What Is Balance In Photography?



Have you ever seen a photograph that instantly made you tilt your head and squint, feeling just a tad off-kilter? Or that one picture where everything fell so perfectly into place, it was like visual poetry? Well, let’s just say balance in photography can quite literally be the difference between the metaphorical ‘visual poetry’ and images that throw you off balance.

Balance is a core principle in photography that contributes significantly to the aesthetic appeal and effectiveness of every image. It’s the visual harmony that leaves an image pleasing to the eye. However, it’s not exactly about perfect symmetry or placing your subject smack-bang in the middle of your frame.

Instead, achieving balance involves carefully considering the weights of the various elements in your composition and then arranging them in a way that gives equal visual importance to all parts. When done well, the viewer’s eyes glide seamlessly over the photograph, without any particular area overpowering the rest or leaving the image feeling lopsided.

In this article, we will dive deeper into the practical approach to understanding and achieving balance in photography, from breaking down the concept to concrete techniques you can apply in your own work. We will also analyze the effective use of balance in landmark photographs to help you visualize and comprehend its real-world application. So, tie your metaphorical shoelaces and ensure your tripod is steady — we’re poised to refine your composition game with the balanced finesse of a tightrope walker. No safety nets required!

Understanding Balance in Photography

Gaining a comprehensive understanding of balance in photography enables you to drastically enhance the overall appeal and power of your photographs. At its core, balance in a photograph pertains to how distinct visual elements, such as objects, colors, textures, and space, are arranged in a manner that ensures an equitable visual weight within the frame. The concept of visual weight refers to how much attention or interest a specific element tends to draw within a photograph.

A well-balanced photograph is visually stable and cohesive. By organizing visual elements in a balanced way, photographers can guide the viewer’s eye around the image, tell a compelling story, and evoke powerful emotional responses. Conversely, a lack of balance can create a feeling of unease or confusion. But remember this: sometimes, imbalance is a deliberate artistic choice that serves to jolt your audience out of complacency and evoke a specific response.

In the realm of photography, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to balance. There are essentially three key forms of balance that photographers often incorporate: Symmetrical, Asymmetrical, and Radial.

  1. Symmetrical balance (or formal balance) is perhaps the most straightforward to understand. It occurs when the left and the right sides of your image hold a similar weight. You may achieve this by positioning your subject in the middle or by placing equivalent subjects on either side of your frame. This form of balance typically conveys a sense of order and calmness.
  2. Asymmetrical balance (or informal balance) is slightly more complex to achieve but can render your images more dynamic and engaging. This form of balance involves the juggling of different elements of varying visual weights in a way that they counterbalance each other, providing a different yet evenly spread visual impact throughout the image.
  3. Radial balance involves elements radiating outward from a central point, creating a sense of harmony. This could be a literal circle, such as a spiral staircase or sunlight filtering through trees, or a circle formed by a sequence of subjects or events in the image.

Grasping these types of balance and recognizing when to use them will provide you with a powerful tool to create engaging, impressive photographs that resonate with your audience. But keep in mind that rules in photography are not unbreakable laws but guiding principles. There will always be compositional situations where breaking them might just result in a spectacular piece of art. It’s all about understanding the concept thoroughly so whether you follow it or break it, you do so intentionally than unwittingly.

Techniques to Achieve Balance

To effectively pull off the trick of balance in your photographs, you’ll need to employ certain techniques. We’ve distilled these down to three key tactics: ‘rule of thirds’, ‘visual weight’, and ‘color and texture balance’. Each of these tools bring unique elements to your pictures, and understanding how to utilize each one will boost your ability to create harmonious images.

1. Rule of Thirds

Like a stylish hat for our heads, the rule of thirds is a timelessly useful tool for photographers. It’s a simple technique that suggests an image can be divided into nine equal parts by two equally-spaced horizontal and vertical lines. The critical points of the image should be placed along these lines, or at their intersections.

By aligning your subjects along these lines, the image will appear more balanced and enable viewers to interact with it more naturally. Studies suggest that when viewing an image, people’s eyes are naturally drawn to the intersection points rather than the center of the shot. Therefore, utilizing the rule of thirds allows you to create balance and make your image more engaging.

2. Visual Weight

Visual weight is a composition term that essentially means the amount of ‘weight’ an object has in a photo, drawing the viewer’s eye. Factors such as brightness, size, and contrast can contribute to the visual weight of an element in your image. A larger, brighter subject will carry more weight than a smaller, darker one. In practice, you can manipulate visual weight to create balance in your image by ensuring that visually ‘heavy’ elements are counterbalanced with other components on the opposite side of the frame.

Here’s a scenario: Picture a soccer ball and a basketball — the basketball naturally holds more visual weight due to its size and familiar bright orange color. Without another significant element in the frame, the image could feel lopsided. Now, imagine adding a cluster of small objects to the opposite side of the basketball — maybe a bunch of marbles. These small components work together to balance the imposing visual weight of the basketball.

