Planted Tank Guru
Join Date: Jan 2010
Location: Contra Costa CA
Absolute symmetry is not good.
Balance is good.
Easiest example is with rocks. Quicker to write, but when I write the word 'rock' I am including all the design elements of the tank: Driftwood, plants, ceramic mer-people.
1) Divide the tank into fifths.
2) Put the largest rock off center at either the 2/5 or the 3/5 mark. Turn it around until it looks right, place it left and right of center, see where it looks best. Lets say it ends up at the 2/5 mark.
3) Out the next largest 2-3 rocks off center the other way, in this case, the 3/5 mark.
4) Add more rocks near each of these focal points, away from the center or toward the center.
The two foci may not end up exactly on the marks. They can't. They are too big, and spill over left and right. This is where you step back and look. Does one side look to heavy? Move these closer to the center, or use fewer or lay them down so they look smaller. Does one side look too light? Move the rocks a bit farther away from the center, or stand them up more, or add more rocks.
The way balance works is a sort of gut feeling, but think of it like children on a teeter-totter. If you have one large child, place that child closer to the center. If you have several medium sized children place enough of them on the other side to balance the largest child. Then place the rest of the children on both sides until they are all on the ride. Some may be farther from the center, and some closer.
Plants add this complexity:
If the leaves are larger the plant looks like it is closer to you. Place these plants mid tank or more forward.
If the leaves are smaller or darker the plant looks like it is farther away. Place these plants near the back and sides of the tank.
The overall effect is to add depth to the tank, the same way you see it in nature. A grove of trees will have depth because your mind is correlating the size of the leaf with the distance of the tree. In an aquarium, where the actual distance is usually not more than a foot, if you used all the same plant it would just all look the same.
Pair up the reds or other color variations, then use them both left and right, but NOT symmetrically arranged. On the left maybe the red plant has very fine leaves so you use it more to the side and back. On the right maybe the red plant has larger leaves, so use it closer to the center and closer to the front, perhaps mid tank.
Think about these ideas, and go look at some of the award winning aquariums over the years. See if you can see where they applied these ideas, and where they did something else that worked.