Instagram Images Reversed: Why?

Here’s why Instagram images are reversed or mirrored:

It’s important to clarify that not all images are mirrored or reversed on Instagram.

There are plenty of cases where they are reversed, but it doesn’t always happen.

Most commonly, they reverse because of selfie software that involves flipping images automatically, but people can intentionally reverse photos too.

So if you want to learn all about why images on Instagram appear to have been taken in a mirror, then this article is for you.

Let’s jump right into it!

Reversed Instagram Images: Why? (Everything to Know)

What Are Instagram Images?

Hands holding phone and taking photo flowers flat lay

It seems kind of obvious, right?

Images are the pictures on Instagram?

Well, that’s true, but there are technical aspects of this that are worth discussing.

On that technical level, anything on Instagram that isn’t just words is an image.

That includes logos, paint images, photographs, and all kinds of things.

For the most part, not all images are reversed on Instagram.

This question really, specifically, is about photos that are uploaded by users.

Potentially, we could have a discussion about all Instagram images, but that could spiral pretty quickly and turn into an incredibly long thing.

For the sake of preserving your time today, I’m going to narrow the focus and only talk about photos on Instagram.

Even more to the point, I’m only going to discuss user-uploaded photos.

Anything that is put there by Instagram as a company isn’t being considered here.

Are Instagram Images Reversed?

Two cheerful girls with cocktails making selfie

Now that we’ve narrowed the topic a little, let’s really get into it. 

Are Instagram photos reversed?

The simple answer is, sometimes.

This is definitely a thing that can and does happen, but it’s not universal.

In fact, it’s really hard to say if you would see more or fewer reversed images in total. 

Fortunately, we don’t need an exact count of how many Instagram photos have been reversed or mirrored.

It’s not necessary.

When I show you how and why it happens, everything will shake out nicely.

Really, it’s a simple technology thing that can reverse an image, and it can be done intentionally or unintentionally, and both actually make a lot of sense in this context.

How Are Instagram Images Reversed?

Smiling young caucasian girl sits in cafe drinking coffee and uploading images

So, how are the images reversed?

To explain that, I have to talk a little bit about how digital imaging works.

When you take a picture with a modern, digital camera (or phone), what you’re really doing is telling a computer system to create a digital description of the image that it sees.

Then, when you view the picture that you took, a display screen is just following a set of instructions to recreate the image.

At a technical level, the digital picture really is just telling the pixels what they are supposed to do (for anyone who doesn’t know, a pixel is any individual light that is part of a digital screen).

When you want to flip an image, then all you have to do is add a few instructions in the software that reverse the order that the pixels light up.

Compared to the overall description of the photo, the instructions to flip it are rather simple.

Looking at this another way, your digital picture is really just a math recipe for what the pixels have to do to create the image.

So, you can add one or two steps to that recipe, and it will flip everything.

Why Are Instagram Images Reversed? (3 Reasons)

why are instagram images revrsed

Clearly, reversing an image is pretty easy from a software standpoint.

We’ve also established that this does happen with Instagram, and I’ve hinted that it’s a mix of intentional and unintentional actions.

There’s really only one question left to ask.

Why are the images flipped?

There are a few underlying reasons behind this behavior (both intentional and unintentional), and I’m going to walk you through both.

We’ll cover a little more about how technology works, and we’ll even brush up against a little psychology.

It should be fun.

#1 Camera Defaults

pretty brunette taking a selfie

I said earlier that selfies are flipped more than other types of pictures, and the reason behind that is buried in the default settings of modern cameras.

If you have the freedom, you can try an experiment.

Take your phone right now and put it in selfie mode.

You should be able to see your own face.

Now, what does that image look like (you don’t even have to snap a photo)? 

Does it look like how other people see you?

Is it oriented the way it would be if a professional photographer was taking snapshots of you?

Or, does it look like a mirror?

In the vast majority of cases, it looks like a mirror.

Your phone is mirroring the image that it sees, and this is intentional.

In fact, it’s for your benefit.

The thing is, if you’re taking a selfie, the assumption is that you are taking a photo of yourself.

So, phone manufacturers realized a while ago that people are used to seeing themselves in a mirror.

In case you weren’t aware, mirrors actually reverse images. 

It’s easy to see that in action.

Write something on a piece of paper and then hold it up to the mirror.

The letters are all backward.

In fact, we call it mirror imaging because mirrors have been doing this for thousands of years.

It’s how they work.

Getting back to the real point here, you are accustomed to how you look in a mirror—largely because you can’t pull your eyes out of your head and look at yourself the way you do other people.

Because of that familiarity, it’s actually easier for you to take a selfie that you like if the camera mirrors the image for you.

It’s all about that familiarity, and it’s a decision rooted purely in psychology.

Here’s the thing.

If you upload a selfie to Instagram, and nothing is done to change that image, then you are uploading a mirrored picture.

That’s how it works.

If you’re adept at noticing mirrored images, then you might notice that lots of selfies on Instagram are reversed.

It’s not actually Instagram doing the thing.

The cameras do it to take the picture.

#2 Data Scrubbing

IT worker developing new software on computer

But, that’s not actually the limit of this whole thing.

Maybe you don’t notice mirrored images very easily.

Maybe, instead, you took a selfie, uploaded it to Instagram, and then noticed that the Instagram version is reversed compared to the original.

You certainly didn’t flip the image yourself, so what happened?

This is the other half of the selfie equation.

When you upload a picture to Instagram, you’re giving it the digital instructions that were recorded by your camera (or phone).

What you might not know is that these instructions contain a bunch of extra information that has nothing to do with how the pixels should light up.

This extra information includes stuff known as metadata, and that can include your location when the picture was taken, the time and date when it was taken, what kind of camera was used, and a ton of different little details.

Instagram has made it a rule to scrub this extra data whenever you upload a picture.

It’s not an option that you can toggle on and off either.

Instagram scrubs metadata every time you upload a photo.

They do this as part of their privacy policy.

A lot of people don’t know that metadata is there, and they might not realize that strangers on the internet could find them from that metadata.

So, Instagram always removes that data.

Then, in your post, if you want to manually include any of that data, you can.

You can voluntarily geotag a photo, but this will never happen by default.

You can tell people when you took it and how, but again, it’s not automatically included.

What does that have to do with flipping images?

Well, every camera uses its own software, and that software decides how images are flipped.

Like I said before, the flipping instructions are pretty simple, so they can be included in different parts of the image file.

In other words, it’s possible that the instructions to mirror your selfie are included in the data that Instagram automatically scrubs.

Whether or not this is the case depends on the camera and how it flips your selfies.

Because of that, you’ll find a complete random mix on Instagram. Some selfies are flipped.

Others aren’t.

It all depends on the specifics of the software involved.

#3 Intentional Flips

Woman Dialing Number, Using Cell Phone On Beach. Mobile Communic

Lastly, we need to cover cases where images are mirrored intentionally.

You can edit pictures in Instagram before you upload them.

That includes flipping images.

Some people reverse images during this step on purpose.

It’s just a matter of preferring one orientation over another and then going with it.

Because of this, you might see plenty of non-selfies that are still mirrored on the internet.

Typically, this won’t be due to any automated software.

Instead, people are simply choosing to edit their photos in this way.

The end result is that it’s an absolute hodge podge of results across the platform.

And a final note, you can edit photos outside of Instagram too.

So, if you reverse an image in your editor before you upload it to Instagram, then it will still be reversed on the site.

Technically, there’s a possibility that Instagram could scrub those instructions and flip the image back, but the app is pretty well calibrated these days to work nicely with the most commonly used photo editors around.

So, it’s not usually a problem.