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Are Mirrors More Accurate Than Cameras? The Interesting Answer!

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photographer adjusts the camera

Have you ever gotten ready for an event and felt like you looked really good, only to see a drastically different picture from what you saw in the mirror?

You’re not alone. Most of us prefer the version we see in the mirror over a photo or selfie, which may make us wonder which one is the accurate representation of our looks. The answer isn’t quite that straightforward, however. Mirrors more accurately show what we look like to ourselves, while photographs more accurately show what we look like to others.

magnifying glass 2 divider The Mirror Is Closer to Reality

Mirrors produce more accurate images than photos because they merely reflect the object and reverse it. There’s no quality alteration in a mirror image like there is with a camera, which is affected by angles, lenses, camera quality, distortion, and more.

The key here is that the mirror produces an accurate image of what you see when you look at yourself, while the camera produces an accurate image of how you look to others. This is a subtle but important distinction.

camera with fireworks picture
Image Credit: Shutterfast, Shutterstock

Are Photos and Videos Accurate?

Yes, photos and videos are accurate for how we look to others. In fact, these mediums provide such accurate images that people may be identified by photos and videos alone. Our photo image looks strange to us because of a little psychology–the image isn’t reversed like we’re used to seeing in the mirror.

Why Do I Look Better in the Mirror Than Photos?

This is where psychology comes into play. The mere-exposure effect shows that people find an increased preference or liking for a stimulus the more they are exposed to it.

We’re more used to seeing ourselves in the mirror than in photos or videos. These representations are less familiar than what we see in the mirror, not to mention that camera quality and different tricks can alter the way we appear.

Sometimes, photos or videos highlight traits that make us self-conscious or show a “bad angle” that makes us feel that we look better in the mirror. That’s why models, actors, and media professionals are often trained on how to look their best on camera.

When others see an image of you in a mirror vs. a photo, it may look strange to them because it’s different from what they’re used to seeing.

Image Credit: AjayTvm, Shutterstock

What Creates the Image in the Mirror?

Mirror images come from rays of light reflected into our eyes from the mirror. When you look into a mirror, the image is reversed from left to right.

This only applies to flat mirrors. If the mirror is curved or in another shape, such as a “funhouse” mirror, the image is different. Convex mirrors have an outward bulge and concave mirrors have an inward bulge. Convex mirrors create smaller images, such as what you see in a rearview mirror. Concave mirrors produce a larger image, such as a makeup vanity mirror. Some cameras or filters allow you to create these effects.

What About Selfies?

Selfies can be different from both mirror images and photos taken by someone else. The image is affected by whether the camera is front- or back-facing on your phone or tablet. If you’ve ever gotten a “fishbowl” effect with a selfie, you know how this can impact the image. Of the two, the back-facing camera is the closest to your true appearance.

The way you hold the camera can also affect the look of your selfie. Holding the camera too close to your face will distort your image. You may get a different look if you take the selfie from a high or low angle and with different lighting. Like modeling, people who take “good” selfies often practice techniques to get them just right.

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Final Thoughts

Mirrors offer a more accurate representation of what we look like to ourselves, while photos and videos are what other people see. Using the back-facing camera on your phone to take a selfie is a close representation of what you see in the mirror.

Featured Image Credit: DUO Studio, Shutterstock

About the Author Robert Sparks

Robert’s obsession with all things optical started early in life, when his optician father would bring home prototypes for Robert to play with. Nowadays, Robert is dedicated to helping others find the right optics for their needs. His hobbies include astronomy, astrophysics, and model building. Originally from Newark, NJ, he resides in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where the nighttime skies are filled with glittering stars.