Is symmetry something to be desired in an image? Opinion appears to be divided.
If measure and symmetry are absent from any composition in any degree, ruin awaits both the ingredients and the composition… Measure and symmetry are beauty and virtue the world over.Socrates
Consistency is the enemy of enterprise, just as symmetry is the enemy of art.George Bernard Shaw
I think I am more drawn to Shaw’s opinion than to that of Socrates. While I sometimes enjoy the harmony of a perfectly symmetrical shot, on the whole I find the asymmetrical more interesting. An image that is off-centre is more dynamic and encourages the eye to explore rather than settling in one spot. The most obvious exemplification of this is in the classic rule of thirds. Although it may seem counter-intuitive, placing the main subject at the intersection of imaginary lines dividing the image into thirds draws attention to it more effectively than placing it in the centre.
My feature image of a traditional Malagasy fishing boat was taken from Baobab Beach on Madagascar’s north west coast just a few days ago. It is an example of ‘rule of thirds’ composition at its simplest. The balance or harmony of the shot comes not from symmetry but from the fact that the boat is travelling into the frame. In contrast, if a moving subject is seen to be exiting the frame it creates a tension as the viewer doesn’t know or see where it is heading.
And it is to Madagascar that I’ve turned for all of these examples of asymmetry, in response to Donna’s Lens Artists challenge. This is partly to make my life easier! As I’m just back from that trip and busy sorting all my photos, it made sense to draw on them rather than hunt through the archives. But it also ensures that none of these shots will have been seen before in this blog, although I can’t promise that you won’t see them again in the future!
Shell on Baobab Beach on Madagascar’s north west coast
This is another classic ‘rule of thirds’ composition. Also, unlike many shells, this one is itself asymmetric in shape and in the patterns created by colour and lines.
Also on Baobab Beach
This little crab with its single enlarged red claw is certainly asymmetrical. But unlike the shell shot above which makes use of negative space to provide a sense of calm, this shot was taken near a small river that spills on to the beach at one end. It is consequently is busy with leaves, small stones and a twig. The latter provides balance, its diagonal line echoing the angle of the crab.
Still on Baobab Beach
Two small trees side by side could produce a very symmetrical shot. But this pair are so different from each other that I reckon this qualifies as asymmetrical.
Fishing boat off the coast at Diego Suarez / Antsiranana
I couldn’t resist including a second shot of a traditional Malagasy fishing boat. This one was off the coast at Diego Suarez (official name Antsiranana). In addition to the rule of thirds composition, the triangular sail introduces another touch of asymmetry.
Frangipani flowers in the gardens of our hotel in Diego Suarez
The flowers’ five petals make each one an example of asymmetry. Meanwhile, placing them diagonally in the frame ensures a balanced but far from symmetrical composition.
In Montagne d’Ambre National Park
Among all the more dramatic sites such as lemurs and chameleons, the understated colours of this lichen ‘heart’ caught my eye. With one side rather larger than the other, and drawn by nature rather than man, it lacks the symmetry of a stylised heart shape 🤍
Tsingy formations, Tsingy Est, Ankarana
The jagged limestone formations known as tsingy are far from symmetrical. But seeing them in the harsh late morning light meant that I needed the splash of colour from this tree to draw attention to the layers of rock that create this landscape.
Baobab tree, French Mountain, Diego Suarez / Antsiranana
But there’s no mistaking the lack of symmetry in this tree. I liked the way the large branch on the left echoes the diagonal of the hillside scrub, providing balance to the shot.
River scene, Andilobe
The Malagasy people use their rivers for all their water needs. This shot, taken from a bridge over this partly dried-up river, has several elements that can be seen as asymmetrical. The woman is placed at one of the four ‘rule of thirds’ positions, while the girl is close to the diagonally opposed one. There is also contrast in their activities. The woman is washing clothes and the girl herself. Finally, they are facing in opposing directions, away from each other, creating tension in the shot. Yet overall the scene appears balanced, unified by the flow of the river.
In a small town in Madagascar
I grabbed this shot from the car as we passed, my attention caught by the slogan on the man’s t-shirt. I was going to crop out the lad on the right but later realised he provides an interesting counter-balance to the man. While both are dressed in red, he is seated rather than standing. And he has a more open expression, curious about this passing tourist with camera!
I visited Madagascar in October/November 2023