symmetry

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Temple, Dharamsala

A completely symmetrical subject calls out for a completely symmetrical composition -- which Roger did not fully achieve here, despite using a Linhof Technika 70 on a tripod. Actually, the subject is not totally symmetrical, and (as ever) the lighting was not fully symmetrical, leading to heavier shadows on the left and the consequent appearance of the left-hand bank as wider than the right-hand bank. Also, the carpets on the banks are not symmetrical (the white borders on the right are more obvious) and the objects either side of the altar are not symmetrical. The picture would have benefited from some extra lighting (especially around the Buddha-image behind the throne) and from more even lighting: the back is too dark, the front too light. Polaroid tests (this is on 6x7cm EPR) would have shown up some of this, as would a digital image, but you need to see the image at a reasonable size (perhaps on a lap-top screen with a tethered camera) to spot all this. Let's say 6/10.

 

 

 

Water tower, Mazeuil

Skies are rarely if ever symmetrical, unless they are featureless blue or completely overcast. The former would have worked a lot better than the latter, but cloud arguably works better still, despite the asymmetry. Also, Frances has in effect contrasted the symmetry of the man-made parts of the image with the asymmetry of the sky, which we think works rather well. The camera (Voigtländer Bessa-T) was on a tripod and carefully levelled with a shoe-mounted spirit level; strong red filtration (Wratten 25A equivalent) darkened the sky dramatically, and good exposure and printing has further added to the drama of the picture. A wide-angle lens (21/4 Color-Skopar) gave dramatic perspective to the path and emphasized the 'balancing in the middle' look of the water-tower. Placing the top of the gate level with the horizon is probably the best bet, though if we saw this as a submission we'd ask the photographer if they had considered shooting from a little lower to break the horizon. Frances did, and it didn't work. A good 7/10, even 8/10.

 

 

 

Cadillac

Departures from symmetry, mostly the result of lighting, are minimal but a polarizing filter might have reduced them still further and added to the impact of the image. It's actually a very simple hand-held record shot, well spotted and competently executed by Roger on Kodak Elite Chrome 100 EBX, but other than 'competent' there's not a vast amount you can say about it. Exposure is spot on: any lighter and the chrome would 'blow', any darker and the darker areas of red wouldn't read. An incident light reading, or experience, increases the chance of getting this right: otherwise bracket (+/- 1 stop would be about right). A 'wide standard' lens (35/1.4 Summilux on a Leica M-series) allows adequate depth of field at a middling stop with a safe hand-holding speed. Composition is often strongly constrained in such images: any more and you show too much (especially at car shows where there are placards on the car); any less and you don't show enough (the hood ornament as well as the grille bars). About 7/10.

 

 

 

Jantar Mantar, Delhi

Next time we're in Delhi, Roger wants to try shooting this again. The symmetry of the main subject is broken by the cut-out of the arch at the top, and he's still not sure if it works. This was probably taken (on Kodachrome 64) with a 35/1.4 Summilux on a Leica M-series. A reflex, or a digital camera (M8!) with a readout on the back, would make precise framing easier. Also, there'd be a strong temptation today to true up the verticals in Adobe Photoshop: they lean slightly inwards, because the camera has been pointed slightly downwards. There was no real need for this. If he had crouched down a little lower, he could probably have included slightly more of the foreground and perhaps 'lost' the arch at the top. It's a very old picture, dating from the early-to-mid 1980s, and it would be interesting to see whether he can do better with an additional two decades' experience and perhaps also with a wider lens (21mm or even 15mm). As it stands, an easy 6/10.

 

 

 

Sunset, Lake District

Don't forget up-down bilateral symmetry (in reflections) as well as left-right, though the saturation is normally higher in the reflection: check also the home page 'signature shot'. You can redress this with a 'grey grad' filter if you have one with you (Roger didn't) but it won't always look natural. This was shot on 4x5 inch Fuji Astia using an MPP Mk. VII and 203/7.7 Kodak Ektar. The extremely elderly lens (1950s vintage), used without a lens shade (he did not have one with him) has added still more blue to an already blue image, and contrast is low. Old lenses can be ideal for black and white, where you can increase the development time to increase contrast, but they are often less useful with colour unless you are working under controlled lighting with a deep lens shade or are prepared to do quite a lot in post-processing, including filtration during traditional 'wet' printing. No more than about 5/10.

 

 

 

Window, Pont de Royans

Superimposing asymmetry on a fundamentally symmetrical pattern can be quite effective. This isn't necessarily one of the best examples, because it's let down by excessive contrast, the result of using the wrong film (Kodak EBX Elite Chrome) instead of something less saturated and contrasty, though slightly more exposure (1/2 stop) might have ameliorated matters. In fact, it uses both symmetry and repetition, which can be hard to distinguish: the fabric samples are clearly related, though not all the same shape. The symmetry is broken by the pipe to the right, and still more by its shadow. Roger took the picture with a Leica MP and either a 90/2 or 75/2 Summicron, probably the former. At first he disliked the pipe and its shadow but he has grown to believe that they are an essential part of the picture. Like the sunset, above, we rate it only at 5/10, chiefly because of the excessive contrast.

 

 

 

Espace Van Gogh, Arles

This is pushing the definition of 'symmetry' to its limits, at least insofar as the composition of the photograph is concerned, but it does raise an interesting question about how to handle symmetrical subjects when you can't photograph them symmetrically. It also features radial, rather than bilateral, symmetry. Roger could have made a more symmetrical picture, with one path coming straight towards the camera. Indeed, he examined such a shot on the ground-glass, but it didn't work. He also chose to incorporate some people in the shot, to break the symmetry still more decisively. French formal gardens are (or can be) fascinating things, but without people they are very sterile indeed. A shot straight down, perhaps from a helicopter, would have been one thing; an oblique shot, like this, is quite another. Toho FC45 with 120/6.8 Angulon (not Super); Polaroid Sepia 4x5. About a 7/10.

 

 

 

Post mill, Kent

Post mills are intriguing things. The entire mill is turned, using a long spar (behind the mill, for obvious reasons) to make it face into the wind. This is one of Frances's earliest pictures on 4x5 inch colour; she cut exposure as far as she dared in order to give the maximum possible texture and detail in the white-painted clapboard, fully aware that this would darken the sky -- though she didn't realize it would go almost black at the top, partly thanks to vignetting as a result of the significant front rise: the camera was our Linhof Technikardan fitted with a 150/4.5 Voigtländer Apo-Lanthar, and the film was Fuji Astia. As with the Espace Van Gogh, above, but more overtly, this composition relies to a considerable extent on radial symmetry. Even so, there is also a lot of bilateral symmetry: if the sails were rotated (say) 20 degrees, the picture would be a lot less dramatic. An easy 7/10, maybe 8/10.

 

 

 

Palais-Royal, Paris

This is an almost-stunning picture, let down by two things. One is inherent in the lighting: the same sort of directionality as in the Tibetan temple interior, above, which creates a visual imbalance. The other is the fact that it appears to be twisted or tilted to the left, despite the fact that it was carefully levelled with a bubble-level. Actually, we think it is tilted very slightly (maybe the hot shoe wasn't quite level) but the effect is much accentuated by the fact that the building in the background isn't symmetrical -- the left wing is smaller than the right wing -- and more severely by the way that the right colonnade intersects with the top corner and the left colonnade doesn't. Frances used our 15/2.8 Sigma fish-eye on her Nikkormat FT3 to take this picture, shooting on Ilford XP2 and printing on Ilford Multigrade III (it's a very old picture). She wonders about shooting it again. A good 5/10, but not 6.

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© 2007 Roger W. Hicks