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Imagine That Photography Tribe

Editor’s Picks: Week 8 Module Finding Your Balance

The Tribe has done it again!

Check out this beautiful collection of images from our Week 8 Module, “Finding Your Balance.”

Imagine That Photography Tribe

Copyright Vincent Ng 2012.

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Copyright Sarah Darr 2012.

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Copyright Einstein Lavina 2012.

Imagine That Photography Tribe

Copyright Cynthia Swidler 2012.

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Copyright Cyndi Louden 2012.

Imagine That Photography Tribe

Copyright Mihaela Limberea 2012.

If you would like to participate in weekly modules on all kinds of topics in photography, why not join the Imagine That Photography Tribe? Like us on Facebook, and get updates on weekly lessons, have a chance to discuss photography with cool Tribe members, and get free ebooks with your photos featured!

Krystal Vee flowers girl with flower copyright Aloha Lavina

Week 8 Module: Finding your Balance

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.

abstract photo symmetrical balance copyright Aloha Lavina

Symmetrical Balance.

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.

Krystal Vee flowers girl with flower copyright Aloha Lavina

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.

environmental portrait model urban grunge Singapore copyright Aloha Lavina

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.

Getty Museum black and white copyright Aloha Lavina

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.


monk reading by window Myanmar Burma black and white copyright Aloha Lavina

You can balance a subject with a large space, like a temple wall.

Negative space often gives you a graphic look to the image.

abstract lily black and white copyright Aloha Lavina

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.

mustard field India Rajasthan copyright Aloha Lavina

An image balanced by 'split' color.

The lighthouse is balanced by the colors of the kayaks in the foreground.

Carlsbad lighthouse copyright Aloha Lavina

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.

illustrated tension in a photo copyright Aloha Lavina

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.

Hmong children and balloon seller Sapa Vietnam copyright Aloha Lavina

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.

lily abstraction copyright Aloha Lavina

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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environmental portrait girl with offering at a school in Ubud Bali copyright Aloha Lavina

Week 7 Module A Sense of Place

We all want to raise our average of successful shots.

The awe and wonder we feel at beauty often makes us trigger happy with the camera. We shoot and shoot and shoot. Especially with dSLRs and the ability to fill a memory card without having to worry about the cost of developing the images later, we can happily shoot thousands of photos in a day without caring. We know that later when we edit and go through our ‘film,’ we can just pick the few best shots and call it a day.

Wait, really?

As a shooter making composition decisions, though, you might come to a point where you want every shot to count. After all, you are on a journey to improvement in your hobby, and what better indicator of success than the frequency you produce a good shot?

So how do we raise the percentage of good shots out of the many we shoot on any given day?

Many teachers say, “Shoot a lot.” It’s true that practice is out of the question one of the most important things you can do to increase your proficiency at making pictures.

But while shooting a lot, how you practice often makes the difference in the rate of improvement and the ability to call on skill at will, to make a good shot.

That’s why for the next week, we are going to learn how to capture a “sense of place,” essentially what travel photographers do.

Do you have to travel to do this two-week module? No. You can capture the sense of place right where you are, your hometown (or city). You can even be a camera toting tourist right in your own home! Imagine that.

How this module works is up to you, but I do suggest you focus on big ideas first, to get a sense of your shooting goals. Then, zoom in to specific shots you need to achieve. You have more than 7 days to shoot this assignment, so you can use the if-then planning strategy to schedule your goals in advance, and then go out and get those images.

What is travel photography?

Nigel Barker in this video below tells us about the topics in travel photography. Photographing portraits, action, and places are three general ways you can get a sense of place.

The goal in getting a sense of place is to collect in your images the small stories that make up a larger story, the story of your experience itself. What are the smaller stories? Let’s zoom into these topics and take a look.


Travel portraits are some of the most telling images of a place. People make a place how it is in the ways they have adapted and created their lifestyle. Lifestyle and culture shots often work best when we see people in action in those shots.

Peter McBride, a photographer at National Geographic tells us in this video that when taking portraits, it’s important to be polite. Imagine if you were just going about your daily life and someone with a wide angle lens stuck their lens in your face to take a close-up shot. That would be annoying, right? It’s important for a travel photographer to be courteous and not treat their subjects as zoo exhibits, ignoring the protocol of personal space.

For closeup shots, it might work to use a telephoto lens. Keeping a polite distance from the subject and shooting with a zoom lens actually has its own benefit. You get a shallow depth of field, effectively blurring the background and making your subject pop in the portrait.

You can change up your portraits using a few techniques.

People in motion

Using the technique of panning we learned in Module 5, you can add interest and story to a portrait by capturing people in action.

man in Bali panning technique copyright Aloha Lavina.

Panning technique in travel photography.

This man at an early morning market in Bali was an amazing subject. For this shot, I used a 24-70mm lens at around 55mm, shooting at shutter speed priority mode and dialing in a shutter speed of 1/30s. ISO was low to keep the shutter slow and help the panning technique.

Abstracting people

Sometimes, body language can be a great subject. These faceless portraits, one of my lifelong projects, can tell us about the people even if the face is absent in the shot.

onion peelers workers Bali abstract portrait faceless portrait project copyright Aloha Lavina

Abstraction can highlight a reality in a place.

In this shot of workers peeling onions, I focused on the workers’ feet semi-buried in onions and onion peel, to get a sense of their reality.


Being patient pays off a lot in travel photography. So does bringing your camera with you everywhere. Nigel Barker mentions in his video that often, amazing shots happen  when you least expect them. It’s good to patiently wait for those shots and capture those moments that tell the story of a relationship, or of emotions.

