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Balance in Photography

Balance

One compositional ‘rule’ (principle) that we’ve not talked much about since starting DPS is ‘balance’.

While it’s a difficult thing to be specific about (it’s not like the Rule of Thirds where you can identify key spots on an image by imagining lines through it) it is a compositional factor worth considering when framing shots.

Perhaps the most effective way of learning about balance is by looking at photos that don’t have it.

We’ve all taken them – shots with strong points of interest on one side of an image and ‘emptiness’ in another area.

I’m not talking about symmetry – images don’t need to be the same on each side – but sometimes images can be improved greatly by having a secondary point of interest counter balancing the main focal point of an image and providing those ‘empty’ spots with a little weight.

Achieving Balance in shots is something that photographers learn over time. The best way to learn it is to scan through some of your older images, looking for those that could be more balanced.

Of course each situation will be different and getting balance in your shots might be achieved by a variety of techniques including:

  • cropping (sometimes some post production processing will achieve a lot)
  • altering your shooting view point (shooting from higher up or lower down
  • zooming (more tightly cropped or wider angles)
  • moving an element of your picture (sometimes scenes can be rearranged)

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Darren Rowse is the editor and founder of Digital Photography School and SnapnDeals. He lives in Melbourne Australia and is also the editor of the ProBlogger Blog Tips. Follow him on Instagram, on Twitter at @digitalPS or on Google+.

  • http://j.tumblr.com testMonkey

    “Perhaps the most effective way of learning about balance is by looking at photos that don’t have it.”

    This is a great topic for a post. Perhaps a little more show (i.e.: more photos as per your statement) would help cement the concept into the brains of newbs (like me).

    Thanks – the site is awesome.

  • http://OhMyWoodness.com mike

    I find it very useful to look at other’s pictures, not just good (or great) photographers’ pictures, but lots of pictures. Then critique them – both the good ones and the bad ones. Find what you think makes each of them good or bad. Look for that magical ‘balance’, pose, lighting, cropping or ‘??’ that makes or breaks the picture.

    County and State Fairs are a great place to see a variety of pictures, all (most) amateur photographers. Some of the pictures will be great, some make me wonder about the ability of the judges. I try to look at each of the images that don’t turn me on, and try to figure out why, and what I’d do to turn it into a picture I’d be proud of. I also look at the ‘good’ pictures and try to figure out what it is about it – which ‘rule’ was broken, which ‘rule’ was followed that makes it a good one.

  • http://thezg.blogspot.com/ zg

    I agree that this is a great concept to talk about, but it would be very helpful if you could provide a couple of examples and comment on them.

  • http://digital-photography-school.com/blog Darren

    feel free to add some links to some flickr images that you think are balanced – or not balanced.

  • http://www.jmcp.homeunix.com/blog James

    With all of the above in mind, I would really appreciate getting your feedback on some of the “training photos” that I’ve taken in the last few weeks such as http://www.jmcp.homeunix.com/gallery2/main.php/v/jmcp/Photo_Training/20070317_153710__MG_3052.jpg.html and http://www.jmcp.homeunix.com/gallery2/main.php/v/jmcp/Photo_Training/20070310_121438__MG_2939.jpg.html in particular.

  • James R. Juris

    I say that your first training photograph is balanced perfectly. the orange on the right and at the bottom of the photo frame the shot. The diagional part of the image is just about ecactly in the center of the image.

  • James R. Juris

    Your second training photograph is also well balanced in my own opinion. This photo is not balanced 50/ 50 like the first training photo, it is more like 40/ 60, because it is balanced by the road that cuts through the photo.

    I think that the land and water are in proper proportion to each other.

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/e-nikkos/ e-nikkos

    hey there !
    this pic is mine :)
    hehe
    i donpt get to understand the point, are you saying this pic is not well balanced? :O
    as i am an amateur photographer i would love to know why ;-)
    is it because of the white letters?

    thanx a lot !!!!

  • http://standardcatastrophes.wordpress.com rik

    i agree that balance can create a wonderful feeling in a picture. here’s one i’ve found that i think illustrates having two focal points to balance things out.

    that being said, i don’t think it’s one of those make-it-or-break-it sort of rules. here’s a shot that i think doesn’t agree with your rule, yet it works very well for me, mostly because there are other “rules” at work (in this one, as i see it, it’s a pattern being broken that makes it so interesting).

    and, as others have mentioned, this post seems a bit unfinished–is your example balanced or not? the original photographer would like to know that as well. do you have examples of unbalanced pictures for us to see? a comparison would be nice.

    great site, btw…i’m a regular lurker.

