Saturday, December 06, 2008

In re Andrew Sullivan's Obsession with the Palin Pregnancy

Andrew Sullivan is still obsessed with Sarah Palin's pregnancy with Trig. In a recent post, he presents a straight-on photo of Palin as evidence that she was not showing nearly as much as she should have been. This is the photo:

Sullivan is obviously a man who believes all photos are truth. Unfortunately, a good photographer will tell you that a photo shows you what the photographer wants you to see, and often times, a photographer wants you to see their subjects in the best light possible. I have not seen the EXIF data on this photo, but if I had to guess, I'd say the photographer took the picture with a longer lens or focal length, at some distance. The benefit of photographing people at a longer focal length is it tends to flatten features, unlike a wide angle lens which exacerbates features.

Now, I again say that I haven't seen the EXIF data on this photo, but I'm making an educated guess that this is what this photographer did. Their (Palin and the child) features seem to be flattened to me. Also, if you look at Palin in her abdominal and groin area, the fabric of her clothes do not lay in the way that they do in photos of her from the presidential campaign. There appears to be a 'paunch' in her abdominal area that isn't there in any of her images from the second half of this year. Also, the fabric in her lower abdominal/groin area is not laying in the way you would expect from the relatively lean Palin we came to know in the presidential campaign.

Amateur analysis of photographs is at high risk of error. There is a reason that your photos rarely look the way that a pro's do, and it isn't just Photoshop. The fact is that you can manipulate the way light focuses on your film or digital sensor. A pro would likely use a longer focal length in a portrait style shot in order to eliminate unattractive exaggerations of features. I'm guessing this shot wasn't done by a pro as the flash seems to be head on and is unattractive, but an amateur would also be able to accomplish this by standing a little further away with a point and shoot and then trying to accomplish in-camera cropping by zooming in. In either scenario, depth would be flattened, and in a head on shot of a pregnancy, depth is critical.

Upon looking at the photo in greater detail, I think there are two additional aspects that reduce the depth of Palin's figure in this photograph. The first is her coat. Because it is 3/4 closed, it obscures any lines that would give us an indication of figure. Second, she seems to be slouching a bit. When you add in the flattening of a long focal length and the coat obscuring her lines, that slouch puts her face and upper body further forward, enhancing any flattening that may be occurring.

No comments: