On TV camera long shots why does the person behind the subject often look larger?

You see this in football interviews and long shots in large spaces like Congressional speeches etc. where the person several feet behind the speaker being focused on looks larger than the speaker. Why is this?

It’s that you expect the other person to look smaller than it actually looks, a teleobjective “flattens” the perspective in a way that looks unatural to the bare eye.

If you’re used to the way a wide angle lens works, which is to exaggerate the scale of something the further back they are, then when the opposite happens using a long lens, it fools the eye. You expect the person behind them to be smaller, they are actually closer to the correct ratio difference, so they look “larger”.

i.e: A 6ft tall man standing 10ft behind a 5ft 8in tall woman, through a wide angle lens, makes the man look 5ft 6in tall.

A 6ft tall man standing 10ft behind a 5ft 8in tall woman, through a long lens, makes the man look 6ft tall.

Photographers use this to enhance effects in many ways. Often, they use a “long” lens more for this than just to bring things closer. One example is in scenic shots where there is a subject, (house, person, etc) in the foreground and mountains in the background. The longer lens makes the mountains appear much larger than with a normal lens.

It’s even more obvious for scenes with the Moon. Suppose, for instance, you have the Moon near the horizon, and a couple of people sitting on the beach or whatever watching it rise. The Moon will always take up a half a degree of the field of view, no matter where you are on Earth, but the amount of field of view the people take up will depend on how far away from them you are. If the photographer is about 100 feet away from the people, then the peoples’ heads will also take up about half a degree of the field of view, so in that photograph, the Moon will appear to be about the same size as the heads. On the other hand, if the photographer is 1000 feet away, then a person’s entire height is only about a third of a degree, and so both people will be completely silhouetted in front of the Moon with plenty of moon to spare. So relative to the people, the Moon will appear much larger in the zoomed long shot than in the true close-up.

I played with this a couple weeks ago. Both pictures are of a dock pillar with a jetty beyond.

The first picture, I’m right up next the pillar.

The second picture, I stood way back (100 feet or so) and zoomed in until the pillar was the same size as the previous picture.

I used the zoom on my handheld Canon S5 IS, which goes to 12x optical (equivalent to 432mm). I’d imagine my SLR (D2H with 300mm) would’ve been more dramatic?

Oh, it should be mentioned, too: You can use this to interesting effect with a movie camera, by moving towards your primary target while zooming out, or vice-versa. If you pull it off right, the effect is that the main subject of the scene stays the same size in the frame, but everything else expands or contracts around it. It’s sometimes called a “Hitchcock Zoom”, but the best-known recent example was in The Fellowship of the Ring, on the road just before the Nazgul appear.

HubZilla, these are great examples of the techniques for those of us who are interested in photography but are still just beginners. Thanks!

This technique (among others) was used in the Lord of the Rings movies to make the hobbits appear smaller than the other characters. One of the Extended Editions (I think Fellowship of the Ring) talks about using “Forced perspective”, props, and midget stunt doubles to give the illusion that Frodo and crew are 3-4 feet tall.

The descriptions with regard to using different lenses to capture this effect are accurate, but the effect has to do with perspective, not the lenses. You can see this easily on a night with a full moon with no lens except the one in your eyeball. If you face a person with the moon behind them, and then start backing up, you will see that the moon stays the same size and the person gets smaller. The farther away an object is, the less the apparent size changes when you change your distance.

All that a long lens does is enlarge the picture when you’re farther away. If you took a photo from the same position using two different lenses, then blew up the photo from the shorter lens to match the other, you would find the relative sizes of the two objects would be the same in both photos.