Thursday, 16 January 2014

Photography Composition Tips – Balance

When we look at a picture, our unconscious mind is in constant search of a balance between different elements in the scene and if it cannot find what it’s looking for it causes a sense of tension, fear, insecurity etc. So it is important to achieve visual balance in your compositions to make the viewers’ at peace and let them enjoy the picture.

What is Balance in Photography?

Whenever a person looks at a picture, his/her unconscious mind has a tendency to divide the picture into two equal halves. The mind then searches for balance between elements on both sides of the frame. 

photography composition tips
The frame divided into two equal parts

For example

Image a See Saw, running horizontally through a scene or a board balanced on a fulcrum. 

balance in photography composition
balance in photography composition

Now imagine your photographic frame is placed on the see saw such that the center of the frame is exactly at the center of the See Saw. 

photography composition techniques
photography composition techniques

When you place different objects on both sides such that their weights are equaled out, the see saw stabilizes in a horizontal position. Such a composition is said to be a balanced composition.

Every element in your composition carries a certain amount of visual weight. To keep your image balanced, you must compensate for each element with a counter-weight. Different colors, different levels of contrast, and different subject positions all carry different visual weights.

Formal Balance or Symmetrical Balance

Formal balance could be easily recognized by subjects that are uniform in shape. When one or more identical subjects are repeated symmetrically on each side, the composition is said to have formal or symmetrical balance.

basics of photography composition
single object balanced in the center

In the diagram given above a single object in the center of a picture is well balanced. We can also balance the seesaw by placing two identical objects at equal distances to the fulcrum on either side as shown below.

photography composition rules
two identical objects at equal distance
 from the center perfectly balanced

Informal Balance or Asymmetrical Balance

When one or more dissimilar elements balance each other the picture is said to have asymmetrical balance. As the subjects are not uniform asymmetrical balance is less obvious and when used right creates much more visual interest in the viewers mind than symmetrical balance.

However in real life it is not as easy it seems as the scene we intend to photograph could have all sorts of shapes, patterns, colors and textures and assigning visual weight to them and balancing them all out is a tricky affair. The important thing to remember here is that various sizes and forms can be balanced as long as their respective “weights” are the same on both sides of the fulcrum.

For example

If you have a large object on one side of the image, it should be counter balanced with a smaller object or objects to make a good composition. Compared to symmetrical composition, use of asymmetrical balance is more challenging and requires more artistic skill and training to do well.

rules of photography composition
one large object balanced by many smaller objects

You don't have to balance color with color, or light with dark. You can mix and match your visual weights! For example, a counter-weight to a large, bright area might be a small dark object.

Radial Balance

A picture is said to have radial balance when all the elements of the design “radiate” from a center point in a circular fashion and the visual weight is distributed equally. 

radial balance in photography composition
radial balance in photography composition

Radial balance is a great way to lead the eye directly into the focal point in the center of the picture.

How to achieve good balance in your images?

Achieving good balance in photography requires the right combination of different elements like shapes, colors, contrast, space, size, texture, eye direction etc. Understanding the factors required to create pictorial balance is essential for you to produce good pictures. Once you gain an understanding of the principles of pictorial balance, achieving balance in your photographs takes little effort.

Techniques to Achieve Balance in Photography Composition

Factors that influence Visual Weight

There are many factors to consider to make pictures appear balanced. Some of them are:


The simplest of all concepts is that of size; larger feels heavier than smaller ones.

photography composition tricks
larger objects feels naturally heavier than smaller ones


The farther an object is from the center the greater is its visual weight. A large object near the center on one side of the frame can be balanced by a much smaller object placed near the edge on the other side.

For example

In the diagram given below, to the left, we have a larger object closer to the mid-point, with a much smaller object on the right far away from center. This is similar to an adult sitting closer to the center of a beam in order to teeter-totter with a child.

composition in photography
smaller object farther from the center could balance
a much larger object nearer to the center

Similarly objects in the upper part of a picture seem heavier than objects of the same size in the lower part of a picture.

rules of composition in photography
objects placed higher up have more visual weight

So using these tips you can maximize the visual weight of any object in your composition by placing them towards top right or top left corners.

composition tips for photographers
objects placed in areas of maximum visual weight

One other rule is that elements on the right side of an asymmetrical picture appear to have more weight than elements of the same size on the left side of the picture.

photography composition tip
the star on the right appears to have more visual weight
than the one on the left even though both are exactly
the same size


Objects which have a lot of texture appear visually heavier than ones with simple texture or no texture.

basic photography composition
the spade shape on the right which have texture
appear to have more visual weight than the one on left


An isolated element (one with a lot of white space around it); appear to have more visual weight.

digital photography composition tips
the diamond shape on the right appears to have more
visual weight than the diamond on the left but in
reality both are equal in size.


Objects that are darker feels heavier than objects that are of a lighter tone.

composition photography
black star on the right feels heavier than the grey one

Value Contrast

Higher the value contrast in an image the greater is its visual weight.

photography composition
shape on the right appears to have more visual
weight due to more contrast with its background


Multiple small objects can balance one larger object

rules of photography composition
smaller objects balancing out one large shape


A diagonal orientation carries more visual weight than a horizontal or vertical one.

diagonal orientation in photography composition
diagonal lines on the right have more visual weight
than horizontal lines on the left


Elements that have more complex shapes feel heavier than those with simple shapes. 

composition techniques for photographers
the shape on the right feels heavier than one on the left

Similarly regular shapes seem to have more weight than irregular shapes. 

shapes and photography composition
the square being a regular shape appears to have
more visual weight than the shape on the left

Also intensely interesting objects seem to have more compositional weight.

composition rules for photographers
the shape on the right being more visually interesting
carries more visual weight than the triangle


The brighter and more intense its color, the heavier the element will feel.

color and photography composition
red star on the right has more visual weight than the
black star on the left


The directions in which figures, lines, and shapes appear to be looking or moving within the picture area are also important to balance.

direction in photography composition
direction in photography composition

For example

The direction in which the subject is facing/looking/moving creates a feeling of direction and could easily upset the balance of otherwise perfectly balanced pictures. So whenever a feeling of direction is present in the composition balance must not be judged on the size of the subject alone.

A perfect understanding of the factors that affect balance will go a long way in improving your photographic composition; but remember photography is art and creating perfectly balanced pictures all the time is not what we consider artistic expression. There are situations/subjects/scenes that actually benefit from a little imbalance or tension so try manipulating the balance intentionally to produce tension in your images and see how it works too.

Related Reading

  1. What is perspective and how can we use it to improve the composition of our photographs?
  2. Using Backgrounds to Improve Your Photography Composition
  3. Using the Foreground to Improve Your Photography Composition
  4. Using Patterns in Photography Composition
  5. Using Symmetry to Improve Your Photography Composition