A Story in Two Frames – Diptych as a Storytelling Tool | by Kate Cuénoud

I wish I had a more interesting story about my discovery of diptychs, but I actually started using them out of necessity when I found that two portrait images side by side look better on a blog post and fit better on a computer screen than one by itself.  The former incarnation of my photography business focused on family and senior sessions and headshots and was portrait-intensive, so using diptychs for convenience sake made sense.  Although born of necessity, I loved the impact of diptychs and the messages they conveyed.

When I moved to Switzerland from the US three years ago, I started shooting a lot of landscapes and I no longer shot much in portrait orientation.  I lost touch with the diptych until I was reacquainted with them through the fabulous work of Léa Jones.  Her work inspired me to try again and I love the results.  Shooting in both landscape and portrait orientation and pairing images in diptychs is giving my work new dimension and depth. Another bonus is that diptychs allow me to showcase different aspects of my work at the same time. I often use freelensing, double exposure, macro and self portraits in my work and diptychs allow me to pair things in unusual and surprising ways.

From a technical standpoint, I keep two files of portraits called For Diptychs Online (for using for online images) and For Diptychs Printing (for using eventually for a printed book) on my computer and continue to add to and delete from this file. If you don’t have a lot of portraits to choose from, don’t worry.  You can easily transform part of a landscape image into a portrait by choosing the crop tool in the Develop module in Lightroom and hitting the “x” key. When I want to make diptychs, I select all of the portrait files in my folder, rename them and then import them into Lightroom.  Renaming the files allows you to freshly import them, even if you have imported the same files before.  You can easily make diptychs in the Print module of Lightroom.  There is even a diptych template built in!

I have found several “themes” that work best for my storytelling diptychs.

Black and White and Color – I like to make different versions of the same image and mirror the images.  I like it visually and I think it shows the impact of the different edits.  Do you ever struggle with which version of an image to show because you love them both?  This is a great way to show both and create the story of opposites at the same time. It’s easy to experiment with the positions of the images in a diptych, too, in order to create tension or harmony.  Simply click on the image, go back to either the Library or Develop module, click on the Photo menu and choose either Flip Horizontal or Flip Vertical.

turn the page.jpg

Up Close and Far Away – This technique is useful when you want to highlight a specific detail of an image, but you want to show the whole scene too.  I like to use an effect like macro and/or freelensing in these stories as I feel that changing the effect intensifies the visual interest.

Remy close and far.jpg

Cohesive Color or Shape – I will often use color and shape to add connection to two images that are unrelated.  Often I find that just pairing images in this way “works”, meaning my brain and my heart both like the outcome.  The use of matching or similar colors can generate a connection that then crafts its own story.  Sometimes when I really want to use two images together, but the colors aren’t exactly working, I will simply click on an image and go back into the Develop module of Lightroom to adjust the colors until they are cohesive.  Likewise, both similar and opposite shapes or use of space can link two seemingly unrelated images and build the story.

curly girl.jpg
stream and dock.jpg
negative space.jpg

Symbolism Photography has in recent years become more and more a vehicle for me to become very intimate with myself and at times touch something that I can only describe as mystical.  I often find universal themes and ancient symbols present in my work and they come through especially powerfully when paired in a diptych and given a title.  I tend to let these stand on their own without a lot of explanation, since they are at once both profoundly personal and universal. 







If at first your pairings seem awkward or disjointed, don’t give up!  Just keep mixing it up until the magic happens. I often have a plan in my head that just doesn’t come together upon execution.  Right now I have an image that I took six months ago that is still waiting for the perfect companion.  Keep at it and keep telling your beautiful stories. 

xxoo Kate.