  • http://JurisEnterprises.com James L. Juris

    Juris is a very uncommon name. I thought there was noone with my same name around. If you have this James R. Juris’ email address still that wrote you above write him and let hiim know that our names are almost the same except by one initial. I would be interested in meeting him if he is interested. THanks for checking it out.

    James

  • Roger W. Capone

    At a critique session of my club , I was told that my photo of the reflection of the suns rays on the ocean would have been enhanced if there was something else in it, like a boat. I was impressed by the beauty of the scene. Would there be need for balance in this case

  • http://www.photographybyjc.com phoenix wedding photography

    There is a noticeable difference between photos with good composition and those without. I mainly do wedding photography and this probably applies to all photography but Depth of field is huge. Pictures with only one focal plane get boring unless they have great colors. Thats my opinion anyway…

  • http://www.imagesbykathy.com Kathy

    This issue is often one I remark on in critiques. The phrasing I use is “weighted”. Having a wider/thicker/heavier subject on one side of an image and a lesser sized subject on the other has a tendency to make the horizon appear unlevel. It may not be so, but the “weight” of elements can give the perception that there is a definite “lean” in the photo.

  • http://yahoo dimpho

    i dont understanb how balance works in photography i thought that objects had to exactly the same on both sides

  • C

    e-Nikkos, I think that it is not balanced, because the yellow is so bright in comparison to the rest of the picture. (I think…)

  • Lendl

    I think the main point of balance is making sure the foreground, background and main subject are all balanced. I think it will be best understood by balance with regards to the negative space assignment. Just my opinion.

  • Melody

    Could someone post an imbalance photo please, this would be most helpful. thanks

  • Liberal_Thug

    I agree – the article would be a lot more substantial with some actual examples and a discussion around them.

    That said, I completely agree about reviewing your past work – I notice for example how much less I crop images in post production these days compared to a few years ago. The cropping process taught me a lot about how to think about the final image before pressing the shutter button!

  • jm

    If everyone is to just post a picture and have others comment on the supposed balance, why not post this in the forum? This is hardly a tutorial at all. Balance is most definitely shown best with examples, and leaving the examples out of the tutorial sort of sucks the learning out of this post.

  • http://www.designsbyskip.com Karl

    I’ll give it a try.

    Here are a few that don’t appear to well balanced.

    – [img]http://farm3.static.flickr.com/2024/2501079731_3ac6528e98_b.jpg[/img]
    – [img]http://farm1.static.flickr.com/154/428436894_587818fc5f_b.jpg[/img]

    This one is a tough one. Several people have told me it’s not “centered” well. The tree in the middle is “Off” some say.
    – [img]http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3382/3308859279_5a8081948c_b.jpg[/img]

  • Kenneth Hyam

    This is a fascinating discussion. I think actually the last photo is quite well balanced – the balance is made up of the hut, the tree and the shadow cast by the tree which is out of the frame. I think balance is about interest and direction as well as about weight. Just my opinion. Great post anyway.

  • http://www.designsbyskip.com Karl

    Thanks.
    I’m one of those people that say’s “I like it, therefore, it’s perfect”.

    Art is subjective at best, so we shouldn’t put to much in “Theories” or “Rules” (which ARE made to be broken), and in what others think.

    Input is VERY helpful, at least to know what people think , and for help in getting better, but use it as a guideline.

    Do what you want, when and how you want … if it makes you happy.

    Thanks again for the positive comments. Most people have said it’s to bad I couldn’t have taken the photo without the tree in the middle of the field? Like what, I’m going to go out there and cut it down?

    Skip

  • shoo

    i agree – the yellow comes out of the primary photograph long before the other colours – i can see balance but only after the other two colours come into focus.

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/iamcesur Cesur
  • http://bradtphotography.com Bradt Photography

    I looked over some old work, that was very helful, thank you.

  • http://www.dennismiler.neu.edu D Miller

    These tips and pages (focal point, Balance) would be vastly more helpful if there were a lot more examples. It’s like writing about music (or dancing).
    dm

  • http://lifeisafieldwork.wordpress.com Robin Oberg

    Is “out of balance” the same thing as saying “move to another position” ? Because that’s what I see in these images. Take a few steps to the side and it’s fine…

  • jay

    i wish there was more info on this page it’s self….

  • http://academy-of-photography.com Christian

    lack of balance creates tension. Sometimes lack of balance is with intent

  • Shu miller

    Looking at photography is very personal! I look for artistic compositions and color. To be moved when viewing an image is more important than analyzing it for technical perfection! Some of the most technically correct images have left me uninspired and may even be called “boring.” I am sure many of you wonderful photographers will agree! So don’t get hung up on that aspect of your image…..if you love your work, you will benefit from the self respect that you get from being true to your inspiration and abilities in “thinking outside the box.”

