What is balance?Balance is just a way of composing a graphic so that most elements complement one another equally. Visual tension or harmony are created which results in a desirable image.
A variety of elements can be engaged with incorporating balance into your image composition:
- Light versus shadow
- Visual weight
- Subject placement
- Relation of elements to one another
- Depth of field
- Negative space
How do you achieve balance?Once you compose your scene you will need to think about the different elements and how they interact and relate with each other. What is the story you intend to tell or frame up? What is the emotion you are attempting to convey?
Balance may be harmonious, where all elements are equally present and form an aesthetically pleasing whole – symmetry is a great example. A landscape scene perfectly mirrored in a still pond or lake is very harmonious.
A picture may have visual tension due to unbalance. It might seem counterintuitive to state that this creates balance but think of negative space or a small spot of vivid red in an otherwise dull image.
Often a number of different factors enter into play in considering balance, it's not necessarily only one problem to resolve for every image. Every image has color, a subject, tone, contrast and so on, which are typical associated with producing your final image.
Many of these concepts have related to the mechanics of the method that you take the photo (light/shadow/contrast/tone) and some tend to be more compositional (symmetry/negative space/subject placement). So there are numerous different items to consider simultaneously within each image.
Let's look at each in increased detail:
1 COLORColor features a great impact in your images. When color film finally emerged it had an enormous impact on photography. To be able to see bright colors rather than monochrome was very different. It lead to many different styles and techniques in photography and continues to be the dominant way images are processed today.
It lets you evoke emotion, create tension, highlight a particular element, catch our attention and tell the story of the image in various ways.
Using color to evoke a mood, a feeling, or a period of time
2 LIGHT VERSUS SHADOWLight and shadow are the opposite elements necessary for photography. When you have light, in general, you may have shadows. When you yourself have both present it gives your subjects added dimension, they become physical rounded elements, not flat even though they are being viewed in a flat 2D medium (either printed or on a screen).
Contrast and tonal difference make a picture more dynamic and interesting. Contrast comes from the difference between the quantity of light and shadow in a image. More contrast also widens out the tonal selection of the image, when it is too similar it will appear very flat (like the seaside landscape below).
So learning to use both light and shadow together can make balance in your images. The horseshoe image below was specifically shot to use the harsh midday sun to generate the shadows and capture the patterns and how they hang on the nails. It would be a much less interesting image with no shadows.
3 TEXTURETexture can be within various ways – in the image of the spoons with spices (below) you will find three layers of texture – the backdrop surface, the spices in the spoons, and some scattered spices. While there is of texture in the image, it balances because of the scale and the blending layer in between which softens the difference involving the spices and the industrial background.
If the excess scattered spices were not there it would not work in addition to they help transition a person's eye across the image.
Think tree bark, patterns on the water, brick walls, cracks in the pavement, clouds in the sky, foliage in a garden, shiny reflective metal, stones in a lake, sand at the beach. Think long exposure to create soft foamy waterfalls or interesting cloud patterns. Consider ICM (Intentional Camera Movement) for soft blurred effect or pretty light trails.
Texture is all over you and in everything you see, but it's often taken for granted. Texture can be highlighted and develop into a key factor in your image if you take the time to notice it and make the most of it.
4 VISUAL WEIGHTThis is a tricky concept to come calmly to grips with as it often seems a little contradictory. How can a small element overwhelm a bigger image? How can one color dominate another one?
Among my own favourite images is of a brand new bright limestone headstone in a cemetary of very old and weathered stones (below). The light was at the right angle to highlight the main one stone which carries the visual weight yet is only a tiny element physically within the image.
The central placement works well in balancing one other elements around it and allows more of the story to be told – if the focus was tight on the headstone it would have had a different feel to the image.
5 SUBJECT PLACEMENTWhere you set the niche in the frame is essential in many ways. It can be used showing scale, the relationship between elements, to highlight tension, or to produce a specific feel or stylistic tone to an image.
A classic example is the Rule of Thirds – where it is taught a center placed subject lacks drama and impact – place the niche on the next lines to make it more dynamic within the frame. When the niche is looking in a specific direction, where you set them affects the sensation of the image. If they're looking out of the frame, placing them near the edge is quite a different image than if you compose the image in order that they are looking more into/across the frame.
The placement of the bellbird on the branch is an appealing balance of angles and lines. The type of the main branch is echoed by the blurred ones in the back ground – this provides some depth and scale to the image.
6 RELATIONSHIP OF ELEMENTSJust like Pt.5 above, this takes the placement concept an action further. You'll need to take into account the specific relationship between elements and how could you use that in composing your image.
7 SYMMETRYWhen done well and with thought, symmetry can be a useful tool. Putting your subject dead center in the frame can be a risk too. While a reflection image in a river or puddle may be pretty, it can also be quite static and uninteresting. A peculiar situation where in fact the image is perfectly balanced and yet it doesn't actually work compositionally!
8 DEPTH OF FIELDDoes everything in your image need to be 100% sharp? My answer compared to that is no. You can use Depth of Field creatively, balancing the subject contrary to the softer background, allowing the at the mercy of be prominent and the strong focal element.
9 NEGATIVE SPACENegative space is a fascinating composition element that works for many shots. Remembering to help keep it in the rear of your brain for the rare occasion it will suit could be difficult. Also being brave enough to here is another different approach than you normally use is challenging.
When used carefully, negative space adds value to an image by giving plenty of empty space to create balance for a specific subject. It's often used successfully in travel photos, where brightly coloured walls or buildings offer a great canvas for an individual to be posed against, often while they walk past.
FinallySometimes an image can appear just subtly off even although the subject might be good, the light is good and the composition seems to be alright. It's worth taking a review of those images with fresh eyes and considering the total amount of different elements discussed here. Perhaps you will begin to see some opportunities to compose your images in an alternative way?
Composition often seems to be always a never-ending quest to get the holy grail of elements. Have you got perfect lighting? Is your subject awesome? Are they doing something cool or interesting? Are the colors fresh and vibrant? Can it be exotic? Are there a wow factor?
Yet your image could have all of those things and still not seem quite right. So have a look at how different elements relate to each other from the balance point of view.
Maybe instead of wanting to remember all of the complicated rules of composition – let's keep it much simpler and focus on balance. Or possibly you need work to be really edgy and challenging and you aim for the stress in a deliberately unbalanced work – that is also a viable creative choice too.
But should you feel your images lack a specific something, try considering them from the balance perspective and see that which you get. Like everything in photography, there's no one single right way to accomplish it. Instead, there are lots of other ways, and hopefully one will resonate with you to assist you learn something new.
If you should be someone who considers balance when composing your images, what alternative methods do you think about? This really is only a summary of the numerous possible options that I keep in mind when shooting. Please share any others I haven't mentioned in the comment area below.