Principles Of Composition: Balance

Recently I was photographing ice bubbles on the frozen lakes of the Canadian Rockies, and the raw, rugged beauty mixed with the phenomena of gorgeous ice bubbles below me left me literally breathless.  Feeling very much like a beginner, I battled visual overload and awe.   I mentally talked myself through slowing down, going back to basics and looking for strong compositions. 

As teachers, we can often forget what it was like to be a beginner and to be overwhelmed with equipment and the beauty surrounding you.  When you add in the pressure to get the shot while the light is in its full glory, the situation can be frustrating. 

In a series of blog posts, we are going back to the basics of composition.  Today we’re addressing the topic of balance. 

Its not difficult to understand what this means, but mastering this technique or rule of design in your compositional tool belt can be challenging. 

Balance is identifying the elements before you, and creating your composition in a way that distributes weight evenly.  In drawing or painting, we break down the elements in our composition to shapes first.  The same principle must be applied to photography.  The best way to describe this will be visually. 


In the example below, symmetry is achieved by using two identical shapes or subjects and placing them on either side of an imaginary vertical axis in your image.  Below, I composed this photograph with the road going directly down center and having the weight of the trees on either side of the road being equally weighted.  Symmetry can be very formal and evoke feelings of formalities and elegance.  Oftentimes if we have images with a strong sense of symmetry, we will try them in black and white, which also leads to a very classic and elegant piece.

 Asymmetrical balance:

Asymmetrical balance follows the same principle above but looses the reigns.  We are essentially looking for balance without using identical objects. Finding a composition while looking for asymmetrical balance can be a bit more challenging.  Asymmetrical balance calls for two elements weighted the same, but does not require them to be identical. Aysmmetircal balance can also be related to tone or space.  

A good indicator if you have achieved asymmetrical balance is that if you find your eye equally roams to the left and right equally, you likely have hit the target. 

As an example below, I used tone (lights and darks) in a diagonal placement to achieve balance.

Radial Symmetry:

 Radial symmetry starts our point of focus in the center and then radiates out.  This might be one of the most difficult forms of balance to achieve.  Keith has an excellent example of this with his image, Blush Of Dawn (shown below).   Note how his sunrise is coming from close to the center and radiating out the top and the reflection in the bottom.  In addition, he’s also used symmetrical balance to balance two large darker objects on either side of the image to distribute weight and frame the picture.

Approximate Symmetry:

Let’s take things to a little deeper level.  Approximate balance follows the same principle as symmetry above but looses the reigns.  We are essentially looking for balance without using identical objects.  In the example below I balanced the weight of two objects, the fence on the right and the mound of grass on the left.  Both sides are similar in tones, but the left is clearly heavier than the right.  The weight of each in regard to space is evenly distributed, which supports our principle. 


Today we’ve covered several different elements to the principle of balance, and although we might not be able to recite each one tomorrow, let’s tuck these principles into our mind.  In the end, the most important thing to remember is that when you’re working on a composition, to identify all the elements in your frame, and making sure you are positioning them in a way that reflects balance.