Tag Archives: Symmetry

When breaking the rules works…

• Coming and Going •

• Coming and Going •
Sometimes having a symmetrical placement works.
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• Coming and Going • By Netkonnexion on Flickr External link - opens new tab/page

Don’t let the rules overwhelm you.

Sometimes the picture you make should flaunt the rules if you have a good reason. An image makes the grade when it catches the eye and draws you into the picture. It is the photographers job to get the viewer interested… not to follow the ‘rules’ of composition. Most of the time the “rule of thirds” works. But getting past that does requires something else to draw the eye into the picture.

Symmetry encourages symmetry

One of the interesting things about symmetry is that when it really exists it draws us right in. Circles and other regular shapes are very attractive to us. Symmetrical faces and other symmetrical objects hold our fascination too. So when we can create a truly symmetrical scene it actually helps to centre the subject. In my photograph above the piece of art in the case and the placement of the case screamed for a symmetrical placement. In fact the comings and goings of the public in the gallery created the imbalance in the symmetry. That simply added interest around the central placement of the art – which itself has an interesting symmetry.

So, while a symmetrical shape encourages a symmetrical placement of the subject even that “rule” can be broken by introducing imbalance to break the background symmetry.

Two lessons

The simple lesson is that a truly symmetrical subject can be centrally placed to encourage symmetry throughout the picture.

The other lesson is, “don’t be trapped in the rule of thirds”. That rule is a great benefit to us. However, as your artistic eye develops you can find some ways to capture the eye with other compositional ploys.

By Damon Guy (author and Photokonnexion editor)

Damon Guy - Netkonnexion

Damon Guy (Netkonnexion)

Damon is a writer-photog and editor of this site. He has run some major websites, a computing department and a digital image library. He started out as a trained teacher and now runs training for digital photographers.
See also: Editors ‘Bio’.

Ten simple ideas to improve your photography (and a fun quiz)

Ten Tips

Ten Tips and 12 fun quiz questions.

Simple things help you…

We should all take a step back and think about the basics sometimes. It helps us remember essential techniques and keeps us on our toes. Here are the basics with some fun quiz questions too.

The simplest techniques in photography are often the most important ones. In this post we make sure we don’t forget them…

10 essential things to know; 12 fun quiz questions
  1. Not knowing your camera: This is really bad news. If you are hoping to improve your photography make sure you learn what every lump, bump, dial, screen, lens and twiddly bit does. Read your manual regularly. Practice with each function until you have got it right. Then practice it in the dark so you can do a night shoot.
    Quiz Question 1: How many lenses are there on a camera? Answers at the end!
  2. Poor stance: Most people when starting photography don’t realise that the way they stand and hold the camera creates all sorts of problems and poor performance. If you are a keen photographer a good stance can contribute to improved sharpness (hand-held shots), better focus, more steady hand and better shot timing. Learn to stand properly right at the start and you will save yourself lots of re-training time later.
    Quiz Question 2: At what point in the breath cycle is it best to take your shot?
  3. Not using a tripod: classic mistake. Tripods save you lots of time and give you pin sharp photographs. They give you an opportunity to set your camera up properly and ensures that your are ready for your shot.
    Quiz Question 3: A monopod has one leg, a tripod has three legs. What is, and how might you use, a bipod?
  4. Not giving the camera time to focus: When you press the shutter button halfway down it causes the auto-focus to cut in which focuses the camera. But if you punch straight through that to the shot the focus has not had time to do the full focus. This normally happens on the first focus attempt when the focus is right off. After that the lens in nearly focused and will adjust more quickly. So don’t make your first focus attempt too close to the shot or it will be blurred.
    Quiz Question 4: Why do you have two rings on a modern auto-focus/zooming photographic lens? What do you call each of them?
  5. Taking pictures against a bright light? Cameras don’t like very bright lights. Especially if there are also very dark spots nearby. Shooting indoors while looking at a window out to a bright sky will cause a strong white spot. This is very distracting and draws the eye away from the subject. Not good. There are Light and Lighting resource pages on Photokonnexion for you to learn more.
    Quiz Question 5: How many stops of light can healthy human eyes see (20:20 vision)? How many can the camera (rough generalisation) cope with?
  6. Relying on flash (especially pop-up flash): Pop up light has a very small concentrated source. It discolours faces, washes out colours, creates harsh, sharp-lined shadows and is badly placed (too close to the optical axis) creating nasty highlights on faces. Try to use natural light more. It is much more forgiving and does not produce such harsh shadows most of the time.
    Quiz Question 6: What is often the result of using pop-up flash with respect to two parts of the face?
  7. Dead centre subject: If you put the subject of your picture in the centre it will usually be boring. If you off-set your subject the eye will be looking to see why the symmetry is broken. That keeps the eye hunting around the screen. Learn about the “Rule of thirds” and other Composition principles. That will help you make the shot more compelling to the eye.
    Quiz Question 7: What type of compositional perspective would you be working with if you want to promote a three dimensional feel to your picture composition?
  8. Horizon control: Make sure your horizon is level, especially if it is a seascape. If you leave it on an angle the picture will be ruined because it will look like the sea is sliding off the page! Horizons also induce mid-picture viewer-stupor. Make a decision. Either shoot for the sky in which case place the horizon in the bottom third of the picture. Or, shoot for the ground in which case the horizon goes in the top third of the picture. An off-set horizon is more dynamic and keeps the viewers eye moving.
    Quiz Question 8: If your main choice is to shoot for the sky, where would you take your exposure from? (Where would you point your viewfinder focus point?) a. The sky? b. The ground?
    Quiz Question 9: Describe autofocus hunting and why it happens?
  9. Simplify, simplify, simplify: The most effective way to show a subject to your viewer is to de-clutter the picture. Take out of your composition everything that is nothing to do with the subject. The more you make the viewers eye go to the subject the more effective your shot will be.
    Did I mention that you should simplify your shot?
    Quiz Question 10: What is it called when you paint out something from your picture in post processing to simplify a shot?
    By the way, did I mention that you should work really hard to simplify your shots?
  10. Go manual: Auto-modes on your camera are really best guesses about what the manufacturer thinks will be suitable for the average shots most snappers will take. Buy you are a keen photographer. To get the camera to do exactly what you want, and to make discerning choices about your images you should work on improving your manual control. Your understanding of photographic principles will improve, your skill at exposure will improve and you will find yourself making informed choices about how you want your picture to come out. You will turn from a snapper into a photographer.
    Quiz Question 11: What does the ISO control do? a. Adjust the sensitivity of the digital image sensor or b. Change the aperture size?
    Quiz Question 12: Does ‘shutter speed’ or ‘aperture’ control movement blur?
Answers to quiz questions
  • Quiz Question Answer 1: I am talking about any camera that has a lens, not just DSLRs. the number of lenses is a matter of variation. If you are discussing photographic lenses then only that one will count (but read on). Some people think of each glass element in the photographic lens as an independent lens. Technically that is not true. They are optical lenses or glass elements, not photographic lenses. However, if the photographic lens (and elements if you included those) were all you counted you would be wrong. Here is a short list of Possible lenses on a camera of any sort…

