Face identification is reliable for viewers who are familiar with the face, and unreliable for viewers who are not. One account of this contrast is that people become good at recognising a face by learning its configuration-the specific pattern of feature-to-feature measurements. In practice, these measurements differ across photos of the same face because objects appear more flat or convex depending on their distance from the camera. Here we connect this optical understanding to face configuration and identification accuracy. Changing camera-to-subject distance (0.32m versus 2.70m) impaired perceptual matching of unfamiliar faces, even though the images were presented at the same size. Familiar face matching was accurate across conditions. Reinstating valid distance cues mitigated the performance cost, suggesting that perceptual constancy compensates for distance-related changes in optical face shape. Acknowledging these distance effects could reduce identification errors in applied settings such as passport control.