Emotions are the currency of human interactions, so if you spot more than one subject, wait a while and you might get rewarded with a shot telling their story through emotion.

father and son Bali copyright Aloha Lavina

Capturing interactions requires patience and quick reflexes.

Environmental portraits

Environmental portraits are portraits that give context to the subject. Including a bit of the surroundings helps to establish the place where the portrait belongs.

environmental portrait girl with offering at a school in Ubud Bali copyright Aloha Lavina

Including the environment gives the image context.

Composition is key in these environmental portraits. In this shot of a schoolgirl about to make an offering of flowers at her school, the background gives us some detail of where she is. It’s a room with two doorways, and this gives the shot depth. It also shows that there is more than this one girl at the scene. The silhouettes in the far doorway gives the shot both story and balance.

Change the way you see

If you establish a rapport with the people at a place, you can change your lens to shoot wide and change your point of view.

When I intend to take travel photos, I spent a lot of time without taking a single shot and instead focus on making a connection with the locals. If there is someone selling a snack or coffee, for instance, I usually use the very human activities of eating and drinking as a way to break the ice. Often times, people do not mind photographers as long as you don’t get in the way of their daily lives, and they perceive you as friendly. A smile can go a long way.

When you have established trust, you can tell that you are allowed closer to your subjects. (If they frown or shake their heads, thank politely and just go away.)

As you become more accepted as part of the scene by the people you’re photographing, you can do a couple of things to help you to change the way you see the travel portrait.

Stacking planes

When we photograph, we generally have three planes in front of our lens—the foreground, closest to us, the plane where the subject is, in the middle, and the background, farthest from us. Thinking this way allows you to manipulate the composition so that you can use the planes to show depth and to create a natural framing within the frame.

Kusumba stevedore loading boat for Lombok Bali copyright Aloha Lavina

Stacking planes and frame within the frame.

Sometimes, depth of field can help you create more than one plane in the image. In the picture of rice field workers, focusing on the grains falling from the basket at a shallow aperture allowed me to create the illusion of depth in the two-dimensional image by blurring the background.

rice field workers DOF vertical Balinese ricefield copyright Aloha Lavina

Using shallow depth of field to create an illusion of depth in the image.


Getting a sense of a place’s beauty can be done with a few simple tips.

Shoot good light

Knowing the quality of light at different times of day can help you decide when to shoot. Shooting at the golden hour of sunset or the first light of sunrise can give your photos of place added impact.

Waking up at 4 am to travel to this side of Bali was a little risky because the scene at the lake was often obscured by clouds. Sure enough that morning, the clouds were in full force, and the sunrise was hidden. But as the sun rose a little higher, it began to bleed its color into the cloud cover, and I was able to make shots of just the light.

sunrise under heavy cloud over lake Bali copyright Aloha Lavina

Sometimes, the image is just about light and shadow.

On a different day, I was walking from a village to the vehicle when I spotted this wonderful sky and beautiful light on ferns beside the road. The light itself was reason enough to make some images.

sunset and beautiful light on ferns Bali copyright Aloha Lavina

The beautiful light falling on the ferns caught my eye.

Sometimes, just making photos of good light can make any subject at any place worth the effort of making exposures.


Shooting details can help you tell the story of a place. Paying attention to details that tell part of the story can hone your observation skills—a useful skill in travel photography. It can also present you with a lot of opportunities to practice your composition skills, skill of making an exposure using exposure compensation, and spotting light on subjects.

detail of offering flower hibiscus and incense smoke Balinese offering Bali copyright Aloha Lavina

Details can help you tell a story of place.

Finally, here is some inspiration from National Geographic to help you visualize what you need to do for the next couple of weeks. (My stuff shouldn’t be your benchmarks for your work; these NatGeo photos should. They are my own benchmarks and source of aspiration/inspiration.)

Tips for Taking Simply Beautiful Photographs
Simply Beautiful Photos : Capturing Moment

The assignment for these modules is to create a sense of place. To address our first goal which is to increase our rate of success, you have to produce 7-10 images that give a sense of one place. The images can include any of the topics discussed in this module:

  • Portrait: close-up, action, interaction, emotion, abstraction, environmental
  • Place: sunrise, sunset, any good light, wide shot, details

Post your shots and title them this way so that we can identify them for the Editor’s Picks discussion: “yourname_place_typeofshot.” For example, “Aloha_Bali_detail” would be the title I would use for the last image shown above of the flower.

And there you have it, our most ambitious modules so far! As your slavedriver guide, I hope the extra challenge of producing more than one shot improves your batting average these next couple of weeks. I also hope that using your skills in composition, knowledge of light, and ability to create subjective compositions, the Imagine That Photography Tribe will produce a series of stories that will share the beauty and awesomeness of places where we live.

Join us, the Imagine That Photography Tribe, as we embark on a year of photography projects designed to improve and practice photography skills! Simply Like us on Facebook, and you will be able to see weekly posts, contributions from Tribe members, and talk photography! Participate and be included in weekly roundup articles published right here on Imagine That! Also get the chance to see your work in seasonal e-publications released by Imagine That.

Welcome back and thanks for reading Imagine That!

If you like what’s on the blog, let us know by commenting! To keep updated with new posts, subscribe to Imagine That! by clicking on the RSS Feed button on the upper right of the Homepage. It would also be cool to be friends with you on Facebook, or connect with you on Twitter.

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