George washington photo inverted

Why Cameras Flip Images And How To Stop it

Photo licensed under public domain

Have you ever noticed that you look better in the mirror than you do in selfies? You’ve also noticed that left and right are inverted from the saved image and what you saw on the preview. How does this work, what is happening, and why?

On iPhones, Androids, and even some professional equipment, front cameras flip the image in selfie mode to mimic what your face looks like in a mirror. The picture is only reversed in the preview and switches back to normal after taking the photo. You can enable and disable mirrored mode in settings or flip the photo manually with the crop option.

Why use a mirror image anyway?

First things first, let’s straighten out the confusion. Some people think that photos get reversed after taking them and are normal in preview mode. It’s actually the opposite, the image you see on your phone’s preview is inverted, the flip after taking the picture is actually undoing the mirror effect. The photo in your library is correct. The reason most people think the preview looks better is because they’re used to seeing themselves in the mirror.

Reversed image preview and actual photo

Apple and Android know this, that’s why they included the feature, it’s a better user experience. Not to mention, it’s much easier to coordinate yourself looking if your phone is just like a mirror, which everyone is used to. If you actually want to preview the photo that’ll be saved in your library, raising your right hand would appear on the left side of the screen and that just looks unnatural. Now, we’re going to explain how to keep the reversed photo, and later, we’ll get into the psychology behind this.

Before that, let me explain how I know all of this. You can test out which photos are true and which are inverted by holding up a paper with text and trying to read it. If you can, the photo is normal, if you can’t the photo is mirrored. If you didn’t already know, you can’t read text in a mirror that easily.

How to stop the camera from flipping

As we’ve established, we’re not actually stopping our camera from flipping, we’re stopping it from flipping back. For an iPhone, open the Settings app, scroll down until you find “camera.” Click it and scroll down until you find the option called “mirror front camera.”

iPhone settings camera button

Turn this option on and your front camera photos should come out exactly how they look in the preview.

Mirror front camera option

To stop your camera from flipping on Android use the following video tutorial:

Apps that don’t flip the photo

Snapchat and VSCO are two great apps that don’t flip photos back while using the front camera. A selfie using either of these apps will look exactly as they do in the preview. The default camera app also has a built-in feature to reverse photos in the crop menu.

You can download Snapchat and VSCO on either the App Store or Google Play store.

How to flip a photo that was already taken

  1. Find the photo and click edit
Edit button

2. Click the crop button

Crop button

3. Click the invert button in the top left corner

(Invert button)

4. Click done

Done button

Now that you know how to flip your photos, We’re going to explore why some people do this and why you actually shouldn’t.

How do people see me in real life?

The way you see yourself in the mirror is not the way people see you in real life. The same thing goes for the preview on your phone. Technically, both your phone and the mirror are lying to you. Instead of using your phone’s preview, take an actual photo and look at it after. This gives you a sense of how you really look to others and not how your “mirror self” looks. This may come as a shock to some people but your mirror self looks pretty different from what you look like from an outside perspective. The majority of people prefer how they look in the mirror, a way other people never see you.

Why does my mirror image look better?

Abraham Lincoln inverted
Soerfm, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons – Modifications made, photo reversed

How is this possible? How is it that everyone on the internet is in agreement that they look better in the mirror over what they look like in photos? Would every person in the world look better if our vision was reversed? Surely this isn’t the case.

The reason we look better in the mirror is because that’s what we see every morning. Just by looking at something for an extended period of time, it eventually looks better to us. So you don’t need to worry, none of this stems from how we physically look, but rather, it’s all psychological. There’s no need to reverse your photos because it doesn’t make a difference to anyone but yourself, in fact, it probably looks worse to others for similar reasons. Also, it’s a more accurate representation of how you really look.

Why is my face so asymmetrical on camera?

Of course, there are some other aspects that lead us to look worse in photos that don’t have to do with whether the photo is mirrored or not. For one thing, the image quality of our phone is nowhere near what we see in real life. But the most important factor might have something to do with distortion.

Monkey face at different focal lengths

Perspective distortion can amplify the asymmetries of the face in a way that won’t happen in real life. This distortion can be caused by focal length, which is different in cameras than in our eyes. I really recommend you check out this gif demonstrating this type of distortion. I can’t embed it directly onto this post due to copyright reasons so I made my own version of the gif in Blender. Now, the monkey is perfectly symmetrical so you can’t really see how this plays into the amplification of asymmetries, but you still get the idea.

Just to clear one thing up, perspective distortion isn’t directly caused by focal length, rather it has a correlation. The direct cause is the distance from a subject In this gif, the focal length is proportional to the distance between the monkey and the camera. So the render taken with the focal length of 100mm is 10 times farther away from the one taken with the focal length of 10mm. Given the proportionality of the distance and focal length, it looks like the camera doesn’t move in each render but this is not the case.

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