Balance in photography composition isn’t something mandatory in your photograph , but understanding it properly can have benefits for a photographer.
Here are some:
- Produce more visually appealing images: Balance in photography composition creates a sense of harmony in the image, making it more pleasing to the eye. Understanding balance will help the photographer create more visually appealing and interesting images.
- Direct the viewer’s attention: A cleverly-balanced composition can direct the viewer’s attention to the subject of the photograph, making it easier to communicate the intended message or emotion. By understanding balance, a photographer can effectively use visual elements such as lines, shapes, and colors to guide the viewer’s eye through the image. (Yes geometry has an impact on balance as well.)
- Convey a sense of stability or instability: Balance can also be used to show a sense of stability or instability in an image. A balanced composition can create a feeling of calmness or serenity, while an unbalanced composition can create tension or unease. Understanding how to play in this way can help a photographer convey the desired mood or emotion in their images.
- Create a sense of comfort or discomfort: Balance has a strong connection to our visual perception. We can usebalanced to achieve harmony, while unbalanced ones can create discomfort.
- Stand out from the crowd: Finally, understanding balance can help a photographer create images that stand out from the crowd. By manipulating balance, photographers can create unique and memorable images that capture the viewer’s attention and imagination.
When you are out on the field, it doesn’t seem like it comes with a set of guidelines. Instead, it’s more like something you feel when looking at an image, rather than having a clear rule.
It might take a photographer several years to master and see clearly which elements in a photo are balanced, and which are not ,or how they affect the viewer.
Having symmetry is one of the keys to balanced compositions
Symmetry is a powerful tool in photography compositions. Symmetry is a visual effect created by mirroring elements on either side of an imaginary line in the image. When used effectively, symmetry can create proportion, harmony, and stability in a composition.
Here are some ways symmetry can balance photography composition:
- Horizontal symmetry: This is the most common type used in photography. It involves dividing the image horizontally in half and mirroring the elements on either side. This creates equality, making the image more visually appealing and easier to understand.
- Vertical symmetry: This type of symmetry involves dividing the image vertically in half and mirroring the elements on either side. This technique can be used to create a sense of calm and harmony, particularly in images featuring taller or elongated subjects.
- Diagonal symmetry: Unlike horizontal or vertical symmetry, which rely on a straight line to divide the image, diagonal symmetry uses a diagonal line to split the composition.
- Radial symmetry: Radial symmetry involves mirroring elements around a central point, creating a circular or spiral pattern. This technique can be used to create balance and harmony in images featuring circular or spiral shapes
Let’s look at a few photography composition balance examples
Example of horizontal symmetry
With equal sized forms and equal distances from the center on both sides, they feel natural and balanced.
If you have something on the left, make sure you have it on the right as well.
A slight shift in symmetry creates a misbalance
One way to play with the feeling of your photographs in a photograph is getting one of the objects a bit closer to the frame.
By doing that the object on the left appears to be larger than the one right. That creates a sense of misbalance. Now you have more visual weight on the left side of the picture.
Therefore it will draw more attention (remember the heaviest part will attract the viewer’s attention).
Even small shifts in size or distance from the image center will affect the image.
Balancing an image using vertical symmetry
The calm water of the lake mirrors the fisherman on the boat. Whatever we have on the top is reflected on the bottom and creates vertical symmetry.
But the image is still not perfectly balanced, because the boatman is placed on the right side of the frame. It is heavier on that side and our eye is drawn to the right side of the frame.
Example of balancing different element sizes in a photo
Often differently sized images can be balanced by changing their placement in a way that makes sense for the viewer.
In this photograph of a boy and his grandfather from Ethiopia , you can see that the grandfather is larger , but also slightly closer to the center. By placing him there I’ve created equal visual weight on both sides of the frame.
The boy still gets more attention because we can read something on his shirt.
Example of balancing differently sized elements in a photo
Often differently sized images can be balanced by changing their placement in a way with makes sense for the viewer.
In this photograph of a boy and his grandfather from Ethiopia , you can see that the grandfather is larger , but also slightly closer to the center , by placing him there I’ve managed to create equal visual weight on both sides of the frame.
The boy still pulls more attention because we can read something on his shirt.
What is the most effective way to balance more than one element in a photograph?
When having more than one object in the picture, balance can be achieved by having one visually heavy object on one side, that would be balanced with several lighter ones on the other.
In this photograph of Buddhist monks crossing the U-Bein bridge, a technique called grouping has been used.
The one larger monk on the left has similar visual weight to the group of 3 smaller ones on the right.
If you perceive the monks as shapes (which our brain usually does) they will be similar size and equal distance from the imaginary vertical line that splits the frame.
That will result in a balanced image.
Tonal balance in photography composition
Tonal balance is another key aspect of photography composition that refers to the distribution of tones or shades of light and dark in an image. Achieving tone balance is essential for creating images that are visually appealing, interesting, and communicate the intended message effectively.
Tonal balance can be achieved in many ways . While the original idea is to have an equal amount of dark or light on both sides of the frame it’s not always the case .
Here are some ways photographers can achieve it in their compositions:
- Contrast: Contrast is the difference between the lightest and darkest parts of an image. By balancing the amount of contrast in different parts of the image, photographers can create a sense of depth and dimensionality. This adds interest and visual appeal.
- Exposure: Exposure refers to the amount of light that enters the camera sensor. Balancing the exposure in different parts of the image can create a sense of balance and harmony. For example, if one part of the image is overexposed, it can create a distracting hotspot that draws attention away from the intended subject.
- Color balance: Color balance refers to the distribution of colors in an image. By balancing the colors in the image, photographers can create harmony and coherence. This can be achieved through color grading or complementarycolors.
By having relatively equal amount of bright and dark tones we can achieve harmonious compositions. How much of what to put ? Well , you can’t really calculate it , it’s something that comes naturally with experience.
Using Exposure – Light & Shadows
By setting exposure, you decide how dark and bright your photograph will be. And how strong the tone will be. You play with the scene’s luminosity to achieve the result you want.
Using Color – Create harmony or contrast
When it comes to color there are books that cover the subject. However, to simplify it, we play with color to create color contrast or harmony.
When similar colors are combined, they create a sense of harmony and balance. Colors in contrast can have the opposite effect.
One dominant color can be used in a composition and balanced by another.
Like in the example here.
We have yellow as the dominant color and blue to balance it. (This is a color contrast photo, not a harmony one) But it looks comfortable because of the distribution of colors.
In this example we have the same tone throughout the image, which creates a similar visual feeling throughout the frame..
I probably only touched the surface, but even understanding these will help you tremendously in creating more balanced images.
Now it is important to remember that visual balance is not an exact formula . Creating fully symmetrical images with an ideal balance might be possible in a controlled environment like a studio , or choosing a geometrically suitable location . But in most styles of photography we always play on the edge , there is always the element of the unknown and the composition is never perfectly balanced .
Although balance is something we should all strive to understand better, we shouldn’t get obsessed with it. Misbalanced images are often even more interesting, but this is a story for another time.