Use the Basic Human Aesthetic of Symmetry to Improve Your Composition

Symmetry is a basic aesthetic that you can use to greatly improve your composition and attention of the photo. In this article, I dive into different ways you can use symmetry in your photos.

From a geometric point of view, symmetry occurs when an object or shape can be divided into two or more identical pieces, which are arranged in an organized fashion. To human perception, symmetry gives a sense of harmonious and beautiful proportion and balance. As such, it can be used in your photos to provoke such feelings in the viewer.

In my latest video, I visit a few different locations along the ring road in Iceland, where you can get some beautiful reflections of the different mountains. In the first example, I visit the mountain Fellsfjall in Eastern Iceland, a location I have wanted to photograph for a long time, where I used a small pond next to the road to create a reflection of the mountain. I had some low hanging fog that added a lot of atmosphere and worked great to separate myself from the mountain. The pond had a layer of ice underneath the water’s surface but the reflection comes forth clearly. The fog and moody sky adds to an atmospheric and bleak scene while the reflection creates harmony and balance. These elements together creates a calm and ethereal scene.

A little longer up the road towards east, you will find this beautiful scene with the mountain Kálfafellstindur. Here a few rounded moss tufts peaked out of the water to create an interesting foreground. I would argue your eye goes to the mountain first as the reflection and high contrast area draws you in. The foreground creates depth, adds interest and context to the scene and as for the eye not to fall out the bottom. The foreground also helps to break up the scene into different sections, as for the reflection not to be the only interest of the photo.

A famous location for symmetry in Iceland is Stokksnes. Here the receding waves on a long, flat beach leaves a few millimeters of water behind to make an almost perfect natural mirror. With a good wide-angle lens, some preparation and a bit of luck it is possible to catch a mirrored photos of the northern lights surrounding the mountains. Harmonious, strong and beautiful.

Symmetry does not have to only be mirrored reflections. It can also be between shapes such as the example below. Here you see the clear symmetry between the triangular shape of the mountain Kirkjufell and the grass in front.

In the examples above, the symmetry occurs in the horizontal axis, but it can also occur in the vertical axis. Because of the circular (or half circular) shape, a rainbow is symmetrical around the vertical axis. If you manage to photograph such a rainbow, it is a strong visual element. In this example, I was at the right place at the right time having a central road lead into the photo and the rainbow.

An entire location can also be symmetrical. The famous Aldeyjarfoss in Iceland is such an example. Here we have the waterfall straight in the middle falling into an elliptically shaped pond (from the viewer’s perspective). Despite the raw environment, it makes for a harmonious and beautiful photo.

Where else can we find symmetry in nature? Is symmetry something you aim for in your photography? Check out the video above and let me know your thoughts.

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7 Comments

Hans Gunnar Aslaksen's picture

Symmetry works so well! Great piece Mads 👍🏻

Aritz Atela's picture

Educational, beautiful with truly helpful tips. Thanks for sharing it Mads :)

Mads Peter Iversen's picture

You're welcome, Aritz, glad you liked it :)

Kai Hornung's picture

Always a great way to compose

Mads Peter Iversen's picture

Thanks a lot, Kai :)

Mikkel Beiter's picture

Another great read and I remember that double rainbow from the Faroes :D