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The Reason Why The Camera Adds 10 Pounds | Minute Photography

By Pye Jirsa on August 18th 2017

Welcome to our Minute Photography series, where we explain photography and lighting tips & tricks, myths, and techniques. For more education and details on similar concepts, be sure to check out our Photography 101 Workshop.

In just 60 seconds, we are going to explain why the camera seems to add ten pounds to people in photographs.

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“The camera adds ten pounds.”

This common phrase actually describes the effects of lens distortion caused by wide to semi-wide angle lenses, which can make people in pictures appear heavier than they really are. Wide angle lenses can not only widen out the body, but they can also completely distort a subject’s features.

To illustrate this point, we photographed Brandon on a Canon 5D Mark IV with a Canon 24-70mm zoom lens. Notice how Brandon’s facial features change as we adjust our focal length and cycle from 24mm to 35mm, 50mm, and 70mm.

As we increased the focal length, we also increased our distance from Brandon so that his face would occupy roughly the same amount of space within the frame for each headshot.

[REWIND: 3 Tips To Start Taking Better Photographs]

If you want to see just how dramatic of a difference there is, compare the image at 24mm to the image taken with a 70mm focal length.

That’s quite a difference! So, how do we keep the camera from adding those mystical ten pounds?


Canon 5D Mark III, Sigma 24mm, f/1.4, 1/250, ISO 800

Lens distortion is heaviest at the edges of the frame, so we recommend centering your subjects when shooting them somewhat close up with a wide angle lens.


Canon 5D Mark III, Canon TS-E 90mm, f/4, 1/250/ ISO 200

For taking close-up portraits, we recommend using a focal length of 85mm or greater in order to avoid distortion. The 85mm focal length, in particular, is known as a true portrait lens, and it offers great compression and background bokeh at wider apertures.

[REWIND: Favorite Lenses Used for 10,000 Couples Portraits]


Canon 5D Mark III, Sigma 24mm, f/1.4, 1/500, ISO 100

In the example above, we used the distortion to our advantage while capturing a bridal portrait. The wider angle distorted the bride’s figure and appeared to lengthen her legs and enhance the curvy shape of her hips.

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Q&A Discussions

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  1. Tina Araquistain

    Thanks, Pye! Sometimes it’s the simple obvious that I can miss in the rush of shooting quickly during a wedding, and this is a great reminder. Great Examples. The bride looks lovely!

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  2. Mihai Dan Mustea

    A nice article, Pye!
    What you tell is true, yet I think this in only half of the story. I’d add that a focal length greater than 85mm adds more kilos (Europe here) to a portrait due to the side effects of long focal lengths: spatial compression. Compare two portraits: One shot with a 50mm and another with 200 or 300mm. Which one looks bulkier? For 24×36 format, the 50mm focal length is the only one that has no spatial distortions and also it is pretty close to the cyclope (one eye) human vision.
    Best regards,

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