Symmetry, balance, and equilibrium are all things we humans generally strive for and appreciate in many different areas of life. Achieving symmetry in photography is no different, photographs with balance are visually appealing and striking because of their symmetry. In this article, I’ll outline the ways and benefits of incorporating symmetry and balance in your photos.
We tend to think of photographs as objective items that record a snapshot of reality and as a result, assign them more truth than perhaps they deserve as even the very composition of a photograph can influence our feelings toward it. This is hugely important when considering how to frame a shot for instance a symmetrical image is appealing whereas a photograph with imbalance can cause unease in certain cases. It’s more normal for symmetrical photos to be appealing and this is what we’ll be looking at in the following points.
1 – Precision
For symmetry to be achieved correctly it does need to be accurate and precise. It’s unavoidably in symmetry’s nature that the resulting shots need to be exact for the effect to work and it’s very easy for us to perceive just the slightest misalignment so in order to avoid this, prepare the shot meticulously. Ensure the position of your camera is in the right spot to achieve harmony in the frame. Thankfully a lot of tinkering can be done in post-production these days but careful setup beforehand reduces the time spent on editing.
Photo by Longreach
Highlighting balance in architecture or man-made structures is a great place to find and emphasize the symmetry that already exists. The above image shows this perfectly as the lines made by the bridge intersect the frame with mathematical precision. This photo is a great example of both vertical and horizontal symmetry. It works on both axes thanks to the water which reflects the bridge beautifully. This also separates the two shades of light, right and left which adds a pleasing contrast to the overall image.
2 – Pattern
Creating symmetry in photography is basically like creating a pattern in many ways; patterns repeat themselves over and over thereby creating symmetry along the way. When framing your shot, think about the possible patterns that you’re making and if they create harmony. Finding patterns in nature is another aspect to consider in achieving symmetry; objects such as snowflakes reveal perfect symmetry when viewed through a microscope. Each flake is a unique symmetrical pattern that is pleasing to see no doubt but patterns can appear in many more areas of nature.
Plants are great examples of patterns in nature and we can see their symmetry very clearly in many structures. Certain flowers such as the one below exhibit repeating petal patterns and so create amazing symmetry throughout. The photographer has highlighted the flower by centering it perfectly in the middle of the frame.
Photo by Kristi Decourcy
Patterns can also be found in many man-made objects, especially within contemporary architecture which in many cases mimics the patterns found in nature! So there’s also potential for experimenting and discovery when it comes to photographing symmetry.
3 – Reflection
Achieving horizontal symmetry is also possible when using reflections and in particular, off of water surfaces. This method of photography can recreate balance and harmony in a creative and often stunning way. Of course, social media sites are inundated with rain puddle reflections of cities and similar scenes which is certainly pleasant for a time but by now is quite overdone. Below I’ve selected a fantastic example of why symmetry in reflection is so appealing. This image offers a lovely reflection of the bird flying low over the water, giving us a great example of horizontal symmetry. Again the framing is so important to get the bird exactly in the middle of the horizontal axis to give such a pleasing example of symmetry.
Of course, just by looking at the photo, it’s clear that it’s not such precise symmetry as the first two examples I gave which were more ‘pure’ symmetry along all axes as well as their creation of patterns. However, the below image is a great image that highlights were ‘soft’ symmetry can be used to emphasize and highlight the subject of the shot, in this case, a low-flying bird contrasted wonderfully against its background.
Photo by Stanley Zimny
4 – Repetition
Much like creating patterns and reflections, constructing repetition in the image is another means of symmetry. As we’ve seen with all of the above examples, symmetry features repetition heavily and by incorporating it in creative ways, we can achieve visually harmonious photography. The image below is a great example of this.
Photo by Doug Racine
The photographer has caught a serendipitous moment of two birds in sync with one another. This creates the illusion of the bird being repeated, perhaps artificially, in post-production whereas actually it’s just a carefully composed and timed snapshot of two separate birds. This also draws a direct comparison with the bird and its reflection in the water; two great examples of symmetry being achieved in different ways.
Capturing symmetry by repetition is quite tricky and at times down to pure good luck but, as evinced, can create wonderfully pleasing images. It’s good practice to try and train your photographer’s eye to notice patterns and repetition in order to create symmetry and balance.
As always, practice makes perfect so if you’ve learned anything from these tips, try and incorporate them into your next shoot! Good luck and have fun.
Author Bio: Rob Holder is the Director of Fable Studios, a video production agency in Bristol, UK