Visual Balance

A sense of visual balance is essential in a photograph, without it we find the image unsatisfying. Balance is achieved with a combination of symmetry and harmony.
Symmetry is generated by placing one large, single subject in the centre of the frame, as in the example below by entitled ‘Bath’ by Mahfuzul Hasan Bhuiyan.

© Mahfuzul Hasan Bhuiyan, Bath

Maximum symmetry occurs when visible lines radiating out from the centre of the frame intersect with its corners, as in this example by Eleanor Bennett.

© Eleanor Bennett, Detail, Guilloche

A symmetrical balance can also be generated when two objects of the same size are equidistant from a vertical line drawn down the centre of the frame.

© Maurice Wilson, Cycling on the Edge

Symmetrical compositions generate a sense of calm and harmony but they can lack impact. Greater dynamism is generated when objects are placed unequally in the image, but a sense of balance needs to be preserved. A small object can balance a larger one if it is placed nearer the edge of the frame. The overhanging branches in the exapmle below balance the ‘weight’ of the large tree.

© John Massey, Sunrise Reflections

In reality most of our images are far more complex. A host of other elements can contribute to the sense of balance including colour, contrast and lighting. In viewing an image we don’t analyse all these elements, we just rely on our intuition and aesthetic sense.
The scene depicted below is tilted slightly. This gives the figure on the left a sense of greater visual weight, which balances the frame and the figure becomes more important.

© Hao Wu, Uyghur Man

The vehicle in this example implies a sense of motion, and as a result we perceive its position as being closer to the centre of the frame, creating the necessary harmony.

© Maurice Wilson, Morgan

Here the two figures attract our attention immediately. Our brains place extra emphasis on human forms. They are also silhouetted against the sun’s reflection and in the foreground. These factors combine to balance the ‘weight’ of the headland; harmony is restored.

© Ajithaa Edirimane, Friendship