3. Color and Texture Balance

Lastly, let’s touch on how color and texture bring balance to the table (and by ‘table’, we don’t mean the one you accidentally knock your expensive lenses off!). Colors and textures catch the eye and can, therefore, be used to shift the balance in an image. Warm colors (reds, oranges, yellows) tend to pop more than cool colors (blues, greens), and can create contrast — and thus balance — against a cooler background.

Similarly, textures create visual interest. A smooth subject in front of a textured background, for example, can bring an image into balance. Think of a colorful macaw against the dense weave of green jungle leaves, or a sleek classic car against a brick wall.

It’s these contrasts – and the balance they create – that helps you maintain a dynamic equilibrium in your photographs, making your work more captivating and engaging.

So next time you’re out shooting pictures, remember to consider these techniques. Play with the rule of thirds, maneuver visual weight, and adjust through color and texture. Practice makes perfect, and with time, achieving balance will become second nature in your photographic endeavors. No, you absolutely won’t become the ‘Naruto’ of photography – but hey, your images will have a great balance!

Case Study: Balancing Elements in Iconic Photos

Now that we’ve covered the theory and techniques for achieving balance in photography, let’s breathe life into these concepts with some real-world examples. We’ll examine a few iconic photos where the balancing act operates at its finest. This close look at how photographers have successfully used balance should help cement these techniques in your mind. And let’s face it, no one’s ever lost a bet by taking a page from the playbook of photography’s greats!

“Migrant Mother” by Dorothea Lange

An influential American documentary photographer, Dorothea Lange beautifully exemplifies the use of symmetrical balance in her well-known masterpiece, “Migrant Mother” (1936). This photograph portrays a worried mother surrounded by her children during the time of the Great Depression in the US. Lange leverages contrasting elements to achieve the balance – the mother is centrally positioned and acts as an anchor for the symmetrically placed children on each side. The gaze of the mother, while focused to the side, maintains balance as the central emotional element.

“Afghan Girl” by Steve McCurry

Renowned for his color-rich photography, Steve McCurry’s indelible portrait, “Afghan Girl” (1984), is another shining example of balance. Here, McCurry uses color as a tool for balance. The striking sea-green color of the subject’s eyes is balanced with her red headscarf, creating an impactful visual symmetry. The direct gaze of the girl towards the viewer ensures central attention, giving the perception of equilibrium within the composition.

“Muhammad Ali vs. Sonny Liston” by Neil Leifer

In sports photography, capturing fleeting moments is crucial, and balance plays an integral role. The iconic photo, “Muhammad Ali vs. Sonny Liston” (1965) by Neil Leifer, employs radial balance to generate a dynamic sense of movement. Ali is at the center, with various visual lines leading to him — from the audience’s gazes to the linear outlines on the boxing ring floor. This radial balance creates a kinetic energy that effectively immortalizes the moment Ali’s victory is confirmed.

Remember, photography often involves a mix-and-match approach. Different types of balance can work together in a single image, providing layers of interest and meaning. So when you’re composing your next shot, think about how you might employ symmetrical, asymmetrical, or radial balance to enhance the visual impact and create a noteworthy piece of art. After all, balance might well be the secret ingredient that takes your photography from good to iconic.


In the realm of photography, balance can indeed be compared to the delicate finesse of a tightrope walker. It’s a crucial component that orchestrates the harmony of elements within a frame, leading to an aesthetically pleasing image. It subtly choreographs the viewer’s perception and engagement, making it a valuable skill in the repertoire of every aspiring photographer.

From understanding various forms of balance, such as symmetrical, asymmetrical, and radial, to implementing techniques tailored to each kind, we’ve navigated the spectrum of balance in photography. While the labyrinth of balance and composition might seem intricate initially, with knowledge and practice, the pieces begin to fall into place.

Recall the rule of thirds, aligning your elements with imagined grid lines, or the concept of visual weight, where size, color, and tone can dictate balance. Let’s not forget the importance of the tonal balance in shaping the overall mood, from the drama of contrasts to the serenity of similar tones.

In our analysis of renowned photos, balance emerged as a significant contributor, molding the overall impact of the picture. Not merely a technical specification, balance can also reflect the artistic intent, telling a story, sparking an emotion, or merely engaging the viewer.

But as with any technique or concept, balance is not a rule set in stone. It is a guideline, a tool to enhance your photography skillset. Feel free to experiment, to push the boundaries and break the rules when your creative instincts guide you.

Remember, photography is a continual process of learning and observation. Keep your eyes open for the instances of balance in the world around you. Practice, experiment, analyze, and then do it all over again.

By maintaining a keen awareness of balance in your photography, you will see your images improve dramatically. More importantly, you will have made a great stride on the path to establishing your unique, balanced perspective as a photographer. And of course, any day on which you don’t topple off the photography tightrope can be considered a good day indeed.

Be fearless in your pursuit of balance. The camera is your brush, the world your canvas, and balance – a masterstroke to create something truly memorable. The road to visually striking images is not a distant path but lies at the intersection of technical skill and an artist’s eye. Balance is your road map – embrace it, learn it, and most importantly, seize every opportunity to master it. Happy shooting!

The Creativv
American digital marketer and founder of TheCreativv.com with over a decade of experience in event, travel, portrait, product, and cityscape photography.