Flip Your Photos

November 25, 2014

Today's tip is one of the most useful things I have to say: learn how to flip your photos horizontally. 


You probably already know how to flip your photo, or, if not, it's easy to do.  In Lightroom, click Photo > Flip Horizontal.  In Photoshop, do Image > Image Rotation >  Flip Canvas Horizontal.  In Capture One Pro, go to the Composition Tool Tab > Rotation & Flip > Flip > Horizontal.  There are an infinite number of computer programs that can flip your image, so I won't cover any more right here.


As a photographer, you undoubtedly have stared at your best photos for hours on end while editing them.  The images are engrained in your mind to the point where you would notice if someone changed the slightest detail about them.  However, this does not always work to your advantage.


Sometimes, you can stare at a photo so much that you lose the ability to edit it with a fresh eye.  This is sort of like listening to yourself talk— you have heard your own voice for your entire life, so it becomes impossible to tell how you truly sound unless you listen to a recording of yourself.  


For me, if I've worked on a photo for hours, it becomes almost impossible to tell if it is rotated correctly or if it is crooked.  This is because, over time, my brain gets used to seeing the photo as "normal," even if the frame is tilted to one side or another.


The best way for musicians to hear their music with a fresh ear is by listening to a recording of themselves.  The best way for photographers to see their photos with a fresh eye is by flipping the image horizontally.


In some photos, such as images where a person is walking towards one side of the image, it may make sense to flip the photo horizontally to begin with.  In the Western world, people generally read left-to-right.  In the same way, people read photos left-to-right, so it can be more pleasing to view a photo where something is moving to the right, rather than to the left.  However, this is not what I'm talking about in this article.


This article's tip is that sometimes a photo is so engrained in our minds that it is impossible to see it how a new viewer might.  Below is an example which illustrates this perfectly:


This is Van Gogh's Starry Night.



This is a version flipped horizontally.


Depending upon how much you have seen the true version, you will experience different levels of cognitive dissonance between the two images.  For me, having seen the original countless times, the flipped version looks completely outlandish.  However, if this is one of your first times seeing the image, the two probably seem similar (besides the obvious flip).


This works for your own photos even more, since you have probably looked at your best ones far longer than you've looked at Starry Night.  At a minimum, it's an amusing thing to see your best shots with a new eye.  If you're lucky, you'll see something you can improve about your frame.


Obligatory Copyright Notice:

I obtained the Starry Night image above from the Wikimedia Commons.  This image is in the public domain, and my source is below:

"Van Gogh - Starry Night - Google Art Project" by Vincent van Gogh - bgEuwDxel93-Pg at Google Cultural Institute, zoom level maximum. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Van_Gogh_-_Starry_Night_-_Google_Art_Project.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Van_Gogh_-_Starry_Night_-_Google_Art_Project.jpg

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