Symmetry Photography: What to Know and How to Nail It
Symmetry is a significant element in art and finds its way into photography as a powerful composition tool. Incorporating symmetry into your photography is a great way to learn more about the underlying rules of composition and another layer of depth to your work. These tips and tricks to symmetry photography will get you acquainted with everything you need to know.
What is symmetrical photography?
A symmetrical photograph appears to have equal weight on each side of the photo. That is not to say that they must be mirror images, necessarily, as they can incorporate different elements within their side of the frame, but that each side is equally balanced when viewed together as a whole. When a photo is symmetrical or balanced, it instills the viewer with a sense of harmony.
Types of symmetry in photography
There are four main types of symmetry in photography, and mastering all four will train your eye to start seeing symmetry everywhere. From architecture to nature to art and beyond, symmetry is there and waiting to be harnessed.
Vertical symmetry is perhaps the most common example and involves splitting the image in half by drawing an imaginary line vertically through the middle of your photo. We see many examples of vertical symmetry in architecture—especially with subway escalators or the corners of modern buildings—and walking through a city is a great place to get started.
We can also find examples in still life photography, from a neat fruit bowl arrangement to a book open down the middle of your afternoon coffee date with a friend! You can even practice just by going around your house and seeing how many symmetry images you can find with the items you have on hand.
Like vertical symmetry, horizontal symmetry also includes drawing an invisible line through the middle of your image, this time doing so horizontally so that the top and bottom of the photo are in harmony. This type of symmetry is abundant in nature, such as a classic landscape example with mountains in the background, reflected in water in the foreground. Or a line of trees in the foreground with billowing clouds in the environment. As long as the bottom and top halves of the photo are balanced, it counts as horizontal symmetry.
Radial symmetry might feel a bit more advanced, as the image will be symmetrical around a central point rather than cutting the image into halves. Think of the arched dome of a cathedral, photographed from directly underneath. Also, imagine a flower from your garden or the graceful curve of a spiral staircase photographed from above. Radial symmetry can be found in nature and the human-made world and is an effective tool for drawing the viewer into the scene and guiding their eye around the frame in a circular motion.
Reflective symmetry is the repetition of the scene through another medium, be it a puddle, glass of wine, the window of a building, or any other reflective surface. While a body of water is the most obvious way to reflect an image, reflective symmetry should not be confused with horizontal symmetry. Reflective symmetry need not involve the entire scene in the reflection—like a mountain range reflected into a lake—but can instead be only a single building reflected in a puddle, with the rest o the skyline omitted.
You can capture symmetry photography with any camera, be it a professional DSLR or even just your cell phone. Using a tripod can help keep your horizon line steady, especially when shooting horizontal symmetry. If your tripod does not come with a bubble level, then a pocket one is a great way to ensure a straight horizon line.
Suppose you plan to shoot long-exposure photography, self-portraits, or any other photo where you need to take it from a distance. In that case, a remote or external shutter release cable is a great accessory to reduce camera vibrations and allow for greater control.
A wide-angle lens shooting symmetry in architecture is a great way to include as much of the building or other architectural detail as possible. This works exceptionally well when stationed at the base of a skyscraper. Stand on the corner of the building and aim your camera up. The distortion on the wide-angle lens will add to the visual interest of the image, widening the base and narrowing the top into almost a point.
You can capture symmetry with any lens, so don’t feel that your options are at all limited by what gear you have on hand. Drones are another great way to achieve symmetry photography. They can capture large symmetrical images like complex overpass systems, lanes of traffic, architectural designs, and natural features like rivers, lakes, and mountain ranges.
As we have mentioned, symmetry is easily found both in the natural and manufactured worlds. All you have to do is go out there and pay attention to buildings, plants, and objects around you.
Here are just a handful of examples of where you can look for symmetry:
- Under a dock or bridge
- Looking up through the canopy of trees
- In the woods
- On a path through a park or cemetery
- In between two buildings
- Macro shot of a leaf
- The outstretched wings of an eagle
- Ripples on a surface of water
- Reflection of a highway against a glass building
- Spokes of a wheel
- Front shot of the hull of a ship
- Interior of a cathedral
- Reflection of a bird flying over a river
- Self-portrait of yourself in a puddle
- Drone footage looking down
Symmetry is all around us, and once we start to look out for it, we see it everywhere we go. Symmetry has long been an essential element in classical art, which is why incorporating it into your photography will help you develop artistically. Symmetry creates balance, and balanced photos feel better to the viewer, even if they cannot articulate why.
With the basics of symmetry photography under our belts, let’s take a few moments to discuss another, more nuanced aspect of symmetry that will make your photos stand out. Remember that objects in your photos will have a certain weight associated with them. For example, two items of the same size will balance each other without issue. If one of the objects is smaller, then positioning a little farther away from the focal point will keep the feeling of balance, so keep this in mind when arranging still life pictures.
Another characteristic we need to remember in symmetry photography is color. Dark objects will appear to have more weight than lighter ones, which can make the composition of your photo feel off-balance, even if the things are the same size. In this case, a smaller dark object will still feel in balance with a larger, lighter object, as the two colors give each object a different perceived weight. Again, you can use this to help even out your still life arrangements.
The human eye loves symmetry!
Whether creating a still life composition or heading out into the real world to find symmetry, the options and opportunities are endless. Keep these tips and tricks in mind, and enjoy capturing symmetry photography wherever you go!