Close-ups can make you look uglier and less trustworthy: study

Lia Grainger
Shine On
September 27, 2012

Ever wondered why those smartphone self-portraits taken at arms length always turn out so hideous? Science may now have an answer, as a new study has revealed the reason that images taken close-up make people look less attractive -- and also less trustworthy. Apparently, a warping effect occurs when images are taken from super close, but researchers say it's so subtle that we don't usually notice it, reports the Daily Mail.

To see if people really are uglier from up close, scientists at California Technical University gathered opinions on 36 images of 18 individuals. Each individual was photographed from about two feet away and then again from seven feet. The images were then adjusted for size and resolution.

Study co-author Ronnie Bryan told the Daily Mail that after the adjustments, "What you're left with is a warping effect that is so subtle that nobody in our study actually noticed it."  It's true: side by side the images look subtly different, but it's hard to tell why.

The team then ran a range of experiments, asking subjects a variety of questions about the people they saw in the images. Were they trustworthy? Attractive? Would they invest real money in this person? The study, published in the open source journal PLoS One, revealed that the faces in the close-up images were consistently deemed uglier, less competent, and less trustworthy.

The researchers then took it a step further, analyzing the subtle changes in the close-up images and then deliberately warping regular images in the hopes that doing so would make the faces appear less trustworthy. It worked: the manipulated photos were judged less trustworthy than the regular images.

[See also: Beauty tricks to look better in photos]

Cathy Longo is a Toronto-based professional portrait photographer, and says that the level of distortion in a close-up photo depends on the type of lens being used.

"It's true that with certain zoom lenses, the corners of the frame will get stretched out a bit," says Longo. "If you're doing a close-up and the face is filling the frame, that image will be slightly distorted."

She says close-ups can also be less attractive because they are simply so close and clear. "Humans are simply not used to seeing faces like that," says Longo. As a portrait photographer, Longo often takes pictures from very close up. "It can be unflattering at times, but can also look very interesting, and the right lens can correct the distortion," says Longo.

For those of us who just want to look cute on camera and can't be bothered finding the right lens, the study also shares the optimal distance for looking attractive, competent and trustworthy - about four feet.

Just remember: no ducky face.

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