Why is it always "rotate right" for images and not "rotate left"?
April 15, 2020 5:36 PM   Subscribe

Every app that I can think of that has a rotate button always orients the rotation clockwise. However, whenever I upload a photo that needs rotating, it always requires three clicks. It seems like it would make more sense to rotate left and require only one click from the user. Is there some kind of design thinking I'm overlooking here?

Is it just because we read left to right, so it's easiest to design rotation that way?

Or is it because I'm holding my camera upside-down somehow before photos need to be uploaded and reoriented? (unlikely)
posted by Roy Batty to Technology (15 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
In programs I use both are available, but rotate right seems to be default. Usually there is a little icon with an arrow to indicate the opposite direction, sort of like undo and redo buttons but more circular.
posted by AlexiaSky at 5:48 PM on April 15, 2020

I have exactly the same problem, and it is heartening to know that I'm not alone.

I suspect that I do something differently from most people; that when I turn my phone from portrait to landscape I do it in the opposite direction from what most people do. But I haven't put in the effort to fully investigate that. I'll be watching this thread closely to see if anyone has a better answer.

FWIW, on the Macintosh you can hold down the Option key to change the direction of rotation. I don't know if there's similar functionality on Windows. Of course, that doesn't work on phones.
posted by Winnie the Proust at 6:31 PM on April 15, 2020 [1 favorite]

Do you normally hold your phone in your left or right hand? I hold it in my left, rotate the phone counterclockwise to take a landscape photo. When it doesn’t register the orientation right, I always have the same complaint about the rotate icon. So many damn steps!
posted by oxisos at 6:36 PM on April 15, 2020

always orients the rotation clockwise.

Maybe for the geeks that write the programs, their first thought about rotation involves a clock hand rotating.
posted by sebastienbailard at 6:37 PM on April 15, 2020 [4 favorites]

For me, the rotation setting is correct - it takes one click for me to rotate photos. So when I turn my phone to take pictures (Android, right handed), I must turn it in the direction that developers anticipate people doing.
posted by lollusc at 8:01 PM on April 15, 2020 [2 favorites]

The software tools for rotating/editing photos on a computer have been around for decades, much longer than cell phones. People turn cell phones to the left more because...um...it's easier? (I just tried it both ways..I can't really tell) Probably because it leaves the button on the right. (Back when cell phones had buttons lol)
posted by sexyrobot at 8:24 PM on April 15, 2020 [1 favorite]

Also, traditional cameras are already in a landscape orientation ...ie you're likelier to be holding it with 2 hands already and thus turning the camera left or right more randomly than a cell phone camera.
posted by sexyrobot at 8:28 PM on April 15, 2020

Humans on the whole are majority right-handed creatures. It's much easier to reach out with your palm facing down, grab something, and turn it clockwise up to 180°. Much harder to reach out palm facing up and turn anti-clockwise 180°. I think the muscles that do the rotation between the elbow and the wrist are stronger going in the clockwise direction. My 2¢ worth.
posted by zengargoyle at 10:42 PM on April 15, 2020

The default camera when software was being developed was the SLR. The "default" grip for that was right handed. I can't think of a single SLR with a left hand grip. This carried into P&S cameras that are pretty much also right handed. This is true before SLRs too: The Speed Graphic flash and handle was right handed. The Hasselblad grip is right handed. Actually I can't think of a single camera designed to be used with a single hand that isn't right handed (IE: the shutter button is always actuated by the right hand.)

When you are using a camera it is generally easier to rotate it such that it hangs from the grip hand (IE: right side of a right handed camera up) because the wrist remains straight and the geometry is generally more stable (think about any mass with a handle, it is almost always easier to hold that mass by hanging it from the handle rather than the inverse).

This is especially true in the case of SLRs or other cameras with a rear facing top mounted view finder where holding the camera grip up prevents the camera from squishing the nose of a right eyed person (70% of the population).

Cameras in cell phones are generally designed to be used two handed so this probably doesn't apply. Though if you have a book style case you'll end up rotating the camera the same direction as a right handed camera because that lets the cover (which is hinged on the left side) hang down so it blocks neither the lens nor the screen).

However this is all moot because all the images manipulated by early photo software was scanned from film. It's possible the first scanners by chance default orientation of input material required a right hand rotate to get the opposite of whatever the default output was.
posted by Mitheral at 11:03 PM on April 15, 2020 [3 favorites]

One sort of side-thought - check to see if there's a shortcut in your software that rotates counter-clockwise. Might be click with right mouse key, might be ctrl-left arrow, might be something else. (And I've always been of the understanding that it's primarily clockwise, with the alternate being counter-clockwise. I've never seen otherwise in the 25+ years of various graphic design software. I'd be inclined to blame Apple, because it was the early 90s on Macs that I first encountered it.)
posted by stormyteal at 11:21 PM on April 15, 2020

The main reason photo-editing software is configured this way is due to the fact that a camera (the non-phone kind ) would typically be rotated anticlockwise when taking a photo in portrait orientation. This is because almost every model of SLR, mirrorless, and point-and-shoot camera is right-handed grip, meaning the shutter button is positioned on the right side. So when you rotate the camera, the most comfortable and stable position would involve flexion of the right wrist (bent forward) rather than extension of the right wrist (bent backward).

A secondary reason is because most people are right-eyed -- that is, the right eye is dominant and it's the eye they would use to peer through the viewfinder. A right-eyed person would ordinarily rotate the camera anticlockwise so their face (and left eye) wouldn't be completely blocked by the camera body.

[on preview: Mitheral has a more complete answer!]
posted by theory at 11:23 PM on April 15, 2020

People turn cell phones to the left more because...um...it's easier?

The main reason is because a camera (the non-phone kind ) would typically be rotated anticlockwise when taking a photo in portrait orientation.

I'm confused by these comments. If I rotate my phone to the left to take a picture, I'm going to want to rotate the resulting image left, aren't I?
posted by aws17576 at 11:29 PM on April 15, 2020 [4 favorites]

Not an explanation but FWIW on Windows, irfanview is excellent and lets you rotate in either direction using the R and L keys.
posted by trig at 12:06 AM on April 16, 2020 [1 favorite]

Let's say a photo is taken in portrait orientation with an SLR by a photographer who rotates the camera in the usual way, which is anticlockwise (their right hand ending up on top). The negative is then scanned on a typical consumer flatbed scanner (configured to scan 35mm film strips). On most scanners that I've used, the resulting digital image would need to be rotated anticlockwise ("Rotate Left"). And sure enough, "Rotate Left" is the default rotation direction in both the Preview app and the Photos app in MacOS. Lightroom has separate commands for each direction.

As Mitheral pointed out, this is pretty much moot for digital photography because modern cameras and phones almost always recognize when they're being rotated and will automatically orient the image properly.

[And now I see that I completely misread the original question, sorry. I'd be curious which apps the OP is referring to.]
posted by theory at 12:24 AM on April 16, 2020

Posting in sympathy with OP. 9x out of 10 on my iPhone when I need to fix a photo, I need to rotate it three times to get it the right way up. Not only is it frustrating because the phone isn't capturing its orientation properly, it's frustrating because the UX doesn't streamline the fix. This is probably one of the highest friction/annoyance things with my phone, exceeded only by needing to tap an almost-always inconveniently placed onscreen button to capture the image (or awkwardly reach around to the volume button which will shake the camera). It's just ... fuck!
posted by seanmpuckett at 7:18 AM on April 16, 2020 [1 favorite]

« Older I'm moving with or without my employer. How do I...   |   What's the deal with the beds in Unorthodox? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.