Exercise – Balance

You know that your studies are getting under your skin when, while waiting for the toast to pop-up from the toaster, you are rearranging the knives, margarine tub and jam on the chopping board to give a more pleasing balance.

This exercise has been hanging around for a while but I finally feel that I understand the concept and am in a position to explore it further. It is unlikely, apart from when shooting still life images perhaps, that the elements of the frame will be arranged to a balanced perfection. However, this is one of the key elements of design that helps explain why some pictures ‘work’ and others don’t.

For the exercise, we were to take 6 previously shot photographs and to decide how the balance works in each. It shouldn’t be as straight forward as the size of an object and its position in the frame. We also need to consider the areas of tone and colour, the arrangement of points and lines and the visual weight of objects in the frame.

Although it has taken an age to complete this exercise, I’m always happy to use previously shot photographs in these exercises as, so far at least, I’ve not taken pictures for exercises that I have been happy with – I am yet to learn how to satisfy my creativity while working inside the constraints of an exercise brief. As usual, you can click on any of the pictures below to see them larger.

Pub 28

Pub 28 bal

My first example is a fairly well balanced image although the rotation of the camera throws things a little and enlivens the image. The small object that is close to us is balanced by the larger object (sorry Gosia) in the background. To me, sharp focus adds visual weight.

Positioning the horizon Positioning the horizon balThe next example is similar. A smaller subject close to us and in focus balanced by a larger area of the frame. Although the firework is light, airy and translucent, the area of the frame that is occupies means that it balances the child.

gorm1 gorm1 bal

The next picture I chose develops this idea further (and shows that I have a tendency to compose images in similar ways). The solid, well-defined figure is balanced by the featureless expanse of the sea (that has been ‘averaged’ by the use of a ND filter).

Balance Balance balIn the next example, the main subject is balanced by his two colleagues. Incidentally, this picture is my first opportunity to use a film photograph in these studies. I shoot quite a lot of film and am hoping to complete one or more of the forthcoming assignments entirely on film. My original idea to use only pinhole cameras is a little optimistic!

Amy and Tom 39 Amy and Tom 39 balThe next picture is a little more complicated. The frame is divided by the edge of the door providing an obvious fulcrum when assessing balance. To further complicate it, because it’s a reflection, the bride balances herself. The groom appears in the left hand part part of the frame but is balanced by the guy in the shadows on the right. I do like this picture – it’s like a spot the difference!


Bradgate balFinally, another clearly divided frame and another reflection. The items in the right hand side of the image just about (in my opinion) balance me on the left.

There are no rules to balance. It’s a key element of design, but different people will interpret images in different ways. It is easy to apply a literal meaning to the concept and look for similar shapes and sizes, and once one understands the idea that areas of tone and colour can provide balance, this helps too. But I believe the feeling of whether an image is balanced or not is more intuitive than these concepts allow.

The pictures I’ve chosen above are the most literal examples of balance that I could find. I looked through an awful lot of images that weren’t balanced to find these. Balance doesn’t make a better picture, but it adds harmony, calm and satisfies the viewer. But if we did that with every picture, we’d have a very dull body of work…


    • Thanks Ben, very nice of you to say so. I’ve learnt from your blog and especially like the ‘extras’. Mine feels very much about ticking off the exercises whereas you are going further and writing up much more of your research and learning.


      • Cheers. Yeah I’m trying to put a bit more down because I feel like photographic knowledge is something I need to work on. Seeing some of you guys work on the blogs, I gotta lot of catching up to do…


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