Designing an image involves harmony in its elements. One of the important things that promote harmony in an image is balance.
When we think of balance, we think of symmetry—the opposite sides from a center are equal.
Balance in an image can be static balance. This happens when two sides of the image from the center form equal visual weight—they are symmetrical. Their sameness produces a static balance, which is very strict in its proportions.
But the brain isn’t very excited with symmetry. An image with static balance is already harmonious, and the mind doesn’t have to do any work to harmonize it. So it kinda gets bored.
What happens when an image is asymmetrical, when the two sides from the center are not of equal visual weight? What happens is, the brain fills in the harmony, making the viewer an active participant in the image. This is what excites the brain.
When making images with asymmetrical balance, we can use a few techniques to achieve balance.
Size and distance from the center
Some images can get away with putting the subject at one extreme side, and balancing the subject with another object at the opposite end. If the objects themselves are not visually ‘equal in weight,’ then the composition could work.
Symmetrical in shape, but with variation.
Sometimes, it is possible to imagine a lever of two different sized objects, but the smaller one is balanced because it is farther from the center.
Depth can bring balance to an image.
Using depth to create illusion of asymmetry
You can use depth, the illusion of near and far objects, to help you achieve balance in the image.
You can balance a closer object that looks large with something farther away, which looks smaller. It helps if the objects are similar in shape and tone. Darker objects tend to look “heavier” to the eye.
You can use relative size of objects caused by distance from the lens, to achieve balance.
Using space to balance the subject
You can use empty space or negative space to balance the subject.
You can balance a subject with a large space, like a temple wall.
Negative space often gives you a graphic look to the image.
Balance using negative space.
Using color to ‘split’ the image into two sides
You can use the colors in the image to ‘split’ it into balanced parts. In the first image of the mustard field and sky, the photo is split into almost symmetrical parts by the color. The variation that made it a bit interesting is the man’s silhouette and the top of the tree on the right.
An image balanced by 'split' color.
The lighthouse is balanced by the colors of the kayaks in the foreground.
Kayaks in the foreground in the same colors as the subject and background.
Using movement to ‘split’ the image
One of the challenges you might face is how to use movement to balance an image. By movement, we don’t mean actual movement of the subject, but the movement of the eye suggested by the subject.
The eye is led to two directions, creating tension.
In the image of the balloon man and Hmong children, the children are moving to one side of the image while the man is moving to another. Although they are moving in the same direction, the eye perceives a tension in the photo; it’s tugged in two ways. This tension adds to the dynamic balance of the image.
Movement to create dynamic balance.
Similarly, the petals of this abstracted lily moves in two different directions. There is one petal moving the eye toward the front left of the photo. Another petal is moving toward the background. This creates the same type of visual tension for the eye, and creates a dynamic balance in the photograph.
Movement can also be suggested by foreground and background.
Balance is one of the basic elements of a good composition. By following these tips, you can decide which type of balance works for your image, and make some dynamic compositions.
Your assignment this week is to try shooting to create different ways to balance elements in your photos. Pick the best of the lot, and post it in the Imagine That Photography Tribe Facebook page. Let’s get creative with composition again with a new twist!
If you want to journey with me as I rekindle my love for all kinds of photography in 2012, and learn lots of things along the way, head on over to our new Facebook page (and like us!), where you can participate in project modules, get some feedback, talk photography, and have your photography featured in a monthly roundup!
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