8. Symmetry

Another technique to have in mind when we compose: symmetry. I have a question for you: Is the world perfect?

The world that we photograph isn’t perfect, nor is our perception of things. So it hardly ever makes sense to compose the elements in a photo symmetrically, because the result won’t be genuine.

In a way, the Rule of Thirds and the Rule of the Horizon Line already manage to cancel out symmetry by distributing the components of a photo in an asymmetrical way. But we can look for other kinds of asymmetry.

For example, using an odd number of components in a photograph can increase interest precisely because it eludes symmetry. Let’s imagine a photograph where the theme is flowers. If we choose to have a pair of flowers or 4 flowers appear in the photograph, it will attract more attention and will make us wonder, mistakenly, why there is a pair or two pairs of flowers in the photo. On the other hand, if we use an odd number, our perception of the odd number as an imperfect number will make the number of flowers go unnoticed more and will bring us closer to the theme of the photograph: in this case, simply flowers.

Then again, if we want to express artificialness, perfection or order, looking for symmetrical compositions in shapes or in numbered pairs will help reinforce these ideas. However, trying to convey symmetry in a photograph will mean that we have to be stricter in our technique, because the technique used in the photograph makes up part of it. Displaying symmetry is a way of reflecting perfection, and as such should be represented in the whole creation of the photo, including technique.


Example 1 Asymmetry

Companys d habitacio Lluis Ribes i Portillo

"Companys d'habitació", Boixols (2006)

This photo was taken in an old country house in a valley in the region of Pallars Jussá, Catalonia. It’s a country house used for recreation, where there are many souvenirs of previous tenants, like these two photos and the little basket that are on the wall. This example uses asymmetry in the composition with the random position of the items. This, together with the presence of an odd number of items, reinforces the idea of imperfection, which is to say reality, and a visual reminder of the everyday life that lies hidden within walls.

Example 1 Symmetry

British Museum Great Court Lluis Ribes i Portillo

"British Museum Great Court", Londres (2009)

2009, I am visiting London with my friends. One of the trips we take is to the British Museum where there is a marvelous cupola designed by Colin St John Wilson and later built by the firm Foster and Partners. On the ground floor is a small room just in the center. For me, this architecture inspires perfection and human control and reminds me of architectural blueprints where they measure everything down to the last millimeter. For that reason, when I took the photo I tried to make the composition as symmetrical as possible in order to try to express these feelings.

Tutorial developed by Lluís Ribes i Portillo. This work is under license Creative Commons Reconocimiento-NoComercial 3.0 Unported