Symmetry and Asymmetry with light

To be honest, I’m a sucker for symmetry, I love it when things fall into place, and everything aligns, it just feels balanced. It makes me relaxed, but that may just be me 🙂

In this blog post, we will be looking at three different scenes, lighting each scene twice, once with a symmetrical lighting array, and once with an asymmetrical lighting array. The idea behind this exercise is not to say what’s good or bad; the idea is to take a closer look at this balance and what happens when you break it. This should help you understand the impact of symmetry and use it in your work.

So let’s take a look at our first shot.

The first shot is being lit from the left side of the frame with a single Spekular section. The second shot is using two sections, one on either side – It’s only a one light change, but it makes a huge difference. The first shot has a stronger “tone” to it. The second shot – using two lights – has a rim light, and a different tone altogether. The extra light helps to define the outline of our subject (Me!).

1/40 // F5.6 // ISO 640


1/40 // F5.6 // ISO 640




The second scenario takes it one step further.

In the first photo we used two Spekular sections, one on either side of the subject. In the second shot I placed two sections on the left side of the frame, and one section on the right side. This lighting setup is a great example of creating different levels of light in a shot, getting a more three-dimensional look. The first shot has our subject lit evenly for a flattering light, while the second shot is more three dimensional, providing a sense of depth.

1/40 // F5.6 // ISo 640

1/20 // F8.0 // ISO 400

Our last setup has a twist to it – Color
The color of light can drastically change a scene, adding another layer of depth to the story. The same principles of symmetry and asymmetry still apply here. Actually, they are more critical. Why?

Two words: Color Theory
In a nutshell, color theory deals with colors, but more importantly, with how colors interact and create color harmonies. You can find quite a few online tools to help you learn about Color Harmonies, here are two that I liked, The Color Calculator and Adobe Color CC; Adobe Color CC is particularly useful since it allows you to import the colors schemes into various Adobe applications).

We experimented quite a bit with this setup  (it was just too much fun), using gels to create both a symmetrical look and an asymmetrical look, not by changing our lighting setup, but by creating a different color balance. This a quick behind the scenes shot when we experimented with four lights, each with a different colored gel.

In the first shot, we decided to use two Spekular sections; both sections had a red gel on them. In the second shot, we used the same lighting setup, only changing the color of the right light to green (green is red’s complementary color).

Using this color harmony is a great way to “break” the symmetry of the lighting set up. Each shot has a particular look to it. To me, the first shot has a much more “graphic” look or even a “gory” look to it, somewhat similar to the kind of imagery you would see on a movie poster. The second shot seems more “realistic” as though neon signs were lighting the shot.

1/20 // F9 // ISO 640

At the end of the day the concept of symmetry is just that – it’s a concept. You may like one setup over the other regardless if it’s symmetrical or not. There is no right or wrong here, nor is this a “yes or no” question – It’s a matter of balance. It’s part of the process of training yourself to understanding light, using that knowledge your own way and getting the result you want.

So, please share your photos and setups, showing off you how you use these kinds of concepts in your shots, by tagging @spiffyggear on Instagram or bragging in our Spiffy Facebook group


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