As keen photographers, we are always looking for the best compositions and balance in our photography. These are important photography rules for composing your images well and creating something visually stunning.
Weight or balance are the terms given to compositional elements within your scene, and the visual impact they have. Some objects will have a stronger presence compared to other elements in the frame. As a photographer, it is down to you to include them or cut them out. This will depend on the effect they have on your overall composition.
There are many ways we can do this, both visually and conceptually. Light and dark areas are simple yet effective ways to create a balance. Just like other areas of photography, breaking the rule can also work well. But learn them first, so you can bend the ideas successfully.
Symmetrical Weight Balance
A symmetrical weight balance is also known as a ‘formal balance’. This is the most obvious way to compose your images. Unlike the rule of thirds, you arrange your most important element directly in the centre of the frame.
Most images with a symmetrical weight balance will be in the horizontal format. This just makes it is easier to show the symmetrical elements. They don’t need to be exact and perfect.
They just need a similar feel in weight and presence, allowing them to appear balanced.
Asymmetrical Weight Balance
Asymmetrical weight or balance is often referred to as ‘informal balance’. This can be tricky to achieve since you immediately want to put things right in the middle.
By following the ‘rules of thirds’, you will find it is easier to compose your image in this manner. It can give a harmonious feel to the image.
This composition has the capacity to draw the viewer in for longer. This is because it often feels more interesting than a subject smack bang in the middle of the frame.
If you feel that the scene is unbalanced, place one or more secondary subjects in the remaining space. The image above could benefit from a bird or plane in the negative space.
Size Weight Balance
You will find that size is one of the best ways to show a balanced composition. Size for us humans is relative. Bigger things tend to be closer to us, and smaller things are often farther away.
Manipulating this idea can help you to create some very interesting images.
It goes without saying, bigger objects hold more weight than smaller items. Because of this, they will attract the viewer’s attention more. It would be beneficial to you and your photography to make your main subject the biggest object.
You can do this with your perspective and cutting down the distance between you and your main subject.
Colour and Saturation Weight Balance
Bold bright colours stand out more than saturated ones. A burst of colour against a plain, monotone background will grab the viewer’s attention more. This allows you to set up the image, forcing the attention on one or two objects.
Colours can complement each other. So having either comparative colours or contrasting colours can help to make an image more interesting.
Having similar colours next to each other can help make a fluid transition from one item to another. This will keep the viewer engaged for longer.
Tone and Contrast Weight Balance
Tone and contrast play a huge part in the photographic process. Darker objects hold more weight than lighter ones, so you can use this for the benefit of your photography.
Shadows and dark objects can also be distracting from the main theme. If so, just reframe and shoot again if necessary.
Tone and contrast are especially powerful in black and white photography, as the colour is not an issue. Areas of high contrast draw your eye. Try and capture dark objects on a light background or vice versa.
It would be better to have some detail in the negative spaces to help engage the viewer.
Texture Weight Balance
Patterns and textures are interesting to humans as we seek them out and focus on them. They are a visual phenomenon, and become strong, natural points of interest. Strong textures can help support an image by balancing an off-centre subject.
Yet, textured backgrounds can detract the viewer’s attention from the main focal point.
This is a compositional tool that can help in other compositions. For example, the below image denotes a conceptual weight balance, as the idea in the image could be seen as nature vs. man-made.
The shape and form of both the foreground and background play off each other.
Focal Weight Balance
The focus is just one way we can force and push the viewer’s attention to an area or subject within our frame. Items in focus will hold more visual weight than those areas out of focus.
The depth of field or differential focus is a powerful tool in removing unwanted areas of a scene.
The best thing is that the out of focus areas still give us a texture that is interesting. They may even be repetitions of what is in focus, and it allows the viewer’s eyes to move on once they found the focused object.
Light and Dark Weight Balance
Light and dark are very powerful tools in photography. Every image is a mixture of lights and darks, either whites and blacks, or highlights and shadows.
A darker image can help to create a moody atmosphere, whereas a lighter one has the potential to have a softer, more innocent feel.
The darker areas draw the viewer’s eyes to the lighter ones. You can use this technique for natural framing, for example.
You can even mix it with a more conceptual idea, such as light and dark meaning good and evil.
People/Animals Weight Balance
Including people or animals can work very well in balancing a composition. They are very noticeable subjects for us. We know how big a human or an elephant should be.
So when they are placed in the image, it gives a sense of scale and helps our interest stay in the frame.
They also give us a sense of place and time, due to their mise en scène. You can tell that the below image is a humorous one, taken by a street photographer, possibly in Paris in the 1940s, for example.
Photographing people has the potential to create something interesting. By using the background, you can help the foreground more attractive.
Lead Room Weight Balance
‘Lead room‘ or ‘nose room’ is a concept in photography where you allow space in front of the photographed subject’s gaze. This allows the viewer to see that the person is looking somewhere, and not just at the end of the frame.
We expect to see a little in front of the person, otherwise, it can cause tension, which doesn’t make for a well composed or balanced image. If you feel that the image is unbalanced, include the object the person is looking towards or at.
Conceptual Weight Balance
A conceptual idea to compose from can be very powerful. Juxtapositioning these concepts can create a story or interest through the contrast of their ideas.
For example, this below image shows the seperation of the rich and poor neighbourhoods. We can see the size of their houses, how much space they have and even the differences in the landscape.
Similarly, the conceptual ideas behind composition can go from obvious to thought-provoking. In the image below, we see some steps, and a boy at the bottom, looking at the first step.
This represents a challenge that needs to be overcome with purpose, effort and courage. They work well as the two contrasting ideas balance off one another.
A note from Josh, ExpertPhotography's Photographer-In-Chief:
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