Use Diptychs to Tell a Story - Digital Photography School

Use Diptychs to Tell a Story

If a picture is worth a thousands words, how much is a diptych (pronounced diptik) worth?

Train conductor walking to a Japanese Bullet train in Tokyo Station, Japan

Train conductor walking to a Japanese Bullet train in Tokyo Station, Japan

Photography is about visual communication: sharing stories, ideas, and feelings through images. A diptych of two images, or parts of two images, is an impactful storytelling tool. Look for thematic, compositional, and other visual synergies that will make your diptychs more powerful than the sum of their parts.

Combine wide angle and telephoto shots

By using a zoom lens, or simply cropping a larger photo, you can combine two images that have different effective focal lengths. This can be used to complete the story and prevent the viewer from asking “what’s going on here,” like in this photo of my son collecting acorns in a park. And by the way, what is it with kids and acorns? I remember stuffing acorns into a plastic soda bottle and keeping them in my bedroom as a child…

Small boy picking up acorns

Boy collecting acorns

This diptych from from an engagement shoot in Kyoto, Japan, tells a story by combining a “before” and “after” image.

Cute couple taking a self portrait with a smart phone

Smartphone portrait

Think about your final aspect ratio

There are endless possibilities here. Factors to consider are how the images work together, as well as your final use for the diptych. If your image will be viewed on computer screen, a horizontal orientation will allow viewers to appreciate a large photo without scrolling. If you’re thinking about printing the photo, or showing it on a tablet or smartphone then this isn’t as much of an issue.

Here are a few diptych aspect ratio templates that I like. These are not hard and fast rules, just some ideas to get you started.

Two square images placed next to eachother

Two square images placed next to eachother

Two 2:3 aspect ratio portrait images placed next two eachother

Two 2:3 aspect ratio portrait images placed next to eachother

Two 3:2 aspect ratio images placed one above the other.

Two 3:2 aspect ratio images placed one above the other.

A 5x7 image next to a 5x4 image places the division between the images almost exactly at the golden ratio line of the larger diptych.

A 5×7 image next to a 5×4 image places the division between the images almost exactly at the golden ratio line of the larger diptych.

I hope this article has given you a few new ideas for how to showcase your photos. Feel free to post a link to your diptychs in the comments.

I appreciate feedback, please comment below or feel free to connect with me through Facebook or Google+. I’ll do my best to answer questions and reply to comments.

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category.

Jason Weddington is passionate photographer and the creator of PhotoQueue.com, a service that helps photographers maintain their online presence by scheduling uploads to Flickr and 500px. PhotoQueue will soon add support for Facebook, and Tumblr. You can connect with Jason on Google+, Facebook, or Flickr. Jason is also an Associate member of the American Society of Media Photographers (ASMP).

  • Pete

    Did you get the labelling of the last example the wrong way round?

  • Juan

    So simple, and yet so helpful. Thanks Mr. Weddington.

  • http://jasonweddington.com Jason Weddington

    Pete – can you clarify?

    Juan – you’re welcome, thanks for commenting!

  • Pete

    Sorry, of course.

    Isn’t the 5×7 outline the one on the right and 5×4 on the left?

    I forgot to mention that I enjoyed the article too. Are you planning a similar article for tritypchs?

  • http://jasonweddington.com Jason Weddington

    Pete – thanks for clarifying. No, the 5×7 outline is the portrait orientation outline on the left. A similar article on triptychs is a great idea, thanks for the suggestion!

  • Pete

    For the two images to match like the diagram they must have an equal height. If one is 5×4 and the other is 5×7 the dimension they share is “5″ which is the height. The narrower one is 4 units wide (on the left) and the other one is 7 units wide (on the right).

    The bullet train example shows them the other way round.

  • http://jasonweddington.com Jason Weddington

    Pete – ah, I understand. I’m only showing aspect ratio, not physical dimensions in inches or centimeters. Maybe I should have written 5:7 and 5:4. Images cropped to a 5 x 7 aspect ratio and 5 x 4 aspect ratio (but scaled differently) will fit together this way.

  • http://www.piotrekziolkowski.com Piotrek Ziolkowski

    Interesting idea and article, I used a diptych approach to combine two photos that were failures on their own but together they worked perfectly! I just kept looking at them and something connected, I used bi-tone coloring to put emphasis on what is going on in the photos. My client liked it a lot and I was happy with myself ;)

    http://www.piotrekziolkowski.com/carl-portrait-session-in-fremantle

  • http://jeffejensen.blogspot.com Jeff E Jensen

    Great article and info. I like the idea of using a wide and a tight image t tell the story. Gonna have to try that out.

