I had a small dilemma when I posted yesterday’s weekly photo challenge. Something about the photo didn’t look as good as it could to me, then I realised – flip it horizontally, and suddenly, to my eyes, it works a whole lot better.
Do you prefer the original photo, or the flipped one?
Because of the way the eye flows over an image, it generally “feels” better to have the main subject on the right hand side of the frame, and empty space to the left. For this image, if you flip it, you also have the water flowing nicely away down to the right, in the direction of the eye’s flow. Of course there are times when you want to challenge the viewer and go the other way, but I flip a lot of my photos to get that balance within the image right.
I do have exceptions. Obviously you can’t flip anything with writing in it. I’m not a big fan of flipping people, nor of striking landmarks. Should I have flipped the photo of Goðafoss if it works better? Who would know? Even if you’ve seen Goðafoss, would you remember that the smaller waterfall in the corner of my shot is to the right as you face the main waterfall, not to the left? If you did, would you care? Regardless, is it wrong to misrepresent the real world? I feel flipping the photo goes beyond enhancing the image to highlight the best of it into seriously changing it from reality, but is it really pretty much the same thing as upping the contrast?
I have a follow-on thought – I do wonder how much of this feeling of balance, with the main subject on the right and the water flowing out to the right, is due to the way Western languages have taught many of us to read. If you grew up with a language that flows a different way, does the balance work differently?
Obviously this dilemma only arises in photography where the main aim is to capture the beauty of the real world as the naked eye sees it (admittedly, often a naked eye grovelling on the ground or perched perilously high on a chair!). There are thousands of other aims where representing the “real” world is completely irrelevant.