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  • José H. Leal

Is Shell Size Relative?

To the way a picture is taken, yes, it can be. Smart phone cameras, combined with a multitude of social media and online platforms, turned photography into a global phenomenon. Anyone can shoot and post, with the potential for hundreds or thousands of viewers to any single image, at any time. The selfie is probably the most popular kind of phone photography, for obvious reasons. Yet, one of the problems with selfies is unwanted distortion: the selfie-person gets a big nose, jutting chin, small ears, and/or a receding forehead, depending on camera placement. Those distortion effects are caused by the short distance between the phone camera lens and the selfie-person, the main limiting factor being that person’s arm length.

Along those lines, distortion can be messy, making an object appear comparatively larger than expected, intentionally or not. Let’s say that a person wants to join their dog for a snapshot. If the phone camera is placed too close to the dog and the owner stands back from it, the pooch will appear much larger than expected. I recently saw on Facebook a photo of an Irish Wolfhound and owner, where the (strategically placed!) canine appears to be, by comparison with the person, the size of horse!

Now, the shells. Someone finds a large shell, holds that newfound treasure, and a friend takes the picture with a smart phone. If that arm holding the shell sticks out, and the photographer brings the camera too close, the shell will appear to be much larger than its actual size. How to avoid this? Unless you want to render your newfound treasure into an instant world-record size, shoot the photo as far back as possible from the person holding the shell. In the two photos above, Museum Environmental Educator Jorden Falker is holding one and the same Horse Conch, with the forearms sticking out in identical fashion. The photo on the left was taken with a cell phone at close distance, the one on the right with a camera at a distance of 30 feet (the red lines help with the comparison.) Although Jorden’s size is about the same in the two photos, the shell in the photo on the left (distorted) appears to be at least 30% larger than its version on the right! (This topic was prompted by a couple of actual, recent social media postings and ensuing comments.)


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