    Here’s one of mine from a while back:

    http://jeffejensen.blogspot.com/2011/09/old-shoes-new-shoes.html

  • http://jasonweddington.com Jason Weddington

    Piotrek – thanks for sharing, I agree that diptych works well. It took me a second to figure it out, then I thought “oh, he’s jumping!” It’s always nice to have that “aha” moment when looking at a photo.

    Jeff – nice! I like your DIY light table, great idea!

  • Jay

    Very nice topic and well written! As someone that grew up reading comics, a picture sequence immediately suggests a story. I really appreciate your aspect ratio suggestions and your use of B&W to keep it powerful. Will try this out soon.

  • http://www.kmercerphotography.co.uk Keith (M)

    Interesting article – food for thought! Look forward to one on the triptych format. I tried my hand (once) last year at creating one in LR4. See http://flic.kr/p/dsL8wH for the result…

  • Scottc

    I didn’t know diptychs consisted of only two photos, googled it and there it was.

    This one has 9 photos (used to “tell the story” of our move from Germany), what is this one called? Any photographic viewpoint (asthetic, compositional, etc) as to why one differs from the other?

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/lendog64/5872172168/

  • bobbyv

    thanks for this article – this certainly adds another dimension into composition, whether in time or space or some other seemingly unrelated photo (until you put them together). For sure, it influences your photography session when you are out to create diptychs or triptychs rather than self-standing photos.

  • http://MpireMedia.org Blake Murphy

    Thank you for sharing Mr. Weddington. I’m going to have to start implementing this in my photos.

  • ccting

    I think choosing the aspect ratio of a photo frame must come into the first step, different aspect ratio will determine different composition. There are traditional rules of how to choose different frame aspect ratio and their meaning.. back in 1920s… by artist via math model.

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/djkj Kartik

    Thanks for the size guide options. However I am a bit confused about the “gap” between the photos. Some photos look good with a small gap (like the ones you posted) and some with larger “white” or “black” gaps. I usually eyeball it when composing my diptychs in Photoshop. Any suggestions on how the spacing should be?

    Here is one of my diptych: Its a diptych of the same photo but in different orientations, zero spacing. It lets us see how a chameleon would, sitting on a railway track (Hence The Chameleon’s Panorama!)

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/djkj/4443218980/in/photostream

    I usually do not have a lot of them, but after reading this article I will surely try more story telling diptych (or is the plural diptychs).

  • Michal France

    Thank you very much for your article! It gave me a new point of view on my pictures and great inspiration. I tried to two immediately. So here they are:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/90949112@N02/8494603889/in/photostream

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/90949112@N02/8495702068/in/photostream/

    I changed the mirroring of the two faces and it created different feeling. Feel free to write in comments which one you prefer!

    Thanks!

  • Leo_Amaral
  • http://jasonweddington.com Jason Weddington

    Thanks for all the comments!

    bobbyv – good point. I used to dig through my photos after the fact and try to find ones that I could combine. Or the idea would come to me as I was reviewing images after a shoot. Once I started thinking about diptychs more, I starting seeing opportunities while out shooting, which certainly made it easier to combine the photos later.

    Keith M – thanks for sharing the Pony Pedicure shot, I’ve commented on the Flickr page.

    Kartik – for me it’s a matter of personal preference. Usually I feel that a thin white line between the photos looks less confusing visually. In the case of your Chameleon’s Panorama, the image works well without any space.

    Scottc – thanks for sharing the storytelling image. I don’t know what this is called, though I’m sure there’s a name for it. For lack of a better word, I’d probably call it a collage. It does tell the story of the move well.

    Leo – thanks for sharing, I think my favorite is the triptych with the cherry blossoms.

  • http://www.mycmsite.com.au/shaunnar Shaunna Richards

    As a scrapbooker I can see the potential for diptychs on a page to enchance the storytelling. I love yours Jason, the close ups make the story more meaningful and intimate and the wide angles set the scene. I’m really glad I discovered this site.

