to their shoulders – and they're only slightly jutting them forward.

In contrast, a telephoto lens has the opposite effect, compressing space and making faraway objects look much closer in size to nearer ones.

As PetaPixel observed, it's likely that the photographer needed to use such a wide-angle lens in order to compose this picture in a relatively tight space. However, if they wanted to avoid this bizarre optical illusion, they could have moved the Bidens back onto the same focal plane as the Carters.

Read more

Best lenses for landscapes
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Best telephoto lenses

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Laurence McJannet

Laurence is an NCTJ-trained journalist with nearly 20 years' editorial experience gained on a wide range of publications, from The Beirut Times in Lebanon to The Sunday Times, and including recent freelance engagements with Future's cycling and automotive portfolios, Outdoor Fitness, and The English Home. He has recently been undertaking a sports broadcast journalism MA at Southampton Solent, gaining valuable TV and radio experience, and am currently videographer for Frome Town FC soccer team. He is the author of Bikepacking (Wild Things Publishing, 2016).