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Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Don't Get Divided Over Symmetry

One of the "rules" of design that you'll see over and over again in books about composition is that you should never divide a frame exactly in half, either vertically or horizontally. The reason for that stodgy old rule is that when you precisely divide a frame in half it tends to take away the dynamic tension in a scene by creating an exact balance of visual space between two halves of the frame (either top/bottom or left right--or both). And a lot of times not dividing a frame in half is a pretty good idea. But as they say, to every rule an exception. I think there are times when perfect symmetry works really well and one of those times is when you have a very strong reflection--as in this winter scene. 

I shot the picture here last Friday on the same day I shot the previous winter pond scenes (see the previous postings), but this is a different pond, a few miles from the other one and I went there intentionally looking for a symmetrical subject. Because it's a somewhat long and narrow pond and you can see the entire length of it from almost any spot along the edge, I wanted to shoot a panoramic (and I did) of the hillside and it's reflection. As I was finishing up I saw the man and dog approaching from the right and so I quickly framed a scene that I wanted (I wanted to include that curved stairway--where I spend endless Saturdays hanging around as a kid) and just waited for him to walk into it. He was walking a long leaping stride so I was only able to get off a few quick frames before his shape got lost in the stairway--and I wish I'd shot a half second sooner than I did--but I'm happy with this frame.

Because I had the camera set up for a more or less symmetrical composition before he came along, I just left it that way and I'm glad I did. I kind of like the tension that exists between the reflection and the "real" scene and I even cropped it a bit to make it more closely balanced. While the horizon isn't in the exact middle (you can check in Photoshop by using the ruler tool--Command R on a Mac, no idea what it is in Windows!), if you look closely you'll notice there is just as much space between the top of the tall tree on the left and the top of the frame as there is below it's reflection and the bottom of the frame. I think that that spacing actually emphasizes the idea of symmetry as much as the precise placement of the horizon. 

Anyway, I think the scene has a kind of Norman Rockwell appeal to it and I very much like the symmetry between top and bottom--though to be honest, I could probably crop it otherwise and be just as happy. As I said, I think symmetry works particularly well with strong dividing lines like reflections and so next time you're shooting a reflection in a pond or lake (or a puddle, for that matter), don't be afraid to run the horizon right across the center--you may find that, rules or no, that's the best placement.


marlis said...

just perfect!!!!, it`s the kind of shot I just love

Jeff Wignall said...

Thanks Marlis! For some reason this photo reminds me of Norman Rockwell's paintings. I just looked at your blog and the photos are wonderful! I love the dance photos--just terrific.

marlis said...

thank you so much!!!, I`m totally amateur, and I´ve been following your phototips for a long time, it´s so great how you share your experience, maybe some day my photos will be as great as my love for photography.....