Diane Wehr Street Photography

Dedicated to Street

A Street Photography Blog

Flip It?


I am exploring a new-to-me idea that was presented in the article, “Five Ways to Change Your Composition for Better Photos”, written by Barry J. Brady for the Digital Photography School. Barry, and I hope he does not mind me using his first name here as we are all in the family of photographers, put Left to Right as his first suggestion for a better composition. His point was that in the Western world we all read left to right. It would make sense that we would be more comfortable with a composition that moves our eye from left to right. What an astoundingly simple way to improve a composition, if it works.

The first challenge for me was identifying how my eye was moving through a photo. That is a topic worthy of its own blog, because it is not always an easy task to understand how your eye is moving in many compositions. In this picture it was easy.

Original direction.

It is clearly directional and the direction is a horizontal left to right in the original image. Now here is the flip. Do you have a preference?

Flipped direction.

Good fortune acted to further my understanding about how our eye moves through a picture. I am reading the book, “Photographically Speaking, A Deeper Look at Creating Stronger Images”, by David duChemin. He observes that a primary diagonal, which is math talk for a diagonal from the upper left hand corner to the lower right hand corner of a picture, tends to lead the eye down through the picture.

This picture, taken by Susan Schiffer, is an almost textbook example of the power of a primary diagonal, although this particular diagonal does not go exactly to the lower right corner. My eyes start at the upper left horizon because it is the area of greatest contrast in the picture and my eyes naturally start on the left. It then follows the implied primary-like diagonal that is made by the hand of the top child in the line through the back foot of the bottom child. It is easy to see if you put a piece of paper on those two points. This line leads your eye down to the subject of the photo, which I interpret to be the child closest to the bottom edge.

Photo by Susan Schiffer. Used with permission. You can see Susan’s gallery on Instragram at @susan.schiffer.

A secondary diagonal, which is a diagonal from the bottom left hand corner to the upper right hand corner of a picture, tends to lead the eye up through the picture. I have to process that bit of news, but I think it is true. Look at these two pictures with the diagonals drawn.

Original direction with the implied primary diagonal that leads your eye down through the picture away from the face.

I believe it is easier for me to see the photographer’s face when the picture is flipped.

The flipped picture with the implied secondary diagonal that leads your eye up through the picture to the face.

Always one to conduct the grand experiment, I posted this picture to the Urban Street Photography Group on Facebook. I definitely felt more comfortable with it flipped because the diagonal line confirmed my sense that she was walking downhill.

The flipped image that I posted. The diagonal formed by the sidewalk is not primary, but it still leads the eye down from left to right.

It did not take long for a more discerning photographer than I to ask why I had flipped the picture. How did he know? The text in the picture was backwards, something I totally did not anticipate! Honestly, I was a bit embarrassed.

But knowledge is power and I now know to flip certain reflections if I want the writing to not be backwards.

I flipped this image because, all things being equal, I just as soon have the words Honky Tonk Central not written backwards.

Flipping a picture is easy to do with the rotation tool in Snapseed. I think I might give it a try from time to time, just to see if it changes my experience with a picture.


Start looking at your pictures, or even someone else’s pictures, for examples of a composition that moves your eye from left to right on a diagonal starting on the left. Also look for compositions that move your eye from right to left on a diagonal starting from the right.  Would they look better flipped?

Diane Wehr12 Comments