Flip the Compo!

Flip the Compo!

I often get young – and not so young – photographers showing me photographs they took but with which they’re not completely satisfied with, something like “it’s great, but something’s wrong in it”.
Most of the times my first reaction is to mirror the image, not only to understand the composition but also to see the other side of the meaning. I always liked the “devil’s advocate” way of being, so I always try to understand and debate the other view of each idea.

So I flip. I flip everything. Not as fetish, but in fact I flip everything since kid… before open it. So now you know: I like to flip, often to understand, and to take pleasure of it. Pleasure of understanding, I mean.

Giving a basic example with a landscape photograph I took few years ago.
On the first – and original photograph you see the gatepost on the right side, following the rule of thirds in regular composition. But if you go for the subject – and not for the object, you see that the whole composition is closed by the post… of the open gate. The image ends there at the post. dot.

Coutances, by ©Gonzalo Bénard

Coutances, by ©Gonzalo Bénard

Now let’s flip it, and what you read here is completely different not only visually but also as message. Here the rule of thirds is applied to the message and not to the object! The gatepost is no longer important, in fact it opens the photograph, or even better: it opens the gate for us to take the first step and walk in.

Coutances (mirrored), by ©Gonzalo Bénard

Coutances (mirrored), by ©Gonzalo Bénard

Often the photographers are so obsessive with the rules that they don’t dare to break them, or they simply don’t know how to, unless you have a good background of art, or you’re an artist yourself using photography as a mean of expression. But then, like me, you’re an artist, not a photographer. We’re just using photography to express like we could use any other meaning for better expressing.

In the lectures and master classes I’ve been giving, I often use this next photograph by Cindy Sherman as example.
It’s wonderful and perfect in everything: so it’s time to flip it.

What you see here is a line on the road in diagonal, creating a triangle with the girl standing up there following the rule of thirds. Yes, there’s the girl there, and the photo closes with the mountain on the right side. In a second view there’s a beautiful landscape as background. The image looks great as photograph and perfectly well balanced following the rules.

by ©Cindy Sherman

by ©Cindy Sherman

This next one is the original… and it broke the rules… and it’s much better!
There’s a message in the main place: she’s waiting! There’s an action in a still. The girl is there and now with a purpose. You saw and perceived the existence of the girl when you start reading the image, once we read from left to right. But the main force is in the subject, not in the object. It’s in that wonderful empty space she left for us to be inside the photograph, waiting and feeling that anxiety we can experience when we’re alone and waiting… just waiting for someone to come or something to happen. And here, the mountain wall is no more closing the scene but opening and embracing it…

by ©Cindy Sherman

by ©Cindy Sherman

And I just mirrored it. Nothing else.

Now we can play a bit, using the same object mirrored within the compo…, which one is more balanced now?
On the first photograph, the mirrored one, the composition seems to give more importance to the horse jumping on the right side, which is obvious, as the horse is following the rule of thirds and it is jumping higher as well. If it’s that horse that we want to give more attention, then it’s ok, you got it and that horse is jumping out.

Jumping Horses, by ©Gonzalo Bénard

Jumping Horses (mirrored), by ©Gonzalo Bénard

But this next one is the original, and here you can see that the whole composition is much more balanced, almost like the 2 horses are jumping with the same high and weight.
Because we naturally read from left to right, from the top to the bottom.

Jumping Horses, by ©Gonzalo Bénard

Jumping Horses, by ©Gonzalo Bénard

Let’s go for another photograph for you to see in which one you have space to be in and in which there’s a much more human presence. In which one you follow the gaze and get lost and in which one you seem not want to interfere with his presence.
Take a look at both:

Stand by, by ©Gonzalo Bénard

Stand by, by ©Gonzalo Bénard

Stand By, by ©Gonzalo Bénard

Stand By, by ©Gonzalo Bénard

text by ©Gonzalo Bénard