I just returned from teaching a workshop in Sedona, one of my favorite desert locations, and we had a fantastic time. Red clouds at sunrise and sunset, vintage cars and colorful portraits in Jerome, and lots of reflection opportunities with the recent rain. One plant the entire group enjoying photographing was the agave. This plant can grow waist tall, has beautiful blue arms, and just beckons the photographer. During review sessions the question came up does the agave look better symmetrical or unsymmetrical? It depends…do you want it in balance or out of balance?
Here is a slide from my composition class. Creating images that are in balance creates a sense of calm, peacefulness and absence of motion. Placing subjects in out of balance compositions creates tension, movement and will send a very different message to the viewer.
Here is the agave in a symmetrical orientation. I like this image the most; plants with this much symmetry are so unique that I feel I want to show this harmony with nature. For that message I want my image to be in balance.
Here is the same plant with the middle of the plant off center and out of balance. This composition creates more tension and causes uneasiness in the viewer. Also at work is the red/orange soil which implies danger and further adds tension. While this image might catch the viewer’s eye, I still like the symmetrical image the most. The most important take away point is to compose your shot knowing what is being conveyed graphically to the viewer. You decide what the message is with this magnificent agave.