Discover the beauty of symmetry in photography and learn how to create stunning shots with these top tips
Symmetry is considered to be one of the ultimate signs of beauty. Whether it’s a person’s face, a beautiful object or a scene reflected in water, it’s a visual that never fails to captivate. As photographers we can take advantage of this to create bold compositions and eye-catching images.
Here we’ll explore a host of ways to do so, plus a few editing tricks for creating your own symmetry…
1 Seek out symmetry
Once you start looking for symmetry you can find it all around. Many objects like cars and planes have a symmetrical front-on view, so frame up from this angle for a strong composition. Buildings are often perfectly symmetrical too, so you can make use of this for striking architectural photography. Even around the home you can find all sorts of perfect symmetry, from kitchen utensils to flowers in the garden.
2 Reflections in water
Reflections in water can result in beautiful symmetrical scenes. Puddles, ponds and lakes are all ideal for this, or anywhere where the water is not flowing too fast, and where the wind isn’t strong enough to make a choppy surface. A low angle is often best - especially for puddles like this - as this brings the camera in close to the water to emphasise the reflection.
3 Look for lone trees
When seeking out symmetrical reflections in landscapes look for details and objects that can be isolated from their surroundings. One subject that always works well is a lone tree. A bold, singular subject like this draws the eye and creates a point of interest in the scene.
4 Window of opportunity
Street windows can help you create eye-catching symmetrical images, especially if you hold the camera right up to the surface of the glass and shoot along the pane. Reflections in windows tend to come out stronger when the area being reflected is brighter than the area behind the window. Think of a patch of bright sunlight on one side of the street, with the windows on the other side in shade. Water reflections are similar, which is why puddles on dark concrete are great for reflecting sun-drenched scenes beyond.
5 Get underneath, or on top
By placing the camera directly underneath a landmark like a pier, a bridge, or a set of pylons, we can shoot along the line of the object for stunning architectural symmetry. Similarly, positioning yourself directly in the centre of a bold symmetrical line like a road or a walkway can create a strong composition with leading lines converging in the distance.
6 Look up
Sometimes it takes a different viewpoint to find symmetry in our surroundings. Buildings and courtyards will often form interesting symmetrical shapes when viewed from directly below, so remember to look up. Similarly, buildings and landmarks can be reduced to bold symmetrical shapes when captured from directly above with a drone or from a high vantage point.
7 A light at the end of the tunnel
Tunnels, corridors and underpasses are ideal for symmetrical photos, as they often have uniform walls that converge at a point in the distance. Wait for a person to appear in the perfect spot at the end of the tunnel to give your symmetrical scene a point of interest.
8 Broken symmetry
If you can find a symmetrical scene with a single point of interest that breaks up the otherwise mirror image then this can make for a great composition. Think uniform apartment blocks with a person looking out of a single open window, a symmetrical face with a single earring, a bee on a perfect sunflower.
9 Shoot double exposures
Many cameras feature a double exposure mode that can be used for all sorts of creative effects, including symmetrical abstracts. Simply engage the mode and take a shot of an object with a strong edge, like the outline of a building against the sky. Then flip the camera 180 degrees, line up the scene (the camera may give you a helpful preview of the effect to help you compose) and take a second shot to blend with the first. Of course, you can also do this in Photoshop or Affinity Photo with the Screen Blend Mode.
10 Smoky symmetry
Here’s a fun Photoshop technique that takes the idea of flipping images one step further. You’ll need a few smoke images against black. Open one into Photoshop, copy it (Cmd/Ctrl+J) then flip it (Edit > Free Transform > Flip Horizontal). Change the layer blend mode to Lighten, then grab the Move tool and drag it to one side to create a symmetrical smoky shape (you might need to crop outwards for extra space). Bring in other smoke images and repeat the process. You can use layer masks to fine-tune what is visible and the Liquify filter to re-shape layers. Build up the effect to create an eerily symmetrical bat-like shape, or any other figure that springs to mind.
- AuthorJames Paterson
James has been a professional photographer and award-winning journalist for the past 15 years. He is editor of Practical Photoshop magazine and contributes to leading photography publications worldwide.View all articles