4 Ways To Use Symmetry For More Interesting Images


Symmetry is defined as “the quality of being made up of exactly similar parts facing each other or around an axis.” Or “correct or pleasing proportion of the parts of a thing.” Or “similarity or exact correspondence between different things.”

The fact that symmetry provides a sense of balance and harmony is primarily why humans are drawn to this particular geometric characteristic.

Now that you know the potential visual impact that symmetry delivers, here are 4 easy yet effective ways to incorporate symmetry into your photos.

Horizontal Symmetry

Horizontal symmetry lends itself perfectly to scenes in which a body of water is present. Taking a cue from the rule of thirds, create an imaginary line across the frame (upper or lower third or in the center).

Your subject will appear on one side of the line, and the reflection will appear on the other.

Keep in mind that this reflective symmetry is simply a kind of horizontal symmetry. There are many ways to achieve horizontal symmetry that doesn’t involve a reflection, but the basic principle of having identical (or similar) objects on either side of a horizontal axis remain.

Photo by Jackson Jost

Vertical Symmetry

Buildings, roads and columns are fantastic facilitators of vertical symmetry.

In practical terms, vertical symmetry is probably a bit simpler than horizontal symmetry, as you’re usually looking to just split the frame in half from top to bottom and have each side “match.”

This is a commonly used technique with architectural elements, but vertical symmetry can be applied to just about anything, including landscapes, still life and group portraits.

Photo by Khara Woods

Radial Symmetry

This refers to anything that radiates outward from a central point — water ripples, the spokes of a bike tire, domes, succulent plants, etc.

Radial symmetry tends to invoke a sense of spiraling or inward/outward motion. So, in addition to the balance created by the overall symmetry, you can also play to the viewer’s perception of movement.

Photo by Erol Ahmed

Adding An Element

Symmetry works well in a wide range of applications, but it’s especially easy to use when patterns are present. Patterns are all around us, both human-made and nature-made. While we have focused up to this point on merely establishing symmetry, I should mention that another way of working with symmetry is to break it.

Breaking symmetry isn’t about distractions, as some might think, but about introducing tension via a strong point of interest.

In the photo below, the four black spaces interrupt the repetition of all the green spaces. In artistic terms, it’s a welcome interruption that helps establish greater visual interest in the image.

Photo by Andrew Ridley

Final Thoughts

Taken on its own, symmetry is a simple concept that’s relatively easy to use in a photo. But to use it well, to use it to create unique and captivating images takes time, practice and experimentation.

But while you’re busy nailing down the different ways to incorporate symmetry into your work, don’t forget about overall composition.

Basic composition guidelines still have a function. Indeed, the joining of symmetry and the rule of thirds or filling the frame, for instance, has the potential to lead to the most visually arresting images you’ll ever make.

Further Reading

About Author

Jason Little is a photographer, author and stock shooter. You can see Jason’s photography on his Website or his Instagram feed.

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