Wednesday, October 26, 2011

How optical distortion made Trig Palin look smaller in party photo; explanation helps undermine 2 Trigs theory

Here is a composite picture showing Trig at the Mat-Su hospital with Sally Heath, and then at the Kristan Cole party.

I want to point out that there is no objective way to reach the conclusion that Trig in the right-hand photo is smaller than in the other photo. There is not a single common element except for Trig's face. So why does everyone get the impression Trig is smaller in the right-hand photo? Several factors contribute, but the chief factor, I believe, is that the right-hand photo was apparently taken with a wide-angle lens. (H/T to astute reader Susan for helping me figure that out.) Wide-angle lenses have the distorting effect of making closer things appear larger than they should, with the opposite effect for things that are further away. Here's a fun example I found at Flickr:

The photographer included technical information, including that the focal length of the lens was 22mm (anything below, say, 35mm will likely have a discernible effect, and the lower the focal length, the greater the effect). The distorting effect is obvious in this photo: the baby's head dwarfs his legs. (I used a ripple filter over the face, in case that baby reads this blog.)

So in the party picture, what is the effect of this distortion on our perception of Trig's size? Well, his head looks really tiny in relation to the girl's forearm and hand; the head looks about as big as a softball. By contrast, Trig's head (including cap) in the facing photo looks like a large grapefruit in relation to Sally's hand; and that shot looks looks like it was taken with a "normal" focal-length setting, about 50mm.) I think our brains do a quick head-to-hand ratio calculation when we view these two photos and tell us that the party-photo head must be smaller and hence the baby must be smaller. But it's an optical illusion.

Two more things contribute to the impression that Trig to the left is bigger. First, even though we know the baby does not have to fill every inch of that big bundle of blankets and whatnot in Sally's arm, the large size of the bundle suggests the baby must be large. (Who knows, maybe the baby had a lot of wrapping around it because he had been on a car trip that day.) Second, the picture to the left shows a nice chubby baby face because it's a straight on shot; the other photo shows a face that looks much skinnier – and even though we know intellectually that is largely because of the different angle of the shot, maybe our gut reaction is to say chubby-face Trig must be bigger than thin-face Trig. The wide-angle effect probably also contributes how we process those relative face widths.

I teach photojournalism, so I have a sense of how different lenses affect shots. But working backwards – looking at a given picture and deducing what kind of lens was used – can be tricky for a nonprofessional photographer like me. (I did take photographs when I was a working journalist, but I was mainly a reporter.) So for those of you who have a photography background, please weigh in and let me know if you think I got it right in this analysis.


  1. "I want to point out that there is no objective way to reach the conclusion that Trig in the left-hand photo is smaller than in the other photo."

    Do you mean right-hand photo?

  2. thanks! fixed it! I meant left-hand picture, if you are looking at it in a mirror, while standing on your head, traveling backwards in parallel universe ... or something

  3. This points away from my reborn doll theory. Is the office baby three days later, sans bundling, also possibly the size of Ruffles?

    I still think the hospital/office baby looks unreal--waxy, fixed expression in both, even coloring--certainly not just out of a birth canal. I need to find video around either picture to see if "Trig" ever moves. But the main story is the same whether they used a doll or brought Ruffles to the hospital. A doll would just document that the scene was staged.

  4. I don't think anyone has tried to measure the baby/ies in these two photos, mainly because the blanket wrap and pulled-up legs would foil any such effort.

    My impression that the right photo shows a smaller baby was based on the thinner, frailer look of the face. Ditto in the kitchen photos. But I agree that photos can be misleading re such a thing, plus even if we are 100% right, these photos are not proof -- unlike the Mar 14 photo of SP, which seems impossible to explain in any way except: SP was NOT pregnant on that day. And no matter how many babies, ears, or their birth logistics, the fact that SP was NOT pregnant on Mar 14 is the key issue, the one that concerns the electorate.

    Also, re the PLP tip: I made an assumption that the PLP registration would have happened at the 3-mo-pregnant point in the Tripp pregnancy (when a deal was perhaps made), but there is nothing to warrant such an assumption. So I guess we wait and see what this tip actually means. My thoughts turn to Todd intending the plates for Shailey, then changing his mind. But that is so bizarre (to repurpose such a thing for a gift to one's daughter, unless in a rage re her sexual activity) that I can't believe that, either.

  5. Doll or no doll, it's the nonpregnancy of SP that is the issue. Not that it isn't interesting. But if Trig had been a legit birth to her, as she stated, I could excuse using a doll for public appearances -- anything to protect the newborn is okay with me. As in that church lecture scene where SP squeezes the hat/head and turns it.

  6. Regina examined the size issue and included scaled photos by Curiouser of hospital baby and Ruffles:

  7. There were a bunch of photos from the baby shower posted on Kristan Cole's web site. So there is more data to test the wide-angle lens theory; I'm sure those pictures are archived somewhere (maybe Audrey's old blog) if they aren't still available at the original site.

  8. The baby in the shower pics is tiny compared to the hospital pics..check out the other pics at Palingates site above..the one with Sarah and Todd with Trig in between them. The 2 pics above- you can't tell because the one with the girl is closer to the camera so everything looks bigger, even her arms and hands,

  9. Making sense again, Brad. Long car trip? Loving it! Where's Amy1's tip about the license plate? I just wrote up a post on it, kicking around some ideas.

    I think we are all on a long car trip together. Some are getting weary and asking, Are we there yet?'

  10. So glad you gave us the link to Regina's earlier post, B. It's really good. Thx.

  11. Allison -- Just read your site, and you're doing a great job!

  12. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  13. Hi Brad,

    I got called in to work on a job so I haven't been able to revisit this issue since we talked about the camera angles, optics and such.

    I think another important factor is that hospital Trig's face is very swollen. Proof of that can be seen in the close-up pics of that baby swaddled in the blankets where there is a very serious case of bilateral peri-orbital edema. I couldn't find anywhere where that is stated as a symptom of jaundice and I didn't search further. My gut tells me the rest of his face is affected as well. Add to that the hat is pushed all the way down to his eyes and that tightly wrapped blanket is shoved all the way up to his chin and his fat cheek his hanging over one side of it. I'm pretty sure that is adding to the fatness popping up out of the top of that swaddle versus the unencumbered Ruffles at the shower.

    Whatever caused the fluid around the eyes and face (or systemically?) could have resolved or been treated (baby Lasix? i don't know...) by the time of the shower and/or kitchen pics so Trig's face wouldn't have looked as chubby anymore. To be honest, this is the more simple and likely explanation, in addition to differences in the camera angles and pics.

    Just my .02.

    Great work everyone!

    Susan in MD

  14. Edema can result renal malfunction. One of the medical people commenting recently stated that ruffled ears on a new born are often associated with kidney problems. We might also consider the possibility that the kitchen photos were from February, not May. So the baby might have simply gained some weight.

  15. Sorry- Edema can result FROM renal malfunction.