  • http://marius-fotografie.blogspot.com marius2die4
  • http://www.pravinshekar.com ShekarTalkies

    Very interesting….It’s always good to learn new things to keep pushing creative boundaries (and boredom at times)….With this newly gained knowledge of Diptychs, I will certainly look at exploring sights/concepts differently. Thanks for posting….

  • http://www.facebook.com/robinoberg Robin Öberg

    Triptychs are also a classic.

    But, what software should I use?
    I think Gimp is overkill for such a simple task.

  • http://jasonweddington.com Jason Weddington

    Shaunna – a scrapbook would be a great application for diptychs. You could even do creative things like combine photos and other object. Like a the back of a postcard, and a photo, or a plane ticket and a postcard.

    Shekar – thanks!

    Robin – I use Photoshop, because that’s what I used to process my photos anyway. The Gimp is also fine. I’d say use whatever you normally use to edit your images. If you don’t have any image editing software, maybe you can find a simple too just for creating diptychs and triptychs.

  • Robin Öberg

    Thank you for the fast reply. And thank you for the nice article.

    I use Gimp for fancy editing. Or Inkscape if I wanna do layouting stuff. But usually I stay in Lightroom. It’s enough for what I do day to day. That’s why I’d like a simple diptych/triptych software. Just do a couple of clicks and get it over with. Having to make a drawing pane, cut and paste here and there, it’s just too much time.

    Maybe a follow-up article on how to do it? :)

  • http://about.me/iban_g_g iban_g_g

    Thanks for the post! I’m quite fond of diptychs. I like to combine opposite concepts.
    All the best!
    i.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/iban_g_g/6732706923/in/set-72157626054011844

  • Scott Saunders

    i think you guys & gals run an awesome website an its very useful, thank you very much!

  • http://hillstreetblues.wordpress.com Al Wehrmann

    I just learned how to create diptychs and triptychs at our local camera club last night. So today, I was messing around with some photos I took a couple of weeks ago in Chicago. And then I saw this in DPS. How timely!

    http://flic.kr/p/dYcQcs
    http://flic.kr/p/dY78xX

  • Abhay

    Very helpful tip. Thanks.

  • http://www.eviewinter.com Evie Winter

    Thanks for a great article, a friend sent the link to me. I’ve been working with a friend to make diptychs based around a theme and put them on our blogs each Tuesday. The catch is I’m I’m the UK and she is in the USA. It’s been a really great way of inspiring us to take more photos.
    Feel free to look if you have time, http://www.eviewinter.typepad.com

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/djkj Kartik

    I am so glad I read this article. After many months (or years?) I finally created one diptych and one tryptich too!

    Here is the diptych which tells the story of a man who collects the neighborhood trash:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/djkj/8534842384/in/photostream

    And here is a triptych of a suicide scene which I came across on a trip to India

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/djkj/8516721177/in/photostream

    I think they do tell a story. Any suggestions or criticisms are welcome. Thanks again for this wonderful and unique article to awaken the ‘typtcher’ in many of us!

  • Paolo Carboni

    Interesting article. Following this I got inspired for this funny one:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/biopresto68/13035988424/

    By the way, can you suggest a procedure to make diptychs quick and easy?

Some older comments

  • Kartik

    March 11, 2013 08:41 am

    I am so glad I read this article. After many months (or years?) I finally created one diptych and one tryptich too!

    Here is the diptych which tells the story of a man who collects the neighborhood trash:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/djkj/8534842384/in/photostream

    And here is a triptych of a suicide scene which I came across on a trip to India

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/djkj/8516721177/in/photostream

    I think they do tell a story. Any suggestions or criticisms are welcome. Thanks again for this wonderful and unique article to awaken the 'typtcher' in many of us!

  • Evie Winter

    March 9, 2013 08:57 pm

    Thanks for a great article, a friend sent the link to me. I've been working with a friend to make diptychs based around a theme and put them on our blogs each Tuesday. The catch is I'm I'm the UK and she is in the USA. It's been a really great way of inspiring us to take more photos.
    Feel free to look if you have time, www.eviewinter.typepad.com

  • Abhay

    March 5, 2013 04:35 pm

    Very helpful tip. Thanks.

  • Al Wehrmann

    February 27, 2013 03:04 pm

    I just learned how to create diptychs and triptychs at our local camera club last night. So today, I was messing around with some photos I took a couple of weeks ago in Chicago. And then I saw this in DPS. How timely!

    http://flic.kr/p/dYcQcs
    http://flic.kr/p/dY78xX

  • Scott Saunders

    February 25, 2013 09:26 am

    i think you guys & gals run an awesome website an its very useful, thank you very much!