    There may be others.

  • Quiz Question Answer 2: You should take a shot at the full inhale point or full exhale point before inhaling or exhaling in the next part of the cycle. You can choose which is best for you. All you do is delay the next part of the cycle while you take a shot. This is the point in the breath cycle when there is least movement of the shoulders/chest. Read more about it in Simple tips for a good stance
  • Quiz Question Answer 3: A bipod is photographically uncommon. Understandably, it has two legs. Find out more here… Definition: Bipod
  • Quiz Question Answer 4: The two rings on an auto-focussing photographic lens allow one ring to focus the image – the focus ring. The other ring is for zooming the lens. The latter changes the focal length and is called the focal length ring.
  • Quiz Question Answer 5: Human eyes can see about 18 to 20 stops of light when healthy. However, by contrast the best commercially available cameras have to operate with a dynamic range of 8 to 12 stops of light. Research is pushing the boundaries but there is still a big gap to meet the dynamic range of the human eye (in 2013).
  • Quiz Question Answer 6: Pop-up flash is very likely to cause red-eye.
  • Quiz Question Answer 7: To make things look three dimensional in your image you should be working with three point perspective. Look for lines in your image that promote cube-like structures. For example buildings, walls and other objects with lines and shapes that have a solid feel in real life. This will trick the eye into believing that there is a solid object in the picture. Read: Simple ideas about perspective in photography and: Definition: Perspective
  • Quiz Question Answer 8: If you shoot for the sky you will need to be taking your exposure from the sky as that is the brightest point. This will leave the ground darker in your exposure than you would see it with your eye. You can use one of a number of techniques to correct that later.
  • Quiz Question 9: Auto-focus hunting is when the auto-focus in the lens cannot focus and will keep going up and down the focus range trying to get a focus. This is a common problem at night, in darker conditions, low contrast conditions and clear or totally grey skies. You can read more about it in: Auto-focus ‘Hunting’ Definition: Hunting, Auto-focus

  • Quiz Question 10: when you paint out something from your picture in post processing to simplify a shot? You normally use a cloning tool. You can find out more in: Definition: Cloning; To Clone; Cloned; Clone Tool.
  • Quiz Question 11: What does the ISO control do? It adjusts the sensitivity of the digital image sensor allowing you to work in bright light (low ISO setting) or low light (high ISO setting). There is an article on ISO here: ISO.

  • Quiz Question 12: Shutter speed controls movement blur. Aperture controls blur (bokeh) created by the loss of sharpness outside the zone of acceptable sharpness. This is traditionally known as the depth of field. More reading on: Definition: Exposure and related to aperture: Definition: f number.

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By Damon Guy (author and Photokonnexion editor)

Damon Guy - Netkonnexion

Damon Guy (Netkonnexion)

Damon is a writer-photog and editor of this site. He has run some major websites, a computing department and a digital image library. He started out as a trained teacher and now runs training for digital photographers.
See also: Editors ‘Bio’.

