Stronger Composition: Symmetry

Think about a butterfly’s wings – they’re the same on both sides, right? That’s symmetry in nature. Now lets imagine you’re taking a picture of your favorite toy or a beautiful flower, and you want it to look extra special. Try placing things so they match on both sides of your invisible line.

If you draw an invisible line right in the middle of your picture (vertical or horizontal), everything on one side should be like a twin or a reflection of everything on the other side. It’s like creating a perfect world of doubles. Symmetry makes your photo feel calm and balanced.

The rule of symmetry in photography is a compositional guideline that involves creating balance and harmony in an image by aligning elements along a central axis. Symmetry can be found in various forms, such as reflective symmetry (mirror image) or radial symmetry (circular balance).

Picture SKRC 2.1, Rule of Symmetry

This rule is directly connected with human biology. Particularly, our brain has a natural affinity for symmetry, and this preference is believed to be rooted in both evolutionary and cognitive factors.

Evolutionary Advantage:
Evolutionary psychologists propose that the preference for symmetry may have evolved because symmetrical features are often associated with good health and genetic fitness. In the animal kingdom, asymmetry can be a sign of developmental issues or genetic abnormalities. Therefore, individuals with more symmetrical features may be perceived as healthier and more likely to pass on robust genes to their offspring. Over time, this preference for symmetry may have become ingrained in human psychology.

Cognitive Efficiency:
Symmetrical patterns are often simpler and more regular than asymmetrical ones. The human brain tends to process and recognize familiar, regular patterns more quickly and efficiently. Symmetry provides a sense of order and predictability, making it easier for the brain to process visual information. This cognitive efficiency may contribute to the aesthetic appeal of symmetrical designs.

Aesthetic Pleasure:
The brain also experiences a sense of pleasure and aesthetic satisfaction when encountering symmetrical patterns. This response is evident in various forms of art, architecture, and design. Symmetry can create a feeling of balance and harmony, which is pleasing to the human eye and contributes to a positive emotional response.

Neurological Processing:
Studies (1, 2) using brain imaging techniques such as fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) have shown that the brain responds differently to symmetrical and asymmetrical stimuli. Symmetrical patterns may activate certain areas of the brain associated with reward and positive emotions.

Cultural and Environmental Influences:
While there may be some universal aspects to the preference for symmetry, cultural and environmental factors also play a role. Different cultures may have varying preferences for symmetry based on artistic traditions, historical influences, and aesthetic norms (for example, African Textile Designs, Ancient Chinese Calligraphy and Art, Baroque Architecture in Europe, Mesoamerican Art and Murals, Armenian Carpet Patterns etc).

In the picture SKRC 2.1 you can see an example of symmetrical composition. Meanwhile the SKRC 2.2 is an example of how the composition can’t be considered a symmetry as the background, particularly the building, appears differently on the right and left sides of the central axis.

Picture SKRC 2.2, Rule of Symmetry (Correct)Picture SKRC 2.3, Rule of Symmetry (Incorrect)

The photos published on this page are a matter of copyright.
Photo credits to: Seg Kirakossian

2 Responses

  1. 6th février 2024

    […] choice between the golden ratio, the Rule of thirds or Symmetry in photography often depends on the specific goals of the photographer and the characteristics of […]

  2. 10th février 2024

    […] choice between the golden ratio, the Rule of thirds or Symmetry in photography often depends on the specific goals of the photographer and the characteristics of […]