How to Improve the Balance of your Photos by Paying Attention to the Corners

How to Improve the Balance of your Photos by Paying Attention to the Corners

Balance is a very important aspect in photography. If you are aiming to create a balanced photo, then there is one key that is often overlooked.

The corners of an image.

Our eyes have a natural tendency to want to dart off of the sides of a photograph when we look at it and so, when we can, we need to use the edges to fight this natural urge.  Putting elements in the corners will stop the eyes so that they move back into the scene.

When you are framing a photograph look into each corner to see what is there.  It can often help to cut off elements.  A hint of a stair, window, or tree branches will simultaneously make us feel like the full element is there while still grounding the photo and pushing our eyes back into the middle.

If you’ve noticed why some photographs feel balanced and some don’t and can’t tell why, the corners are often the reason.

Here are 5 examples to look at.

Jimmy Webb, Trash and Vaudeville

The corner lines all lead the eyes to the middle, except the lower left corner, which adds another level of interest but still eventually pushes the eyes back into the photo.

Flat, East Village

Notice on the top how you only need a tiny area in the corners to provide balance.  You can see how this effect applies to the elements on the top and left and right sides of the photo as well.

5 Canal Street, Chinatown

The lines all push the eyes into the scene.  Notice how there are two ‘corners’ providing balance on the top right.

Shipping Docks, Cortlandt Alley

Red Wall, Midtown

The ‘corner’ elements don’t have to be at the very edge.  They can be further away from it.  They just have to provide the feeling of balance.


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James Maher is a professional photographer based in New York, whose primary passion is documenting the personalities and stories of the city. If you are planning a trip to NYC, he is offering his new guide free to DPS readers, titled The New York Photographer's Travel Guide. James also runs New York Photography Tours and Street Photography Workshops and is the author of the e-book, The Essentials of Street Photography.

Some Older Comments

  • David August 1, 2013 02:05 am

    nice article on balance. I must admit that I've never looked at it that way before. Now I have a new perspective to explore...thanks for the tip.

  • Alfredo taylor June 15, 2013 08:13 pm

    I love and agree with your article. It's what I do too - check out my photostream on flikr

  • Tom June 15, 2013 03:09 pm

    Maybe the best way to keep the viewer's interest is to include 2-3 strong focal points, or entry points in the image. They will draw the eye back to the image repeatedly. Having said that, framing landscape images with features such as branches or using leading lines will assist the viewer to stay with the main part of the image.

  • Paul Plak June 15, 2013 06:51 am

    Nice theme to talk about. Just a pity that the two photographs with and without color marks are attached to one another without any free space. Makes it kind of hard to "read the frame" and feel the banace in each scene.

  • Emanuil June 15, 2013 02:42 am

    James great article! Thanks! Although I am not new to photgraphy and have a good grip of the technical aspects exposure, aperture, light etc. I am not good with composition. It would be great if you can alos show examples where the rules were not kept or butally broken so that people like me know what not to do as well.

  • vivek June 15, 2013 12:45 am

    Interesting article

  • Jk McCrea June 14, 2013 11:05 pm

    Very good summaries. The use of circling areas made your message immediately clear. Do you have any feedback about "weight" in a photo - the use of balancing the color values of light areas versus dark areas? Having been trained in advertising and layout and design, I found the rules I learned in those early years have made my photos very successful.

    My compositions instinctively take light and dark areas into consideration.

  • Deb June 14, 2013 10:29 pm

    I would love to see some examples of - here's a photo, now here's how to framed/crop it to improve the balance.

  • Ron Mills June 14, 2013 07:20 am

    Excellent article! I always appreciate learning more about composition. Sometimes I think I am lacking in the "artistic" capabilities. Just knowing light is never enough!

  • James Maher June 14, 2013 04:21 am

    Geoff I think you're right, although I think that to break the 'rules' in the right way you have to know them first. There are so many compositions that work without any specific compositional rules depending on the subject, but still you've kinda got to know them.

  • Geoff Naylor June 14, 2013 03:04 am

    There aren't really any fixed rules about balance I don't think. Some pictures work because they don't seem to have it; because they have an unusual content distribution. Everything along one edge or cramped up in a corner. Like most creative processes there's a lot of individual preference and taste that come into play. A tendency to love the unexpected or to follow conformity.
    I love the red wall in the last photo by the way.

  • Ray June 14, 2013 02:16 am

    Great article. However, please use yellow instead of red to outline items in the photos. Almost 10% of males find it difficult to see red on a dark background. It took me several minutes to determine the difference between the two photos. I thought they were the same. Finally, I noticed the red lines. Green is just as bad.

  • Collie June 14, 2013 01:32 am

    the street scene , what is the photograph? the lines or lack of corners make me look down the street along the level of the building, I miss the guy working at the front of the picture, I see him when the red marks you drew force to look at the photo again in a way I didn't/wouldn't have normally done...

  • Debi June 12, 2013 09:46 pm

    Thank you for an interesting article!

  • Steve June 12, 2013 05:55 pm

    Billowy couds in the sky can have patterns which lead the eye up to the corners or, as in this case, the sun

  • Zain Abdullah June 12, 2013 05:28 pm

    Thanks for sharing with us an interesting and enlightening article.

  • Cramer Imaging June 12, 2013 08:15 am

    That is well put. I have taken some photos where the eyes can just wander off the page and people tend to tell me about it.