A flipped image or reversed image, is a static or moving image that is generated by a mirror-reversal of an original across a horizontal axis (a flopped image is mirrored across the vertical axis).
Many printmaking techniques produce images where the printed copy is reversed from the image made on the printing plate, so in a print copying another image, or a real scene or object, unless the artist deliberately creates the plate as a mirror-image of his subject, the finished print will be a mirror image of it. Many print makers developed the skill of reversing images when making printing plates, but many prints, especially early ones, have images that are reversed.
The flip image is a two-dimensional mirror image. In geometry, the mirror image of an object or two-dimensional figure is the virtual image formed by reflection in a plane mirror; it is of the same size as the original object, yet different, unless the object or figure has reflection symmetry (also known as a P-symmetry).
Two-dimensional mirror images can be seen in the reflections of mirrors or other reflecting surfaces, or on a printed surface seen inside-out. If we look at an object that is effectively two-dimensional (such as writing) and then turn it towards a mirror, the object turns through an angle of 180º and we see a left-right reversal in the mirror.
The mirror principle is applied in painting when making an etching. A mirror image is performed on the copper plate that forms the basis of the etching. For example, a person holds a pen with the left hand. With the later print everything is reversed: the person has now become right-handed.
The use of the mirror image in art is old. In Greek mythology, was Narcissus in love with his own reflection. Sometimes special characteristics are linked to the mirror image. This would give a glimpse into another world. Lewis Carroll used this in Through the Looking Glass, the sequel to Alice in Wonderland. In the world behind the mirror that enters Alice, everything happens in reverse. A fairy tale in which a mirror plays a major role is Snow White. Snow White’s stepmother asks her magic mirror who is the fairest in the country and ignites in anger when the mirror truthfully replies that this is Snow White and not herself. The mirror is used in a similar way in the song Spiegelbeeld by Willeke Alberti.
Many large format cameras present the image of the scene being photographed as a flipped image through their viewfinders. Some photographers regard this as a beneficial feature, as the unfamiliarity of the format allows them to compose the elements of the picture properly without being distracted by the actual contents of the scene. The technique is meant to bypass or override the brain’s visual processing which normally sees what is expected rather than what is there.
Flipping is occasionally used as a trompe l’oeil effect in scenes which incorporate reflections in a body of water. The image is deliberately inverted so that people slowly discern that something is ‘not quite right’ with the picture, and come to notice that it is upside down.
In popular culture
In The Witness (video game, 2016), Jonathan Blow, the creator of the game, has fun with the reflections by proposing puzzles whose solution is to position themselves so that the reflection of light reveals a path. He even goes so far as to propose riddles involving two successive reflections (one more reflection on water), thus increasing difficulty.
In photography and graphic arts a flopped image is a technical term for a static or moving image that is generated by a mirror-reversal of an original image across a vertical axis. This is opposed to a flipped image, which means an image reversed across a horizontal axis. Flopping can be used to improve the subjective aesthetic appeal of the image in question.
Use in advertising
There are two main uses in advertising, one practical, and one subjective. On a practical level, images of cars are often flopped to ensure cars look appropriate for left-hand-drive or right-hand-drive markets. This allows the results of a single production shoot to be used across markets, allowing a cost saving. On a subjective level, the direction in which a person is looking or a car appears to be travelling may be regarded as important. When placing a picture on a page of text, it is usual for depictions of people to face into the text, rather than off the page; thus, when compositing a page, a picture may be flopped so it may be placed either side of a column of text.
Use in art
Cultural considerations come into play — a picture of a person eating with their left hand may be flopped for publication in a Muslim publication, due to the strong taboo against eating with the left hand in Muslim society. Similarly, Vincent van Gogh took the trouble to etch some of his originals in mirror-reversed form so that when printed, people in the image would appear, correctly, as right-handed.
An example of flopping is the use of Joseph Edward Southall’s painting Fishermen and Boat as part of the art associated with Kate Bush’s album Aerial. The picture is flopped, and the name “AERIAL” added to the boat.
A common movie blooper is a flopped image, usually and erroneously called “flipped images”. Flopped images are common because they can be used to correct continuity errors between shots and are hard to see without extensive examination, whereas flipped images are very obvious. Examples of these can be found on several movie blooper sites.
One of the most famous flopped images is this picture of Billy the Kid carrying a Model 1873 Winchester rifle and a pistol belt with the pistol on his left. This led people to believe he was left-handed, but it was later revealed to be a flopped image due to the cartridge loading gate on the rifle being on the wrong side.
In James Cameron’s “Titanic” movie, the scenes of the ship at Southampton Pier were shot flopped, and later reversed.
“Oh, don’t even talk to me about flopping”, groans Winslet … “It made me laugh when I saw sailors with ‘ENIL RATS ETIHW’ written across their hats.”