Back in my younger days I visited the Kodak Gallery in Central London. It was a time before digital and Kodak had so many varieties of 35mm film to use that I was trying a new type nearly every week. There was colour negative or colour slides, infra-red, black and white and a wide variety of ISO speeds.
At the gallery there was an exhibition on viewing distances. I read the bit on the wall that photographic prints should be viewed at a distance that corresponded to the lens. Wide angle shots should be viewed close up and telephoto pictures from across the room.
After reading this I thought the same as you are probably doing now, what a load of rubbish. You must remember that at that time Kodak was selling acres of photographic paper every second and I am in a gallery where the pictures are really big and would definitely not fit in your photo album. So a ploy for selling more paper looked like it was on the cards: To try and look at your 5×7 photo from across the room it would have to be in feet rather than inches. So with a very sceptical mind I started walking around the gallery. I cannot remember the pictures exactly, but I think there was some giraffe shots and other very well shot and colourful prints. There was also, I am sure, marks on the floor designating the proper distances to view each photograph.
When you start walking around you do not want to make a fool of yourself like the idiots around you with there noses almost glued to the pictures so you hang back a bit and view everything from the normal distances. You still believe you are being wound up as this is how you normally look at photographs. The wide angle shots look all disproportionally large at the centre and the telephoto shots seem OK, but ‘flat’. So I moved away to the other side of the room and looked at the telephoto pictures again and suddenly they looked amazingly correct like you were viewing them life size, close to you and almost 3D. It was not a picture of a flower seen from the other side of the room, it was a flower maybe 50cm away.
After seeing this, along with a lot of the other sceptics, we went and got the marked distance away from the wide angle really distorted shots. It was just like magic; the abnormal was transformed into a normally proportioned picture just by getting the correct distance away. What was even weirder was the fact that the wide angle shot had suddenly become a picture that was more like real life. It felt like you were in the picture and could look around you.
Another quirk that put a smile on my face was a photograph taken with a 50mm lens viewed at a normal viewing distance, had the same ‘you were in the picture’ effect. It made me realise why the 50mm lens is called a standard lens as the photographs you take with it should be viewed from a standard distance.
Sadly I was never able to see this again when looking at a photograph. Maybe if you are able get slowly closer to a wide angle shot in a gallery you might ‘be in the picture’. I am guessing that the centre of the picture should be at the same height as your eyes, but that may vary depending on if the camera was angled up or down. So a picture looking up of someone standing from ground level should probably be hung high up on a wall, but one looking down at a gorge should be hung so that the top is in line with your eyes.
If you have any pictures like these get someone to hold them for you and see if you can see the effect that I saw. Beware, if it is of the Grand Canyon looking down, you may experience the same vertigo as you did when taking the photo.