Symmetry In Photography: A Guide

Last Updated on September 3, 2016 by Susheel Chandradhas

Symmetry in Photography is an extremely strong compositional tool that can be used to draw the attention of your viewers. It declutters the image, and makes them visually simple, yet intriguing.

Beyond Photo Tips has a running project about SYMMETRY; and you’re welcome to join us in its exploration.

What is Symmetry?

Does it just mean a ‘reflection’ of what you see on one side? There’s actually a lot more than just that.

Now, symmetry has a number of definitions in various fields: in mathematics, physics, geometry and aesthetics. So, let’s keep it simple. We’ll deal with the types of symmetry that you are likely to see in photographs. Often the symmetry that you see is intentional and carefully planned, but often enough it is just a happy coincidence. This is because symmetry is inherent in everything around us. Once you know a little more about symmetry, you will also be able to make good use of it in your composition.

4 Kinds of Symmetry in Daily Life

The kind of symmetry that we’re most accustomed to is “Reflection”. Along with reflection, the four kinds of symmetry that we most commonly deal with are:

  1. Reflection Symmetry
  2. Rotational Symmetry
  3. Translational Symmetry
  4. Glide Reflection Symmetry

Now, let’s see how we can use these four types of symmetry in photography.

1. Reflection Symmetry

Three on the ride  (Reflection Symmetry)
Photo By: Jsome1

Reflection is what you see in a mirror. The regular layman’s understanding of the word reflection… If a line were drawn (usually vertically) through the axis of the symmetry, each feature or point on one side would be equally distant on the other side of the axis. Usually in photography, this means that the left and right halves of the image are almost the same.

2. Rotational Symmetry

Example for rotational symmetry
Photo By: Retinafunk
Another example for rotational symmetry in photography. radial lines out of a lantern
Photo By: cotaro70s

Rotational Symmetry is what you see when a shape or pattern is rotated around a point (also called the origin). To observe it, take a look at earthen pottery or even just a circular plate.

3. Translational Symmetry

Translational symmetry
Photo By: *Solar ikon*
stairs (tv-tower)
Photo By: POSITiv
* Diamond Pattern Satin Fabric Texture *
Photo By: pareeerica

Translational Symmetry is simple to show, but a little complicated to explain. It is as if an object has been slid along a plane. It is not flipped, or rotated about an axis; rather it is as if a duplicate of the object has been created. Try to find objects that look like this, or to use such a concept in your composition.

4. Glide Reflection Symmetry

I Went Out Walking...
Photo By: Matt McGee
Footsteps In Sand
Photo By:  Ryan Holst

A good example of Glide Reflection Symmetry are animal tracks, or human footprints in sand. They are seemingly reflected, but also displaced along the axis.

Wikipedia lists other interesting forms of symmetry, and I encourage you to visit the page for more descriptive explanations. I find Scale Symmetry and Fractals to be of particular interest, but fractals are an entirely different topic for us to explore and probably isn’t so easy to visualise in composition as ‘symmetry’ (Hint: Golden section is based on fractals).

Now, join in with us and try your hand in using symmetry in photography. Take a look at the Symmetry Photo Project page, and join us.

As always, feel free to leave a comment and let me know if you found this article useful.

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