Angling Your Camera and Sheep Lenses


Tamara and I went to see ‘America After The Fall’ at the Royal Academy in London yesterday.

This is the first paragraph of the blurb from the exhibition:

The art of 1930s America tells the story of a nation in flux. Artists responded to rapid social change and economic anxiety with some of the 20th century’s most powerful art – brought together now in this once-in-a-generation show.

The most well known paintings there were two Edward Hopper paintings and the American Gothic painting by Grant Wood.

Outside the exhibition there was a huge poster of American Gothic and I angled my camera up to capture the man in the painting.

That’s the first photo at the top of this article – and as you can see, I also captured the light streaming in from the glass roof.

Well, that was inevitable, but I thought I would use the photo to illustrate what happens when you angle your camera to the subject.

Here is a version shot with my phone angled and right up against the brochure from the exhibition. And as you can see, I got the same effect. Had I held the camera tilted the other way with the forehead nearest the image, the farmer would have looked like the mekon (google it) with a giant forehead and tiny chin.

Here is the more usual view of the painting:

The effect when you angle your camera is stronger the nearer the camera is to the subject. That’s one of the reasons that portrait photographers generally use longer focal-length lenses – so that they don’t have to get too close to the subject.

There are other reasons, too. For example, the front to rear distance of the subject is extended with a short focal-length lens and compressed with a longer focal length lens.

Tamara calls short focal-length lenses ‘sheep lenses’.

She calls them that because of the way short focal-length lenses extend noses, making the subject look like he/she/it is being extended and sucked into the lens tube.

sheep photographed close up

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