Patterns… break the pattern

Pens... When you have an established pattern, break it.

Pens... When you have an established pattern, break it. The whole point is not to bore your viewer, but to draw them in. Make them think about it, let them see it for what it is, and what it is not.

Break the pattern – capture the eye

Pattern is a funny thing. The human eye is great at picking out patterns. We see them in everything. It is probably one of the elements that makes us human. However, when we see a pattern our eye is quickly satisfied. We lose interest. So, do you want your viewer to lose interest in your pattern?

Photographers love to work pattern shots because they know patterns are eye catching. I look at a lot of images every day; sometimes hundreds. When I see a good pattern shot it draws me into the shot. The geometry, the symmetry, the perspective, the lines… well, all these things, and more are appealing. If the pattern is uniform I almost immediately lose interest. To keep the attention of the viewer you have to give them some reason to keep looking into your pattern. So give them a puzzle. Often, and for good reason, it is best to break the pattern. If the eye sees a pattern the work is done. If there is an incomplete pattern, or an anomaly then the pattern is broken. Why? What happened? What’s wrong? How did that occur? Suddenly the viewers mind is in turmoil. The questions follow and they look around the pattern for confirmation, answers, insights… whatever. The point is they are drawn into the picture. You have made them engage with it and internalize it.

Photographers forget they are working for the viewer. There is no other reason to take a photograph, even if it is a pure record shot. Hopefully, at least one day, someone is going to view it. If you never look at the shot again, and no-one else does either, you have not succeeded in communication in our image language – photography.

Communication is about engaging an audience. Pattern shots are a category of image where you can force your viewer to question what is going on in the shot. At once you can catch the eye, show a subject, appeal to the viewer, engage them and intrigue them. On the other hand you have lost their attention if they glance and move on.

So, when looking at a pattern look deeper than the pattern itself. Look at the variations, the subtle differences. Check the light, examine the graduations. Count the tones, identify the differences. Know that pattern inside out. Look for where it is the same. Look for the obvious ways it can be different. When you know your pattern inside-out, arrange the shot. Optimize the pattern, maximize where it breaks. One single instance of a difference is enough to stop the eye. And that is the aim – stop the eye; create a question. THEN, you will be showing the true meaning of that pattern to the eye of the viewer.

Symmetry – A Powerful Compositional Tool

Sometimes a symmetry in your shots is interesting and compelling

Sometimes a symmetry in your shots is interesting and compelling

Forget the rule of thirds when the time is right

Photographers are artists. So the only real rule we have is that there are no rules. Symmetry is one of those compositional elements that has its own dynamic impact. We often off-set a picture to one side or another in our composition because that lends a dynamic and unbalanced feel that keeps the viewer looking into the shot. Be prepared to put aside the rule of thirds when the time is right.

Symmetrical subjects and patterns capture the imagination enough to be placed centrally. Here are some thoughts on symmetrical pictures…
True symmetry? Photographs are not normally true mirror symmetry. However, the differences and tiny variations in the picture that defy the symmetry is where the interest lies. If your shot looks like it is symmetrical, did you show enough about the bits that were not? Those are the parts that capture the viewers eye.

The sun has been crying

The sun has been crying. The tears where dirty water has trickled down relieve the symmetry and provide interest.

Central theme? Often the symmetrical shots that work the best have a central theme. A split picture provides a theme. A road or railway splitting the shot in two gives the symmetry and the subject, particularly where there is a vanishing point.
A vanishing point provides both a subject of interest and symmetry.

A vanishing point provides both a subject of interest and symmetry.
(By Light Collector - on flickr)

Pattern or similarity? Symmetry is strictly speaking about mirroring one part of the image to another. However, that rarely happens in real-world photography. A pattern shot gives more of a repetitive feel on one side and the other – mimicking symmetry. However, if you look carefully you will see in the pattern shot that there are clear differences. And, it is the looking carefully that does it for the viewer. If you can get the viewer to peer into your shot, then the pattern has captured their eye. It matters little that the symmetry or pattern is not true on one side or the other. In fact it is more real and attractive that it is actually unbalanced. My picture at the top of the page is an example.


The real interest in a symmetrical picture is the fact that it is NOT symmetrical. If your picture looks symmetrical at first glance it is probably worth centralizing the symmetry. However, make sure you have something in the symmetry to pull the viewers eye into the shot. Because true symmetry rarely happens in the real world it is really odd if it is perfectly symmetrical. So make sure, even in a pattern shot, that something catches the eye to relieve the symmetry and makes the viewer get into the shot.

By Damon Guy (author and Photokonnexion editor)

Damon Guy - Netkonnexion

Damon Guy (Netkonnexion)

Damon is a writer-photog and editor of this site. He has run some major websites, a computing department and a digital image library. He started out as a trained teacher and now runs training for digital photographers.
See also: Editors ‘Bio’.