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Is a Diptych the Best Way to Display Your Photos?

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by Gayle Beveridge (subscribe)
Gayle Beveridge is a past winner of the Boroondara Literary Awards and her work has appeared in Award Winning Australian Writing. Gayle is passionate about family, writing, photography, and with Victoria’s beautiful Bass Coast which she now calls home.
Published September 12th 2021
Diptych is a great way to display pairs of photos that has its roots firmly set in artistic history. It can really step up the way you display your photos. My question to you is twofold. What makes good diptych subjects and how are they best presented? You may even have something of a diptych at home and not be aware of it. Do you have photos in a hinged frame? Why did you choose to put those particular photos together? Have you hung two photos side by side on a wall? Why those two?

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A themed diptych of orchids using wide and closeup shots to show both the flower detail and how it grows - Photos copyright Gayle Beveridge

A diptych (pronounced diptick) was traditionally a painting or carving displayed in two parts, which were often joined by hinges. They were predominantly religious and commonly found adorning altars. Others depicted the contrast of life and death like this 15th century diptych titled 'Hieronymus Zscheckenbürlin and Death' by Oberrheinischer Meister.

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Hieronymus Zscheckenbürlin and Death by Oberrheinischer Meister, 15. Jahrhundert, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Step forward to 21st century photography and a diptych is a pair of photos, displayed together as one. The subject matter can be anything, but to choose or shoot photos that 'go' together, we need to think about why we are pairing them in the first place and if we want that relationship to be obvious or ambiguous.

What are we trying to achieve with the images in the diptych, is it:
to tell a stronger story,
to complement each other, or
to emphasize a contrast.

In the following diptych, the inclusion of the subject being photographed alongside the photographer tells a stronger story than that of the photographer alone. Without it, we have no idea what has captured her interest–bird, tree, flower–but we know now what we likely did not suspect; it was fungi.

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A photographer and her subject - Images copyright Gayle Beveridge (Marien) and Roger Marien

Having decided what we want to achieve, how do we do that? You may find the following widely accepted methodologies, or since they tend to overlap, a combination of them, to be useful. The examples are there, not to direct, but to set you thinking about what images you select for your own diptych.

1. Choose a theme.
o Family - couples or siblings in a portrait shoot.
o Aspects of a landscape–a sweeping vista and an intimate landscape at the same place, twisted trees in a bush area, an ocean at sunrise and during the day,
o Occupation of activity-a carpenter in his overalls and the tools he uses.
o A sports meet.
o A festival.

2. Use colour, brightness or texture to tie the images together.
In the following image of a tree in blossom and a single flower from it, the blossom is the theme, the technique to use a wide shot and a close up, but that wasn't enough. The shot of the tree and the sky above it was brighter than that of the flower, and the two did not sit well together. I decreased the exposure in the tree photo and used a dark vignette to quieten the sky.

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A blossoming tree and a flower from it - Photo copyright Gayle Beveridge

3. Choose images that present a contrast.
o The same person showing different emotions–sad and happy, serious and crazy.
o Something dirty and then clean (babies and toddlers readily accommodate this).
o The same scene in colour and black and white.
o A beach on a calm sunny day and the same in stormy weather.

4. Pair a wide shot and a close-up (with a zoom lens, different lenses or by cropping a larger photo.)
o A flowering tree and a close up of a single flower.
o Newly weds holding hands and a close-up of crossed hands with the rings.
o Around the table at a birthday and a closeup of the candles being blown out.

In the following diptych of a street Christmas decoration, a wide shot has been used to show in its totality and in its environment, and a close-up complements it by showing the intricacy of its design.

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A Christmas decoration in Wonthaggi in 2020, - Photo copyright Gayle Beveridge

5. Show movement or the passing of time.
o The same scene in different seasons or at day and night.
o Before and after–an area of dense bush before a fire and the stark landscape of blacked trees afterward, a scrumptious piece of cake on a plate and a plate empty of all but crumbs.
o A busy street location at different points in time to give a sense of the activity.
o Sports action, you might use burst mode to capture this.

6. Choose images with similar patterns.
o Coloured pebbles or shells on a beach.

7. Display the same subject from different angles or shifts in point of view.

8. Photograph the same subject with different lighting or shadows.

9. Does a single photo have more impact if it is split in two?
In the following diptych, I have split one photo in two and made the parts of unequal proportion using the light on the jetty with its arched arms to define the split. Then I have rendered the smaller portion in greyscale to highlight the colours of the ocean in the left image.

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Reflections at San Remo - Photo copyright Gayle Beveridge

If you would like to see more examples, check out these articles:

Pixel Curse - Diptych Photography: The Art of Combining Two Images by Alex
Tell a Story with a Diptych: Weekly Photography Challenge [With Examples], a post By: Darren Rowse

The traditional form for a diptych is in equal proportions side by side, but it doesn't have to be that way. Choose a form that best suits your photos, or even one that adds to the story itself.

Either sit your images directly beside each other or place borders around them for separation.
Place your photos vertically side by side, or horizontally one on top of the other.
Traditionally, the two parts are of the same size but rules are made to be broken, so either use identical aspect ratios for each image or make them disproportionate to each other.
Keep your images the same shape, both squares or rectangles, or alter the shapes between the two.

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Before and after the card game - Photo copyright Gayle Beveridge

Having taken your images, how do you put them together as one for display. Any software or app that facilitates collages should work.

I find Photoscape's collage facility to be flexible and easy to use with a generous number of format options available in the free version of the software.

For those of you using Photoshop, you might check out the YouTube video, Create a Collage in 3 Easy Steps in Photoshop (Diptych) by PHLearn.

GIMP users, check out the YouTube video, (the process for triptych is the same as diptych), Triptych in GIMP Tutorial by URecordings

In summary, is diptych the best way to display your photos; that's going to depend on personal preference. In my opinion, it is an option to be applied with careful thought and when I do choose diptych, I prefer vertically aligned images of equal proportion. Give it a go yourself and let me know what you think.
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I would not have thought this through as well as has been written. Thank you for this great information.
by Roger (score: 2|775) 43 days ago
What about your child's baby photo next to their high school graduation, or a vase of flowers when they're fresh next to them dead and wilted and dropping petals.
by betty (score: 2|656) 43 days ago

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