‘To flip or not to flip?’ that is the question

In the past couple of weeks it has been suggested by two individuals on two separate occasions that I should consider ‘flipping’ one of my images. Their comments applied to two different photographs so it set me thinking whether or not I should apply this post production technique, as it’s not something I had ever considered doing before.

Obviously this technique could not be applied to an image with any writing or symbols, which when reversed, would no longer be legible and it would be clear to the viewer that they were in fact looking at the original image in a ‘mirror’. Neither could it apply to a recognisable landmark as it would no longer be a true representation of what the viewer expected to see. However if the image did not fall into either of these categories then what would be wrong with flipping? If the result is more pleasing to the eye, even though it no longer represents reality, then what’s the issue? After all the vast majority of my images are converted to monochrome because thats how I want my images to look. No one ‘sees’ in black and white so this change is applied for visual imapct. If I wanted my photographs to represent what people would actually see with their own eyes then frankly nearly all post production work would be a ‘no go’ area and even the choice of lens can distort what the eye actually sees, but thats a topic for another day.

Well, the only way to find out would be to try ‘flipping’ and to then compare and analyse the results.

The example I have chosen for this exercise is a shot taken at East Head in Wittering of wind swept sand dunes. The first image is the original photo followed by the flipped version. No other changes have been made.

Sand dunes at East Head

…..and now the flipped version.

Sand dunes at East Head - version 2 'flipped'

So which one works best? Well in my view the flipped version is the better photograph, it’s more visually pleasing. So why should this be?

In my opinion its down to two main factors. Firstly when we look at an image our first inclination is to start from the left hand side and our eyes then move to the right hand side. Our eyes naturally follow this path as we read from left to right……it therefore feels comfortable to look at an image in this way. Our eyes are also drawn to the brightest areas of an image; in this case the sand in the lower half of the picture. So when the image is flipped, the bright area is now on the left and not on the right. The lead in lines of the sand, take our eyes to the right, the grasses are also being ‘blown’ from the left, and our eyes find it much easier to move around the image. In the original shot this does not happen and our eyes find it difficult to settle, with the result that we see a ‘busy’ image and one that really doesn’t work that well, or not as well as it could when flipped. As there is nothing else in the image which would give the ‘flipping’ game away, the final result is in my opinion perfectly satisfactory and an acceptable form of post manipulation.

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