Tell A Story With Diptychs
“…Photography, for me, is a supreme moment captured with a single shot” – Henri Cartier-Bresson
Henri Cartier-Bresson spent much of his life trying to tell stories with one click of the shutter. He strove to capture the “decisive moment,” and popularized the idea of using photography as a story telling medium. While I usually look for those decisive moments, sometimes I find that combining two or more images together can strengthen a visual presentation. The art of combining two (diptych), three (triptych) or more images into one gives photographers the ability to extend space and time. If done effectively, they lend context and meaning to each other, and the sum of the images is often greater than each on its own.
There are a few types of diptychs that you can create. The most common shows a passage of time, and is similar to a story board (as described below) in that you show developing action from one frame to the next. In the subway example above, I was sitting on a bench waiting for a train and captured a frame of the empty station. I liked the strong lines and symmetry, and the image is fairly strong on its own right. A few minutes later, the station had filled up with other passengers, and I took another frame. The addition of people makes this more of a “street” shot, showing life in the New York City subway. While editing photos from our trip, I decided to combine these two images into a diptych. I liked the contrasting feel of each, and felt that showing the change over time gave each image another layer of interest.
Another example of this “storyboard” diptych can be seen to the left. I was photographing a wedding rehearsal, and the bride and groom were walking out of the chapel at the end of the ceremony. I captured the first image of them holding hands framed by the door, and figured that was “the shot.” A second later, the bride stepped outside and struck a pose for me. Each photo stands well on its own as a great moment. But presenting both photographs together really opens a window into the couple's personality.
You can also use multi-photo layouts to show complementary scenes. Since sites like Flickr and 500px encourage single-photo consumption, getting people to view multiple photos can be a challenge. If it makes sense to do so, you can combine images to help get more exposure to your work. This is more of a design choice, and is similar to designing a layout for a website or portfolio.
Sometimes it takes more than two images to make your point. In the sequence to the left, I was capturing my friend cooling himself off at a festival. If I had to choose only one to present, I would pick the third. However, by adding the other two it completes the story and adds some nice context to the final frame. This type of action is hard to capture in a single frame, so being able to “cheat” and show it from start to finish really helps the story shine through.
There are many different ways to combine images. I've seen some where the focus changes from one frame to the next, showcasing the foreground and then the background. I've also seen diptychs where one image is an overview of a scene and the next is a detail from that scene. Another effective choice is two images where a strong design element (horizon or other type of line, color, etc) merges across from one to the next. Sometimes two completely unrelated images can be combined effectively. It's up to you to experiment and find combinations that work. For more examples and inspiration, I recommend checking out the Diptychs – two is better than one group over at Flickr.
As for how to physically create them, I generally use photoshop. Create a new image that is the width and height of your two photos combined (plus a little bit for a border between them if desired). Cut and paste both photos into it, aligning them to each edge, then save it out as a diptych. I typically put landscape-oriented photos together vertically, and portrait-oriented photos horizontally (resulting in a more “square” image), but the opposite works as well if the images call for it. Some editing programs have the ability to do layouts or mosaics without Photoshop, saving you a step and some money if you don't have a copy. If you are unsure of how to do this in your software of choice, try googling “[software name] diptych” and see what comes up.
I hope you give multi-image layouts a try, and share the results here or in the Shutter Photo @ Flickr group.