Presidential Proportions

Presidential Proportions

Did you see *THAT* picture of Presidents Carter & Biden?

Taken at the Carters home in Georgia, the portrait of the presidents and their wives was shared by @CarterCenter on twitter at the beginning of May 2021. The photograph quickly spread all over the internet on account of the unexpected perspective that made the Carters look like dolls and the Bidens look like giants.  See the original image here:

In some quarters declarations were rife that it was a Photoshopped image but in my expert opinion this was unlikely, not least because press photographers have an ethical code of conduct not to alter their captures.  Also I knew that this kind of portrait could be created using a wide angle lens. So I thought it would be fun to give it a try. 

Since I was playing the part of all four characters, my final picture  would need some Photoshop implementation to stitch the four pieces together, but in terms of character scale no changes were made. I shot this with a locked off camera at a set focal length. Here are the four base images I used to create my final shot. See how nothing in the scene changes except for the position of the 'characters' and how the extreme perspective effect of the wide angle lens causes the huge difference in scale despite a relatively small difference in physical positioning.

Already to Scale: 4x Captures I used in the final shot:

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I currently use a Canon 5D Mark III and my widest compatible lens is a 24-70mm which would not be wide enough to capture this kind of extreme persepctive effect. So I dusted off my old Canon 40D APS-C camera circa 2007 and paired it with an almost equally as old Sigma 10-20mm lens. The quality of both this camera and lens is not of the caliber to which I have become accustomed, but it was just fine for creating a silly spoof shot such as this one. 

Focal Length • 10 mm

Speed 1/8

f 22

ISO 100

At first I tried to mimic the shot exactly, but without knowing the exact lens used, and the proportions of the environment, this was nigh on impossible, so I gave up and decided to spoof the shot with an approximation as best I could Here is a video behind the scenes showing me get set up for the shoot and capturing all four characters:

BTS • Behind the Scenes of the Presidential Proportions Shoot.

Aerial View showing tight shooting space and position of lights and camera.

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Another factor in this experiment (for me) was that I was taking part in a 52frames challenge to specifically use 100 ISO.  In general I favor using as close to 100 ISO as possible, but there are  certainly times when I make use of a higher ISO to boost the ambient light in a scene, especially on my newer camera which can handle higher ISO numbers without such a pronounced loss in image quality. But here I am ISO-challenged and shooting indoors with an extremely small aperture (f22) that severely limits the amount of light reaching the lens. The solution was to use as much light as possible from the addition of strobes. This rarely happens to me, but for this shot I used 2 x strobes both maxed out on full power. The first is pointing directly at the characters from in front and above with a soft box. The second strobe was bounced into a white V-flat just behind the camera to provide some extra ambient fill in the shadows. 

Another part of the 52frames challenge was to shoot in full Manual Mode. This is another thing I always do anyway, but I don't usually shoot with manual focus. This time I decided to go all the way and use manual focus too. Because it was a locked off shot and the camera never moved,  I was able to work out the focus during the testing phase and then simply leave it well alone for the rest of the shoot. 

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I printed out the original picture and positioned it just underneath the camera so that I could glance at it for posing reference as a photographed each character. 

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You don't need to worry about showing artwork in your images if you own the copyright!

The main piece of artwork in this shot ("Leaving Home", the woman on the beach) is something I created several years ago. Normally it's the only picture hanging in this space (conveniently covering up an annoying meter box set into the wall).  To mimic the Carter/Biden image I felt like I needed another couple of pieces of wall art so I used a painting by my great grandfather and paired that with an image of some flowers at the San Francisco Ferry Building Farmers' Market I shot on medium-format film about 10 years ago. I chose these two pictures, not because they are the kinds of pictures I put on my own walls, but because they seemed closest to the kind of pictures I imagined on the Carters' walls. 

Actually it's nice seeing my great grandpa's picture on my wall for a minute. Reminds me of my childhood. 

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Set Dressing

I had a little fun dressing up the table in the background using items from around the house. I had no problem choosing tea cups and tea pots since I have so many. I noticed the Carters had what appeared to be some African masks. In the absence of anything similar I used a carving of a hippo some friend's brought us from their Kenyan Safari trip. 

In terms of books, I thought it would be fun to include some Photography books. Here is the list:

The Male Nude by David Leddick 

Road to Seeing by Dan Winters

The Photographer's Playbook by Fulford & Halpern

Photograph Like a Thief by Glyn Dewis

and (not photography related) Forgotten Characters of Old San Francisco by Cowan. 

Editing Notes

Please note that in Photoshop I also did some set clean-up, particularly removing imperfections on the floor,  and the v-flat in the background. I had to do a little tweaking around the area where Dr J Biden And President Carter's hands "meet".  I also changed hair colors and tweaked clothing color and boosted contrast and vibrancy. In a later edit than the one I submitted to 52 frames I also decided to shift the wall pictures over a little to the left, changed the lamplight and increased the contrast even further.

Thanks for making it through another blog post! If you have any questions about any of this information please don't hesitate to give me a shout in the comments below. 

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