  • http://www.gajindustrialsupply.com/ Henry James

    Variety of useful techniques listed out here, thanks for sharing! Balancing gives more impact for photographs. Photo Restoration

  • peepeeman

    i like my peepee

  • Swag

    Maury told me nothin

  • Swagles

    You are the father!

  • Swaglez

    Ya’ll be high up in dis joint like dis some hoe.

  • Peepeelover

    I like your peepee too.

  • Jotel

    vuctrir aint got nuthin on mah peepee lovin self, ya feel?

  • Jotel’s Third

    SACRIFICE!!!!

  • Yolo Swagginz

    da f what’s with this hoe?

  • Vuctrir

    Stop spreading liiiiiiiiiies Jotel! I been out there, I got sum, you aint got NOTHIN on me, boy!

  • The ladies

    u be lookin fiiiiiiiiiiiiiine Jotel ;)

  • Excuse You Hoe!

    These hoes ain’t loyal, Maury.

  • Mr.Nagel

    My students suck

  • John

    I know Digital Photography 1 sucks balls!!!

Some older comments

  • Christian

    September 10, 2013 12:19 am

    lack of balance creates tension. Sometimes lack of balance is with intent

  • jay

    September 14, 2012 07:57 am

    i wish there was more info on this page it's self....

  • Robin Oberg

    September 13, 2010 07:00 pm

    Is "out of balance" the same thing as saying "move to another position" ? Because that's what I see in these images. Take a few steps to the side and it's fine...

  • D Miller

    June 16, 2010 09:52 am

    These tips and pages (focal point, Balance) would be vastly more helpful if there were a lot more examples. It's like writing about music (or dancing).
    dm

  • Bradt Photography

    December 16, 2009 06:04 am

    I looked over some old work, that was very helful, thank you.

  • Cesur

    November 2, 2009 01:26 pm

    Balance.....
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/iamcesur/3693304633/in/set-72157621036020666/

  • shoo

    October 31, 2009 10:51 pm

    i agree - the yellow comes out of the primary photograph long before the other colours - i can see balance but only after the other two colours come into focus.

  • Karl

    October 31, 2009 06:55 am

    Thanks.
    I'm one of those people that say's "I like it, therefore, it's perfect".

    Art is subjective at best, so we shouldn't put to much in "Theories" or "Rules" (which ARE made to be broken), and in what others think.

    Input is VERY helpful, at least to know what people think , and for help in getting better, but use it as a guideline.

    Do what you want, when and how you want … if it makes you happy.

    Thanks again for the positive comments. Most people have said it's to bad I couldn't have taken the photo without the tree in the middle of the field? Like what, I'm going to go out there and cut it down?

    Skip

  • Kenneth Hyam

    October 31, 2009 05:53 am

    This is a fascinating discussion. I think actually the last photo is quite well balanced - the balance is made up of the hut, the tree and the shadow cast by the tree which is out of the frame. I think balance is about interest and direction as well as about weight. Just my opinion. Great post anyway.

  • Karl

    October 30, 2009 05:04 am

    I'll give it a try.

    Here are a few that don't appear to well balanced.

    - [img]http://farm3.static.flickr.com/2024/2501079731_3ac6528e98_b.jpg[/img]
    - [img]http://farm1.static.flickr.com/154/428436894_587818fc5f_b.jpg[/img]

    This one is a tough one. Several people have told me it's not "centered" well. The tree in the middle is "Off" some say.
    - [img]http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3382/3308859279_5a8081948c_b.jpg[/img]

  • jm

    October 30, 2009 05:01 am

    If everyone is to just post a picture and have others comment on the supposed balance, why not post this in the forum? This is hardly a tutorial at all. Balance is most definitely shown best with examples, and leaving the examples out of the tutorial sort of sucks the learning out of this post.

  • Liberal_Thug

    October 30, 2009 01:59 am

    I agree - the article would be a lot more substantial with some actual examples and a discussion around them.

    That said, I completely agree about reviewing your past work - I notice for example how much less I crop images in post production these days compared to a few years ago. The cropping process taught me a lot about how to think about the final image before pressing the shutter button!

  • Melody

    September 25, 2009 11:35 pm

    Could someone post an imbalance photo please, this would be most helpful. thanks

  • Lendl

    February 17, 2009 03:12 am

    I think the main point of balance is making sure the foreground, background and main subject are all balanced. I think it will be best understood by balance with regards to the negative space assignment. Just my opinion.

  • C

    October 31, 2007 03:33 am

    e-Nikkos, I think that it is not balanced, because the yellow is so bright in comparison to the rest of the picture. (I think...)

