I was recently going around the Web, taking a look at my blog(s), at Flickr and a couple of other websites.

On Flickr, I went through my groups and noticed one I’ve always liked : “Diptychs – two is better than one!” But in its ‘Pool’, I found a lot of inconsistency (in terms of visual impact) between the proposed works. On the same thought, I have noticed the Web is packed with “how-to” for Photoshop and the like, but not much words on the recipe that makes a great image, and in our particular case the diptych. So, here I expose some thoughts on what makes diptychs to work or not. It is just an attempt give some ideas and eventually inspire the readers. By no means I am in true science here, all come from personal observations.

Two Little Rides (by tubes. on Flickr)

1. Format

Simply put : Any will do. The trick here is to put some thought in it. If you do not have a fixed format for your diptych album (or want to try something else out), consider the composition of the pictures you have chosen.

The only key point here is the balance. Two frames with the same height or width will be more balance than a diptych made out of a 200×900 and a 400×400 pictures. The second thing is to avoid a frame crashes another one ; in other words if a frame is 5% of the total area, there is a problem.

... and they both went their seperate way (by Dalla* on Flickr)

2. Relationship

One of the reason a diptych will work is the link or relationship between the two pictures. Of course, there are plenty of options, but here are  some possible relations.

Perhaps the most evident possibility is the “landscaping” created by visibly stitching frame taken at the same place. The rule in this case is the keep an individual trait for each picture. It will usually transmit either an idea of the time passing or the feeling of change. “Geographic” connections by location : inside/outside (see example below), front/back, side/up, etc. work well too.

in love (by Supercapacity on Flickr)

Another example here is the time connection. In the example below, the photographer shows us the same person with 20 years difference. Note also the match of light and tones between the two pictures.

366 - 103 - 20 years later (by Pragmagrphr on Flickr)

Also from the example above, note how the use of symmetry give impact to the composition. Remember the viewers’ eyes need something to look at, all around the picture frame. Thus, symmetry, or even better, partial symmetry, gives the viewers’ eyes point to compare and content to look for.

Finally, a last example of the relationship the two pictures may have is expression (bear in mind expression does not always rhyme with faces):

Café, cultureta general, lingotazo y otros vicios (by Xavi Calvo on Flickr)

There are many more examples on how two pictures may share a relationship ; up to you to discover more 😉

3. Mood

Moody pictures usually generate strong impact. Diptychs are no exceptions and mood gives depth, sense and feelings to the composition.

Morning Delivery (by Lucas Jans on Flickr)

4. Colors

Colors are very important (sic!), it surely may be linked to the mood as above. Anyhow, a great color, repeated or recalled in both frames, will increase the impact of the picture.

Dogs who like their owners (by Liam Higgins on Flickr)

Dogs who look like their owners (by Liam Higgins on Flickr)

If you have some time and are interested in colors (all photographers should, no?), this article from Wikipedia is a good introduction. It may be incomplete or subject to critics but the main ideas are there. For instance, the green feel of the above “Dogs who look like their owners” shares an feeling of loyalty ; whereas the below example gives an idea of heat, as the colored gradient simulate a strong sun aside the frame. Who wouldn’t want to get onboard that plane to escape the burning light?

ATL Departures by 'peel apart' on Flickr

ATL Departures by 'peel apart' on Flickr

5. Borders & Separations

From the above examples, you would have noticed almost everything may work in terms of borders, or separation between the two. Many artists prefer to showcase their work “On Black”, as black borders work quite well, and a little fantasy is also always welcomed.

Tempstad / Calma (by Sabro on Flickr)

6. A few don’ts…

  • Twice the same picture (even with a little difference)
  • Pictures too different in both color or mood,  or subjects
  • Obviously, no relations between the pictures
  • Most of the general composition rules apply (two-thirds, geometrics, etc.), so don’t kill your diptych with an homemade seven-eighth rule!
  • Use borders as large as ‘too large’. A tenth of the total frame space is likely to be too heavy already

Extra references or sources