How To Understand Balance In Photography

five black rocks

Perhaps the greatest issue with balance in photography is how easily it affects our mood. An image that’s unbalanced feels off, like something is missing. 

The perfect word to describe this would be jarring. That’s why, when it comes down to a good composition, balance is an important aspect for photographers looking to create something meaningful. 

What makes a photo balanced?

person on balance board

To better understand this, imagine the left and right halves of your image are placed on opposite ends of a fulcrum. 

Balance is achieved when both sides strike each other out. That is, they both draw the eyes equally. 

The left – right balance is the only one that matters in your photo when it comes to how balance adds life to a good composition.

The top – bottom balance has little to no effect when on how balanced an image appears.

Why is balance important: balance vs imbalance 

A balanced image is visually appealing and creates a sense of calm. To a viewer it doesn’t seem awkward. Instead, it creates an experience that’s inviting and aesthetic. 

Symmetry 

Taj Mahal, India

This is one of the first pillars of visual balance.  This happens when the both the left and right halves of an image are identical.

No side has greater visual mass than the other. Take note, it is termed symmetrical because both halves are identical. Meaning they contain objects that resemble each other.

Asymmetrical Balance

man on top of the mountain during daytime

In asymmetrical balance,  both halves don’t contain identical objects. 

Sometimes, a secondary object is added to balance out the photo. 

Balance is achieved when each side commands equal level of attention.

What to look out for to balance an image

When a viewer stumbles on an image, his/her eyes are drawn to certain aspects instantly. 

By ensuring each aspect is maintained across both halves, you’ll be able to produce a balanced image that’s visually appealing.

Here’s a short list of things that catches a viewer’s eye in a photo:

  • Color
  • Objects in focus
  • Large objects
  • People and animals
  • Eyes of your subject 

The goal is to make sure each half holds an equal amount of visual weight.

assorted-color lear hanging decor

This way, objects on either side cancel themselves out and provide the kind of punch that defines good imagery, and  by extension, good photography.

Practical process to achieve balance

By now you should be getting a hang of what balance is.

If you want to adjust the balance of an image, look at the left and right halves of your frame. Take a note of how many visuals appear on each side using the list above. Also, keep in mind the distance of objects to the centre of the  frame.

Then, arrange the frame in a way that there’s equal visual weight on both sides. Either by adjusting the distance, adding or removing items from a particular half, or completely removing  distracting objects.

As you practice, it will become second nature to you and you’ll be able to do it without thinking too much about it.

When imbalance can be useful

Now, we know we’ve been going on about the importance of a balanced photo. However, an unbalanced image can be used to add tension and movement to a scene.

How to balance vertical frames

vertical balance

Vertical frames can be a bit tougher because you have less room to work with.

However, follow the process above and you’ll have a composition that’s well balanced. 

To help you navigate the waters of vertical frames, try as much as possible to keep the main subject in the centre so you have enough space to move objects in each half.

Remember, the farther away an object is from the centre of a frame, the more attention it draws. That’s why, it’s important to keep the main subject at the centre of the frame so other secondary objects can be arranged accordingly. 

Small subjects 

This is another cool aspect of balance in photography. There are times when the size of an image affects the balance.

Most times when the important details are  not visible in smaller sizes, it can cause the image to appear unbalanced. But when the image is made larger, the main subjects become larger thereby adding balance to the overall composition. 

Importance of post processing software

This is probably one of the best ways to ensure an image is balanced. Softwares like lightroom and photoshop can be used to retouch certain aspects of an image so that both halves carry equal visual weight. 

Whether that’s darkening a colour that’s too bright or cropping out objects that might be distracting.

Your preferred method depends on what you’re trying to achieve in a photo.

Conclusion

With practice, knowing when and how to balance a photo will be as easy as putting on a pair of shoes.

Plus, the concept of balance boils down on the type of image you’re trying to create. Some photos might need to be balanced so they appear calm and serene. Others might require an unbalanced nature to add a little bit of tension 

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