The claim: The photo of the Bidens and Carters together is not real
Since the Carter Center tweeted a photo of the president and first lady with the former president and first lady on May 3, social media has been abuzz with speculation about why the Bidens appear much larger than the seemly dwarfed Carters.
The image was taken April 29 when Joe and Jill Biden visited Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter at the Carters’ home in Plains, Ga.
“Come on…are they just messing with us now? They’re trying to pass this photo off as real,” the Wayne Dupree Show captioned a May 4 post with a quote from an article on its site.
Podcaster James T. Harris explicitly called the image “photoshopped” in a May 4 Facebook post.
But the photo is authentic.
The distortion is caused by the camera lens the photographer used, not a secret conspiracy to digitally stage the photo.
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Dupree declined to comment on the record, and Harris did not respond to USA TODAY’s request for comment.
Same-day photos of the Bidens support authenticity
We’ll start with the obvious. We know for certain the Bidens and Carters were together the day the picture was taken.
The same day as the Carter Center photo, the president and first lady were photographed boarding Air Force One at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland and leaving the Carters’ Georgia residence, proof that the trip was real.
Carter Center confirms it did not alter the photo
A spokesperson for the Carter Center confirmed it did not alter the photo. Deanna Congileo, director of communications at the Carter Center, wrote in an email to USA TODAY that the image was taken by White House photographer Adam Schultz.
“Attached is the photo we received from the White House,” she wrote. “The Carter Center altered the photo in no way.”
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The White House did not respond to USA TODAY’s request for comment.
Wide-angle lens can distort size in photos
Wide-angle lenses are generally used to photograph landscapes and crowded interiors.
That category of lenses have focal lengths between 16mm and 35mm. Any lens below 20mm is considered ultra-wide.
As the focal length narrows, the lens offers a wider view. These lenses can distort images by making objects around the edges of the frame appear larger than those in the center.
Versions of the Biden-Carter photo available from the Associated Press and the Carter Center no longer have metadata attached that could tell us what kind of camera was used. (EXIF data, short for Exchangeable Image File Format, is automatically attached to photos taken on digital cameras and gives information on the kind of camera used, image quality and the date, time and location the image was captured.)
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While the image does not show this data, other images taken by Schultz show many of his wide shots are taken on a Sony ILCE-9M2 camera with a 16-35mm wide-angle zoom.
Image analysis indicates distortion was due to a wide-angle lens
USA TODAY’s graphics and photography teams collaborated to examine the authenticity of the photo by building several visual models of the Biden-Carter image.
Analysis of these models and several visual cues in the image point to Schultz’s use of this same wide-angle lens, causing a distortion in the Bidens’ relative size in the image.
So the image is real, it was just captured through a lens with a perspective different than the naked eye.
The room perspective
The angles of the baseboards and corner of the room that are visible in the photo indicate Schultz stood a few feet from the Bidens and Carters with a wide-lens when he took the photo, the USA TODAY analysis found.
Varied angles on the tops of the framed paintings behind the Carters support that the image is distorted.
Comparing objects in the room
USA TODAY also compared the heights and armrests of the two matching chairs that the former president and first lady sat on, which further establish the distortion. The same effect is seen in the difference in size between the teacup on the table and Biden’s hand.
Differences in size
In the image, former President Carter’s feet are abnormally large. Again, this is in line with the effect of a wide-angle lens, since images toward the edge of the frame appear larger.
It’s also worth noting that Biden and Carter are much closer in height than the image portrays. Biden is 5 feet, 11.7 inches tall. Carter was 5 feet 9.7 inches tall when he was in office. This offers more evidence the image is distorted by a wide-angle lens, as Biden is closer to the edge of the frame than Carter.
Our rating: False
We rate FALSE the claim that the viral image of the Bidens visiting the Carters is fake . Visual analysis of the image indicates the subjects’ sizes were distorted by a wide-angle camera lens. The Carter Center confirms it did not alter the photo in any way.
Our fact-check sources:
- The Carter Center, May 3, tweet
- USA TODAY, May 4, The Bidens look like giants next to the Carters in this photo. So what caused this optical illusion?
- Deanna Congileo, The Carter Center Director of Communications, May 4
- AP Images, Adam Schultz, April 29, BIDEN CARTER VISIT
- May 4, image provided by The Carter Center
- photographylife, April 24, 2020, EXIF Data Explained
- Flickr, The White House, Adam Schultz, April 2, 076-P20210402AS-1330
- USA TODAY, May 5, Is Biden a giant? Is Carter tiny? How a wide-angle lens made Twitter explode over a presidential photo
- AP Images, Susan Walsh, April 29, BIDEN
- AP Images, Evan Vucci, April 29, BIDEN
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