For the second in the series on composition, I thought I would touch on balance. One could write pages on this subject so I will only scratch the surface. Balance in some ways is one of the trickier aspects of composition. When is an image balanced? Should it be balanced? What factors come into determining visual balance? This blog only touches on the last question.
Don’t confuse symmetry with balance. Creating symmetry can be good in some images, but symmetry can often result in static or “boring” images. You can have balance without image symmetry.
Key to understanding balance is the fact that our mind implicitly gives weight to elements within an image. This weight is not just based on the elements size, but on it’s color, tonal value, local contrast, texture or other differences from the rest of the elements, etc.
Look at the opening blog entry versus the one below. Do you feel the difference? What is the difference?
It isn’t much, but the difference is the one red leaf along the top middle left edge of the image. First, red as a color carries a lot of weight – our eye is quickly drawn to red elements (notice in this image that the yellow leaves feel somehow secondary). Second, the red leaf helps balance the red leaves around the rest of the frame. In part this is done by completing a pattern. The red leaves almost form a circle (or possible a triangle) around the yellow ones. When the one red leaf is gone it’s absence breaks the pattern and draws our mind’s eye. Our mind doesn’t like it when it can’t find a pattern that provides balance and goes off hunting. Completing the circle keeps our eye in the frame and on the subject.
Looking at the three primary yellow leaves in the image. Do you feel the balance? They are all different sizes but there is balance. One way to look at it is a teeter tauter (fulcrum). From the visual center formed by the three leaves note that the smaller leaf on the left is further from the center than the larger on the right. This gives balance around the “middle” leaf (just like we learned as children on the teeter tauter).
Looking back at the blog on “black holes” we can see that the black hole creates an imbalance because of its strong tonal weight. The same is true of white spots in an image.
I will leave you with one last image to think about. Look at the black and white image below. It has “black holes” all over the place. Why does it work? What gives the two asymmetric leaf clusters balance?