And once again welcome to the weekly newsletter: photo of the week and lesson. This week’s lesson was inspired by a photo from Ambient Exposure Photography. I love the old film look of AE’s picture here, but even more than the classic film look it demonstrates more than one example of how to use proper balance in a photo. Balancing a picture is a rather basic skill, however, there are many subtleties to it that are easy to forget, or if you are self trained, easy to gloss over. Even seasoned professionals can always learn more about balance. Please take a moment to enjoy this photo before going on to the lesson itself and look at the balance this picture portrays.
Again I’ve tried to make this lesson applicable to everyone from beginner to advanced photographers so that no one is left out. So beginners feel free to start from the very beginning, Intermediates start from the middle and advanced users can skip to final section. So without further explanation let’s begin the discussion on balancing a photo.
WHAT IS BALANCE
Balance is a bit of a hard thing to define, but it is an essential tool to photography composition. Many beginners assume that it means symmetry, but balance is so much more than that. Over the years I’ve heard dozens of definitions of balance, but what it really means it so spread out points of interest in the photo so that the entire picture contains visual interest.
HOW TO ACHIEVE BALANCE
When I focus on balance, the first thing I think about is grid lines. The lines that make up the rule of thirds, and lines that divide the picture into quarters through the center. By dividing important elements upon based on these lines I start to create a balance in the picture. This is an easy way to think about balance, and as you get more practiced, can be done in a split second. The basic balance you will get out of this is called formal balance.
Formal balance often places a subject in the middle and uses empty space placed equally on all sides to isolate the subject. This is used very often in portraits. But often when we are shooting in less controlled circumstances we will opt for informal balance.
Informal balance is a bit different from formal balance in that is uses multiple objects spread across the image to achieve equilibrium. And again this can utilize both the rule of thirds and quartering of the photo. The picture below uses a bush to balance out the picture of the house. Either element alone would make the picture seem empty and sparse, but by combining them the image becomes balanced.
OTHER ASPECTS OF BALANCE
We have talked about using balance between space and empty space so far, but there are other aspects of balance as well. One huge flaw in any definition of balance that I’ve seen is that it doesn’t really discuss the interaction between elements in the picture. I think a good balance should compliment the other elements of the photo. There are different ways that this can be done, but the most common would be contrast. Not just between different colors either, there are many different types of contrast that can be done with image elements. Below is a list.
Colors: If a photo is composed mostly of neutral colors making a few colors more vibrant will add balance to the photo. Some photographers opt to convert entire photos to grayscale except for certain colors.
Brightness: A picture that is mostly white can easily be balanced by adding a little black. The same thing can be done by adding grey, but as grey contrasts less there will need to be larger area to balance the photo. The same technique will work in reverse as well. Normally I would call this an example of color contrast, however, it can be done using light as well. If the picture of the week had been taken on a clearer day this would have been a great example, but instead it offers another example: texture.
Texture: Having differing textures in an image can create balance; perhaps half the image is a solid wood grain while the other is a polished metal or in the case of our photo of the week there is a cloudy sky balanced with the cityscape.
Space: I’ve seen plenty of images with a single side filled with one or more objects and the other side is completely empty. This too can be balance. Our photo of the week does that admirably by creating a foreground, a midground, and a background. The foreground is the metal sphere; the midground being the buildings and the background is the sky.
Size: sometimes having one subject very close to the camera and the other further away can create balance, other times the actual size of the objects creates the balance.
Utilizing the above list you can create more interesting and elaborate balances to your photos. I hope that while reading this people not only get inspiration for future photos, but have come to a better understanding of balance in general.