How to achieve visual balance in your work?

Have you ever experienced that when you look at a very beautiful photo, you always feel that there is some disharmony in some place, but you can’t point it out, so this photo is largely a problem of visual imbalance.

If some of the elements are unbalanced, even a good composition will appear disharmonious. But what is visual balance and how do we achieve it? Today, we will discuss its mystery in depth. I hope you can pay attention to this important but undervalued composition element.

What is visual balance?

We may tend to think of visual balance as a physical element in our scene, but it goes far beyond that. It can be defined by color, tone, position, perspective and even concept. A visually balanced image allows the human eye to focus on the subject, but also to notice other elements in the scene. These other elements will visually complement the theme rather than weaken it. Visual balance is usually a supplement to other composition skills. The rule of thirds, golden section line and other composition skills all need to achieve visual balance.

Symmetry and Asymmetry

These are the two pillars of visual balance. Symmetry is a good composition tool, but if the visual weight of one element of the two parts is greater than the other, the composition will lose its effect. A typical example of visual balance and symmetry is the scenery of reflection in the lake. When the lake shore is in the horizontal center of the image, we get a symmetrical and balanced image.

Asymmetry is the use of secondary objects to balance the subject. For example, on the chain bridge in Budapest, the main body is a bridge, but the bridge is not placed in the middle. The buildings on the left visually offset the asymmetry of placing the main body on the right. The beautiful buildings in the background make it achieve visual balance, and improve the shooting effect without affecting the main body.

Physical balance

This is perhaps the most common form of visual balance, which requires us to combine the physical elements of the scene. In this photo taken in Ghent, Belgium, the main subject is the city scenery along the canal. In order to achieve balance, not only are bridge railings in the mirror, but also there are bicycles on the left. Both elements strengthen the subject, not weaken it. If the bike is not there, the whole image will feel unbalanced, and there will be more visual weight on the left.

In this photo of Greenland icebergs, small icebergs are more attractive visually than large icebergs. In order to achieve a good visual balance, I try to approach the small iceberg and put the big one in the background. Smaller icebergs are obviously the main body here, while larger and less important icebergs in the background become the auxiliary of the main body.

The blue icebergs of Narsusuaq Fjord in Greenland

Color balance

We can also balance our images with colors. One way is to use primary colors to contrast with each other, like this picture of a barn in Norway. We use two main colors: red and green to create visual balance. The softer green hue covers most of the image, but highlights the barn’s red color, attracting our attention.

Traditional Norwegian Barn near Ulvik in Norway

In addition to primary colors, or secondary colors, we can use similar colors to balance the image. In the photo of an old car in the Odessa courtyard, this subject is complemented and balanced by yellow leaves and the soft colors of the surrounding buildings.

Light and shadow

Another place where we can try to balance images is to use light and shadow. In this photo, the shadows cast by the rocks not only create lines, but also create a visual balance, guiding us to see the boat between the dark, empty sea water and shallow shadows. And this picture also achieves the combination of symmetry and asymmetry. We can use shadows to reduce the importance of visual elements in our lens, and we can also use light to highlight them.

Conceptual balance

Conceptual visual balance may be a difficult thing to understand, but perhaps the most obvious examples are old and new, traditional and modern. In this example, there are two conceptual balances. The ancient St. Paul’s Cathedral is reflected on the glass of the modern office building, and this tree forms a contrast with the man-made plexiglass. There are many examples of conceptual balance in life. Once you find the rules, you will see them everywhere.

Visual balance is an important part of our photographic works, but it is often overlooked. Some photographers can see if the image is balanced through the viewfinder. But for others, it takes time and constant practice. The next time you shoot, you can recall this article and check whether your work has reached the visual balance.