Balance is a compositional technique in photography that juxtaposes images within a frame so that the objects are of equal visual weight. When different parts of a photo command your attention equally, perfect balance is achieved. In photography, there are two main techniques of balance you should be aware of: formal and informal, i.e. symmetrical and asymmetrical balance. We’ll discuss the difference between each and how they can affect your photo.
Why Balance in Photography is Important
Knowing how to effectively balance objects within a photo is a skill that all photographers should learn. The problem with improperly balanced photographs is that they are less appealing to look at, and they can feel as if something is missing. The viewer may look at the photo and feel as if something is “off” without even knowing exactly why they feel that way.
Balance and the Rule of Thirds
Balancing elements in photography becomes important when you frame your shots. If you think about the rule of thirds, you’ll remember that placing the primary subject of your photo off center can help you create a more interesting photo via the concept of “visual tension”.
Although the rule of thirds is a popular guideline for composing photographs, it has a potential drawback. While this guideline can effectively create balance and visual interest in a photo, it may also lead to a lot of empty space in the image, making it feel incomplete. However, in certain cases, such empty space may work well for the image. But if it does not, photographers should try to include other objects in the frame to balance the visual weight of the subject and fill the empty space. This will create a more complete and visually appealing composition.
Types of Balance in Photography
There are various types of balance in photography, including symmetrical balance (also known as symmetrical balance), asymmetrical balance (also known as informal balance), radial balance. Understanding these types of balance is essential to create balanced compositions.
Symmetrical Balance and Formal Balance in Photography
Formal balance, which is also known as symmetrical balance, is an important concept in photography. In the previous chapter, we discussed how to achieve symmetrical balance in photography. To achieve symmetrical balance, you need to frame the shot so that identical or similar subjects are repeated symmetrically on each side of a given point.
Informal Balance in Photography (Asymmetrical Balance)
Asymmetrical balance, otherwise known as informal balance, occurs when the visual weight of the elements in the image is not equal, but the composition still feels harmonious. This type of balance is more dynamic and creates a sense of movement and tension in the image. Asymmetrical balance is often seen in landscape photography, street photography, and documentary photography.
Informal balance is a subtle yet important form of balance in photography that requires more attention to detail. Unlike formal balance, which relies on the repetition of identical or similar subjects on both sides of a given point, informal balance is achieved by balancing dissimilar elements on each side of the frame. The size of each element is not always relevant, but having a larger element paired with smaller elements can create a well-balanced composition. Photos that use informal balance are often more appealing to the eye than those that use formal balance. To better understand informal balance, it is helpful to look at several photo examples that effectively showcase it.
Photo by Chang Liu
The photo above is a perfect example of how balance can be achieved even with two subjects of different sizes. The man’s position in the bottom left of the frame is perfectly counterbalanced by the smaller sea creature in the top right corner. Removing either of the subjects would make the photo feel unbalanced. For instance, if the sea creature was not present, the image might feel visually bottom-heavy with the man looking at an empty space above. In such a case, a formal balance with a center-aligned composition might be a better option.
Photo by Shannon Kokoska
This photo serves as another excellent example of how two objects of different sizes can be used to counterbalance each other within the frame. The OUT sign is tall and vertical, while the building is long and horizontal, creating a perfect juxtaposition of size and direction that complement each other. The position of both elements within the frame also provides a proper balance for this photo. In the alternate examples to the right, the photos feel unbalanced. If the building was centered in the frame and placed closer to the sign, a large empty space would be left on the left side of the frame, creating an imbalance. Similarly, if the sign was positioned in the middle of the frame and closer to the building, an empty space on the right side of the frame would make it feel unbalanced.
Radial balance occurs when the visual elements in the image are arranged around a central point, creating a circular or spiral composition. This type of balance is often seen in nature photography, where the elements are arranged around a focal point like a flower or a tree.
Factors that Affect Balance
Several factors can affect balance in photography. Here are the primary, most common factors that you can utilize in your photography.
Light vs Dark – A small area of white in a photo can be balanced by a larger area of black, and vice versa. Each one does not have to have the exact same size or intensity.
Colors – Colors can affect the balance of an image. Using colors that are opposite on the color wheel creates a sense of balance and harmony. For example, using red and green creates a balanced composition. Using colors that are too similar can create a sense of monotony and imbalance. A small area of vibrant color can be balanced by a larger area of neutral color. Vibrant colors provide more intensity and therefore large neutral areas can be used to compensate for it.
Lines – Lines can affect the balance of an image. Using diagonal lines creates a sense of tension and movement, while using horizontal or vertical lines creates a sense of stability and balance. Lines can also be used to guide the viewer’s eye through the image, creating a sense of balance and harmony.
Balance is an essential component of creating visually impactful and engaging images that can connect with viewers on a deeper level. Understanding the different types of balance, how to achieve balance, factors that affect balance, and tips for creating balanced compositions is crucial to creating visually pleasing and meaningful images. Incorporating balance in your photography can take your images to the next level and help you communicate your visual language effectively.