  • iban_g_g

    February 25, 2013 07:03 am

    Thanks for the post! I'm quite fond of diptychs. I like to combine opposite concepts.
    All the best!
    i.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/iban_g_g/6732706923/in/set-72157626054011844

  • Robin Öberg

    February 25, 2013 04:38 am

    Thank you for the fast reply. And thank you for the nice article.

    I use Gimp for fancy editing. Or Inkscape if I wanna do layouting stuff. But usually I stay in Lightroom. It's enough for what I do day to day. That's why I'd like a simple diptych/triptych software. Just do a couple of clicks and get it over with. Having to make a drawing pane, cut and paste here and there, it's just too much time.

    Maybe a follow-up article on how to do it? :)

  • Jason Weddington

    February 25, 2013 04:24 am

    Shaunna - a scrapbook would be a great application for diptychs. You could even do creative things like combine photos and other object. Like a the back of a postcard, and a photo, or a plane ticket and a postcard.

    Shekar - thanks!

    Robin - I use Photoshop, because that's what I used to process my photos anyway. The Gimp is also fine. I'd say use whatever you normally use to edit your images. If you don't have any image editing software, maybe you can find a simple too just for creating diptychs and triptychs.

  • Robin Öberg

    February 24, 2013 10:58 pm

    Triptychs are also a classic.

    But, what software should I use?
    I think Gimp is overkill for such a simple task.

  • ShekarTalkies

    February 23, 2013 03:18 am

    Very interesting....It's always good to learn new things to keep pushing creative boundaries (and boredom at times)....With this newly gained knowledge of Diptychs, I will certainly look at exploring sights/concepts differently. Thanks for posting....

  • marius2die4

    February 22, 2013 07:16 pm

    http://marius-fotografie.blogspot.ro/2012/12/diptych.html

  • Shaunna Richards

    February 22, 2013 11:19 am

    As a scrapbooker I can see the potential for diptychs on a page to enchance the storytelling. I love yours Jason, the close ups make the story more meaningful and intimate and the wide angles set the scene. I'm really glad I discovered this site.

  • Jason Weddington

    February 22, 2013 09:20 am

    Thanks for all the comments!

    bobbyv - good point. I used to dig through my photos after the fact and try to find ones that I could combine. Or the idea would come to me as I was reviewing images after a shoot. Once I started thinking about diptychs more, I starting seeing opportunities while out shooting, which certainly made it easier to combine the photos later.

    Keith M - thanks for sharing the Pony Pedicure shot, I've commented on the Flickr page.

    Kartik - for me it's a matter of personal preference. Usually I feel that a thin white line between the photos looks less confusing visually. In the case of your Chameleon's Panorama, the image works well without any space.

    Scottc - thanks for sharing the storytelling image. I don't know what this is called, though I'm sure there's a name for it. For lack of a better word, I'd probably call it a collage. It does tell the story of the move well.

    Leo - thanks for sharing, I think my favorite is the triptych with the cherry blossoms.

  • Leo_Amaral

    February 22, 2013 06:03 am

    I like working with diptych and sometimes Triptychs too:

    http://farm4.staticflickr.com/3183/2438874407_1c128b2631_z.jpg

    http://farm4.staticflickr.com/3191/2837485065_e18c0cd14c_z.jpg

    http://farm4.staticflickr.com/3184/2665553705_490d2b73cc_z.jpg?zz=1

    http://farm4.staticflickr.com/3006/2665554705_3e09f172a0_z.jpg?zz=1

  • Michal France

    February 22, 2013 04:06 am

    Thank you very much for your article! It gave me a new point of view on my pictures and great inspiration. I tried to two immediately. So here they are:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/90949112@N02/8494603889/in/photostream

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/90949112@N02/8495702068/in/photostream/

    I changed the mirroring of the two faces and it created different feeling. Feel free to write in comments which one you prefer!

    Thanks!

  • Kartik

    February 22, 2013 02:15 am

    Thanks for the size guide options. However I am a bit confused about the "gap" between the photos. Some photos look good with a small gap (like the ones you posted) and some with larger "white" or "black" gaps. I usually eyeball it when composing my diptychs in Photoshop. Any suggestions on how the spacing should be?

