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Pietro Perona; A new perspective on portraiture. Journal of Vision 2007;7(9):992. doi: https://doi.org/10.1167/7.9.992.
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© ARVO (1962-2015); The Authors (2016-present)
Realistic portraits, whether paintings or photographs, are traditionally obtained using perspective projection. Pictures of the face taken from different distances along the same viewing direction (e.g. frontal) may be scaled to occupy the same size on the image plane. However, such portraits differ systematically: e.g. when the center of projection (the camera) is closer to the face the nose is proportionally larger in the picture. These differences are small (for typical camera distances of 50–500cm): do they have an effect on how the face is perceived?
Ten naive subjects of both sexes, viewed equally scaled frontal pictures of 15 neutral-expression adult male faces, each photographed from distances of 56, 124 and 400cm. The photographs were corrected for lens distortion to obtain ideal perspective projections. The subjects were asked to rate each portrait according to 13 attributes (evil-good, repulsive-attractive, hostile-friendly, pushy-respectful, sad-happy, dishonest-honest, introvert-extrovert, violent-peaceful, dumb-smart, distant-approachable, evasive-candid, week-strong, unpleasant-pleasant). While the subjects were unaware of the manipulation, their ratings are systematically correlated with the distance: faces imaged from the closer distance appear significantly more benevolent (good, peaceful, pleasant, approachable), those taken from a larger distance appear more impressive (smarter, stronger). Intermediate-distance portraits appeared more attractive. The remaining attributes are not significantly different across distance.
Our findings suggest that painters and photographers may manipulate the emotional content of a portrait by choosing an appropriate viewing distance: e.g. a formal and official portrait may benefit from a distant viewpoint, while an effect of intimacy and opennes may be obtained with a close viewpoint. Multiple inconsistent viewpoints found in classical full-length portraits may be explained by the need to combine close-up views of some body parts, within an overall undistorted figure.
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