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The Camera Never Lies? Really?

It's a Lie That The Camera Never Lies...
An article by Lawrence Dyer, Portrait Artist and Author
Copyright © Lawrence Dyer

You've heard that the camera never lies, haven't you? You've been told that if you want an accurate record of something then take a photograph... Well, here's something that might surprise you. You've been lied to. In reality the camera always lies. What's more, it's often possible to get a closer likeness of someone in a creative portrait if it is painted by an artist than is the case with a photographic portrait 'snapped' by a camera.

In What Ways Does The Camera 'Lie'?

To begin with the lens of a camera distorts the image before it, 'elongating' near objects towards it and far objects away from it. You can easily see this if you try to take a distant view of hills or cliffs, especially with someone in the foreground.

The hills appear tiny and remote behind the human subject, not the effect you can see with your eyes at all.

Bigger Nose?

In close objects, such as photographic portraits, parts closest to the camera, such as the nose, will appear bigger than in life.

Picture to Portrait:

Oil Portrait - click to zoom

Photograph, same subject and location

Of course professional photographers have quality equipment that minimizes this effect, but the effect is still there, albeit diminished.

The lighting, film speed, quality of camera, whether digital or film -- even how steady the person taking the photo is -- all have an effect on the resulting photo.

If this was not true then all photos taken of someone by different cameras would all come out the same, and they don't.

In What Other Ways is it Untrue that 'The Camera Never Lies'?

A photograph is a 'snapshot' in time, the capturing of a single moment that is quickly gone to be replaced by others. This is why when we take photographs of people we have to select those that look 'natural' (i.e. that look more like the person appears to our unaided eye).

Portraits by Lawrence Dyer. 'Immortalize' yourself or a family member in oils. Find Out More or Order a Commission Here.

Therefore we have to reject those photos in which the subject is squinting, has her eyes shut, is pulling an 'odd expression' or simply doesn't look like the person for some unclear reason.

Other Complications

Add to this the complications that someone looks 'different' when her picture is taken in different lighting, on different days, whether tired or relaxed, at different ages, out in the wind, with or without make-up... and the results are going to be very different photographs! (By the way, you can often see this reality emphasised if you glance through someone's Facebook photos -- or indeed their photo album).

The Advantages of the Portrait Painting

Of course some of what has been written above also applies to portrait paintings, but the portrait artist has the advantage of time to get the likeness right (an hour compared with 125th of a second, perhaps).

The artist can also choose a pose in which the subject or subjects appear natural, "as they really are" and undistorted by a camera lens. There is no need to try to capture the moment when the subject isn't blinking; no need to 'eliminate red eye', no need to worry about 'odd' expressions...

A Better Background?

The portrait artist can also provide an 'ideal' background for the subject. None of those drainpipes or lamp posts growing out of the top of the subjects head, to take an extreme example (see images of boy further up this page). Almost any background is possible.

This manipulation of background can be a particular advantage if the subject is no longer with us and there is no photograph left that places the person in the context in which they would want to be remembered.

Double portraits of more than one person are also possible, or creative portraits of the subject in action, at their job or hobby, for example.

An oil painting of somone is also more likely to endure through time than a photograph printed on a piece of paper that will soon fade or simply stored on a disc or hard drive that will one day be lost or become corrupted beyond use.

A Family Heirloom?

A portrait painting makes a statement about someone and who they are. It can be a talking point for visitors to your home, a statement about who or what you are in life, even something that will become a famiy heirloom to be passed on through future generations.

I can paint your creative portrait from life, or if that is not possible from a series of photographs so that distortions can be 'ironed out'. Just let me know what you want and I will tell you what it will cost, wherever you are in the world. Contact me here.

Strictly Copyright © Lawrence Dyer.
For permission to reproduce this article please contact me.


Sample 'Heirloom'-style Portraits by Lawrence Dyer

Click on an image for a closer view.

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I can paint your creative portrait or 'heirloom portrait' (or that of a loved one) in oils on canvas. Affordable prices. Makes a unique gift. 'Immortalize' yourself or someone else in oils. Find out more here


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