    Here is one of my diptych: Its a diptych of the same photo but in different orientations, zero spacing. It lets us see how a chameleon would, sitting on a railway track (Hence The Chameleon's Panorama!)

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/djkj/4443218980/in/photostream

    I usually do not have a lot of them, but after reading this article I will surely try more story telling diptych (or is the plural diptychs).

  • ccting

    February 21, 2013 05:32 pm

    I think choosing the aspect ratio of a photo frame must come into the first step, different aspect ratio will determine different composition. There are traditional rules of how to choose different frame aspect ratio and their meaning.. back in 1920s... by artist via math model.

  • Blake Murphy

    February 21, 2013 05:03 pm

    Thank you for sharing Mr. Weddington. I'm going to have to start implementing this in my photos.

  • bobbyv

    February 21, 2013 01:39 pm

    thanks for this article - this certainly adds another dimension into composition, whether in time or space or some other seemingly unrelated photo (until you put them together). For sure, it influences your photography session when you are out to create diptychs or triptychs rather than self-standing photos.

  • Scottc

    February 21, 2013 10:58 am

    I didn't know diptychs consisted of only two photos, googled it and there it was.

    This one has 9 photos (used to "tell the story" of our move from Germany), what is this one called? Any photographic viewpoint (asthetic, compositional, etc) as to why one differs from the other?

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/lendog64/5872172168/

  • Keith (M)

    February 21, 2013 05:59 am

    Interesting article - food for thought! Look forward to one on the triptych format. I tried my hand (once) last year at creating one in LR4. See http://flic.kr/p/dsL8wH for the result...

  • Jay

    February 21, 2013 04:03 am

    Very nice topic and well written! As someone that grew up reading comics, a picture sequence immediately suggests a story. I really appreciate your aspect ratio suggestions and your use of B&W to keep it powerful. Will try this out soon.

  • Jason Weddington

    February 21, 2013 03:34 am

    Piotrek - thanks for sharing, I agree that diptych works well. It took me a second to figure it out, then I thought "oh, he's jumping!" It's always nice to have that "aha" moment when looking at a photo.

    Jeff - nice! I like your DIY light table, great idea!

  • Jeff E Jensen

    February 21, 2013 03:29 am

    Great article and info. I like the idea of using a wide and a tight image t tell the story. Gonna have to try that out.

    Here's one of mine from a while back:

    http://jeffejensen.blogspot.com/2011/09/old-shoes-new-shoes.html

  • Piotrek Ziolkowski

    February 21, 2013 02:40 am

    Interesting idea and article, I used a diptych approach to combine two photos that were failures on their own but together they worked perfectly! I just kept looking at them and something connected, I used bi-tone coloring to put emphasis on what is going on in the photos. My client liked it a lot and I was happy with myself ;)

    http://www.piotrekziolkowski.com/carl-portrait-session-in-fremantle

  • Jason Weddington

    February 21, 2013 02:15 am

    Pete - ah, I understand. I'm only showing aspect ratio, not physical dimensions in inches or centimeters. Maybe I should have written 5:7 and 5:4. Images cropped to a 5 x 7 aspect ratio and 5 x 4 aspect ratio (but scaled differently) will fit together this way.

  • Pete

    February 21, 2013 02:10 am

    For the two images to match like the diagram they must have an equal height. If one is 5x4 and the other is 5x7 the dimension they share is "5" which is the height. The narrower one is 4 units wide (on the left) and the other one is 7 units wide (on the right).

    The bullet train example shows them the other way round.

  • Jason Weddington

    February 21, 2013 02:04 am

    Pete - thanks for clarifying. No, the 5x7 outline is the portrait orientation outline on the left. A similar article on triptychs is a great idea, thanks for the suggestion!

  • Pete

    February 21, 2013 01:58 am

    Sorry, of course.

    Isn't the 5x7 outline the one on the right and 5x4 on the left?

    I forgot to mention that I enjoyed the article too. Are you planning a similar article for tritypchs?

  • Jason Weddington

    February 21, 2013 01:50 am

    Pete - can you clarify?

    Juan - you're welcome, thanks for commenting!

  • Juan

    February 21, 2013 01:47 am

    So simple, and yet so helpful. Thanks Mr. Weddington.

  • Pete

    February 21, 2013 01:46 am

    Did you get the labelling of the last example the wrong way round?

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