This is the Palm House – the world’s most important surviving Victorian glass and iron structure. At the time I was visiting my daughter Caithlin in London and the Kew Gardens were on my list. As luck or providence would have it, there was a light show towards evening and the building was being lit with every colour of the rainbow. Architecture is a classic field to explore as a photographer keen on showing symmetry in design.
ISO 100 I 105mm l f8,0 I 1/13 sec
Symmetry in Photography
When you deliberately use some form of symmetry in your photography, you will increase the interest level tenfold and produce work that is far more harmonious and compositionally balanced. This is not always possible or even desired, yet the results will often speak for themselves.
Symmetry in photography occurs when you deliberately frame an image that has two similar sides. The sides can be divided horizontally, vertically or diagonally. The line that divides the two sides can be real (as in the case of a visible horizon) or implied. This “line” or division can also be one that becomes intertwined in the overall composition.
Glimpses into Duality
The human eye is fond of symmetry. Humans and animals are themselves symmetrical to a degree, and an implied vertical line down the center of our form will show this. This extends to the world of nature as well, this duality of design is found everywhere on this planet.
Duality is deeply embedded in human consciousness. If you have ever heard the expression, “There are always two sides to every story,” then you will know that this duality of being’s reach is deeper than mere appearance. There is the “ying and yang” (dark/bright) philosophy in Chinese tradition; the belief that two seemingly contradictory forces may actually be complementary and restore balance to our thought life.
Perhaps these glimpses into duality will lead us to understand why an image that has elements of symmetry is so attractive.
The following photographs will illustrate the point and I will attempt to define the type of symmetry in them:
For a photographer, viewing the famous penguins on Boulders Beach on the False Bay Coast (South Africa) can be frustrating. For one thing, you will share the viewing platforms with hundreds of tourists and the platforms are quite high up. The only real option is to use a longer focal length as this will tend to level out the sense of height. The other frustrating thing is that the later opening hours mean that the light is not always at its best. The glare from the white sands does not help matters. I decided that a conversion to monochrome was called for – and also a heavy vignette on the corners. The vignette is used to pull the eyes into the center of the image.
The intertwined symmetry appealed to me; these little waddling creatures are so like humans and one is able to examine all sorts of symmetries created by the way they relate to one another.
ISO 800 I 370mm I f5,6 I 1/8000 sec
Two concrete balls on top of gateposts in the old gardens of the Groote Constantia Wine Estates (South Africa). These gates were constructed in 1685 and as I photographed them, I knew that their shapes would make for good juxtaposed symmetry as I carefully framed them. How easily we forget that little touches like placing spheres on top of the columns make for a better visual experience. Well done to those early pioneers for trying to make life easier for a photographer 332 years later.
ISO 500 I 105mm I f/7,1 I 1/640 sec
It will often add a touch of tension to an image when the symmetry is not perfect, and this is a good thing. Here the security barbed lacing is broken on the left, and the center piece is not aligned exactly in the middle. To set out to misalign what could have been exact adds to the creative feel.
ISO 100 I 105mm I f6,3 I 1/80 sec
As humans and animals. our faces show off symmetry wonderfully, and the knowledge that no two sides are exactly the same doesn’t detract but adds to the creativity. Perfection in itself can never be creative; it’s the slight misalignment, the different colours in the eyes, the things that are slightly off center, that grab our attention and intrigue us. Looking for perfection in our photography will eventually exhaust you and your viewers; rather look for imperfection and exploit that.
Never try to become perfect because that will be the beginning of the end for you.
ISO 100 I 105mm I f6,3 I 1/125 sec
Where symmetry is portrayed in only one of the elements in an image, that image becomes a powerful visual tug for the eyes to explore.
ISO 1600 I 105mm I . f4,0 I 1/100 sec
That’s all for now.
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I hope you see loads of symmetry in your life,
Charles the Coach.