  • dimpho

    October 25, 2007 11:03 pm

    i dont understanb how balance works in photography i thought that objects had to exactly the same on both sides

  • Kathy

    July 20, 2007 07:01 am

    This issue is often one I remark on in critiques. The phrasing I use is "weighted". Having a wider/thicker/heavier subject on one side of an image and a lesser sized subject on the other has a tendency to make the horizon appear unlevel. It may not be so, but the "weight" of elements can give the perception that there is a definite "lean" in the photo.

  • phoenix wedding photography

    May 8, 2007 03:31 pm

    There is a noticeable difference between photos with good composition and those without. I mainly do wedding photography and this probably applies to all photography but Depth of field is huge. Pictures with only one focal plane get boring unless they have great colors. Thats my opinion anyway...

  • Roger W. Capone

    May 1, 2007 12:33 am

    At a critique session of my club , I was told that my photo of the reflection of the suns rays on the ocean would have been enhanced if there was something else in it, like a boat. I was impressed by the beauty of the scene. Would there be need for balance in this case

  • James L. Juris

    April 12, 2007 06:20 am

    Juris is a very uncommon name. I thought there was noone with my same name around. If you have this James R. Juris' email address still that wrote you above write him and let hiim know that our names are almost the same except by one initial. I would be interested in meeting him if he is interested. THanks for checking it out.

    James

  • rik

    March 29, 2007 04:49 am

    i agree that balance can create a wonderful feeling in a picture. here's one i've found that i think illustrates having two focal points to balance things out.

    that being said, i don't think it's one of those make-it-or-break-it sort of rules. here's a shot that i think doesn't agree with your rule, yet it works very well for me, mostly because there are other "rules" at work (in this one, as i see it, it's a pattern being broken that makes it so interesting).

    and, as others have mentioned, this post seems a bit unfinished--is your example balanced or not? the original photographer would like to know that as well. do you have examples of unbalanced pictures for us to see? a comparison would be nice.

    great site, btw...i'm a regular lurker.

  • e-nikkos

    March 28, 2007 03:15 pm

    hey there !
    this pic is mine :)
    hehe
    i donpt get to understand the point, are you saying this pic is not well balanced? :O
    as i am an amateur photographer i would love to know why ;-)
    is it because of the white letters?

    thanx a lot !!!!

  • James R. Juris

    March 24, 2007 01:56 pm

    Your second training photograph is also well balanced in my own opinion. This photo is not balanced 50/ 50 like the first training photo, it is more like 40/ 60, because it is balanced by the road that cuts through the photo.

    I think that the land and water are in proper proportion to each other.

  • James R. Juris

    March 24, 2007 01:48 pm

    I say that your first training photograph is balanced perfectly. the orange on the right and at the bottom of the photo frame the shot. The diagional part of the image is just about ecactly in the center of the image.

  • James

    March 20, 2007 09:41 pm

    With all of the above in mind, I would really appreciate getting your feedback on some of the "training photos" that I've taken in the last few weeks such as http://www.jmcp.homeunix.com/gallery2/main.php/v/jmcp/Photo_Training/20070317_153710__MG_3052.jpg.html and http://www.jmcp.homeunix.com/gallery2/main.php/v/jmcp/Photo_Training/20070310_121438__MG_2939.jpg.html in particular.

  • Darren

    March 20, 2007 04:34 pm

    feel free to add some links to some flickr images that you think are balanced - or not balanced.

  • zg

    March 20, 2007 03:00 pm

    I agree that this is a great concept to talk about, but it would be very helpful if you could provide a couple of examples and comment on them.

  • mike

    March 20, 2007 09:53 am

    I find it very useful to look at other's pictures, not just good (or great) photographers' pictures, but lots of pictures. Then critique them - both the good ones and the bad ones. Find what you think makes each of them good or bad. Look for that magical 'balance', pose, lighting, cropping or '??' that makes or breaks the picture.

    County and State Fairs are a great place to see a variety of pictures, all (most) amateur photographers. Some of the pictures will be great, some make me wonder about the ability of the judges. I try to look at each of the images that don't turn me on, and try to figure out why, and what I'd do to turn it into a picture I'd be proud of. I also look at the 'good' pictures and try to figure out what it is about it - which 'rule' was broken, which 'rule' was followed that makes it a good one.

  • testMonkey

    March 20, 2007 08:49 am

    "Perhaps the most effective way of learning about balance is by looking at photos that don’t have it."

    This is a great topic for a post. Perhaps a little more show (i.e.: more photos as per your statement) would help cement the concept into the brains of newbs (like me).

    Thanks - the site is awesome.

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