Composition Tips – Balance

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Balance is a key concept when composing a photograph. However, “balance” does not necessarily mean “centered” or “symmetrical”. A photograph can be balanced even when the subject of focus is to one side. A photograph can be off-balance even if the subjects are perfectly aligned.

Let’s look at some examples. In the shot of the glass below, elements of balance are easy to recognize:

The split between white and black in the background provides vertical balance, and the reflection of the glass on the tabletop provides horizontal balance. The arrangement of stir sticks in the glass tie the vertical and horizontal balance lines together. The fact that the converging lines of balance are not absolutely perfect prevents this shot from being clinical and stilted.

In this shot, the photographer has situated the subject off-center:

The photographer is using the doorway in the background to provide balance to the position of the woman off to the side of the shot.

Here is an example of faulty balance:

While the colors are lovely and the silhouette is interesting, the photographer could have composed this shot differently in order to achieve better balance. The frames of the arches, to the left and to the right of the column, are cut off by the edges of the photograph. The column itself doesn’t lie in such a position as to allow the eyes to follow it naturally. It’s unclear what the photographer wanted to be the subject of this photo. The arch to the right? The sunset itself? The silhouette of the column?

Balance in photography is an intuitive skill that is hard to define, and can only be achieved with practice, practice, practice. Take a lot of pictures, or peruse the pictures available at such sites as Flickr Creative Commons. Practice by identifying what is balanced, or isn’t balanced, about a particular picture. Utilize cropping, change your perspective, or re-arrange your subject (or yourself!) in order to achieve balance in your own photography.

Photo Credits (in order of appearance):
- “Bright/Dark Field Lighting” by Kyle May on Flickr Creative Commons.
- “Planks” by lanuiop on Flickr Creative Commons.
- “Framed Sunset” by Sudhamshu on Flickr Creative Commons.

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