Learn & Explore – What Is Balance

In the world of photography, balance is key. Balance is a technique that can help you construct a more visually appealing shot. It’s also a great point of reference for you to improve your images. But what exactly is balance in photography?

To begin, there are many types of balance. It can be defined by colour, positioning of elements and subjects, lights and shadows, overall tone, and even perspective. The easiest way to describe visual balance is when the eye of the viewer is drawn to the main subject but is also aware of other elements in the scene. It is about bringing complementary elements together to create a composition that is pleasing to the eye, rather than having them compete for attention. Of course, there are always exceptions to the rule, but that’s the nature of art and photography.


Since the invention of colour photography, colour has been integral to helping create a mood or feeling in a composition. Colour is also one of the easiest ways to give balance.

One simple way you can do it, is by using primary colours, such as red or blue, to create a contrast between the subject and its environment. This instantly places emphasis on the main subject, allowing the photographer to focus on creating a complementary backdrop. However, the lack of colour can also bring something special to your shot. Experiment with using neutral colours to make other elements pop. It will give you that sense of balance by countering the vibrancy of primary colours.

Photographed with the Nikon D800 and the AF-S NIKKOR 16-35mm f/4G ED VR at 35 mm, ISO 50, f/14, 15s

Lights and Shadows

As with colour, light is another important medium when bringing balance into consideration. Shadows can form leading lines, make backgrounds, create symmetry, and can effectively divide the composition. Similarly, lights and shadows can be used to place emphasis, or to mute, certain elements in the shot.

When it comes to composing that perfect and well-balanced shot, lights and shadows may well be your most powerful tool. And not to be forgotten, texture too can add a sense of balance. A simple contrast, or complementing textures, can open up new world of possibilities.

Photographed with the Nikon D800 and the AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II at 260mm, ISO 100, f/8, 1/160s

Subjects and Elements

Now on to the main focus of the shot– the subject. When framing a shot around your subject, quickly scan the image from left to right. Make a mental note of halving the image down the middle and count how many important elements are on each side. You can now begin to experiment.

First, start by changing the distance between your subject, elements and the border of the image. See how the environment affects the overall balance of the shot. The goal is to make a photograph that is carefully balanced right and left, as if either side were the same weight visually. As with everything, practice makes perfect. You’ll notice that at the beginning most people are inclined to place the subject at the centre of the shot. This is purely intuitive, as placing the subject at the centre of the frame will most likely result in a balanced composition. However, once you grow in confidence, try to think outside the box and experiment with placing the subject to the left or right of the frame, and use elements to counter-balance the image. The more you improve, the more complex the composition can become.

As a rule of thumb, and to judge whether a shot is balanced or not, see if the image causes tension in the viewer. Balanced images often bring a sense of tranquillity and peace to the viewer, and is often relaxing to the eye.

Photographed with Nikon D750 and the AF-S NIKKOR 24-70mm f/2.8G ED at 35mm, ISO 100, f/5, 800s


By far the easiest form of balance, symmetrical balance has always been an eye-pleaser. Also known as formal balance, it is the most common way to capture an image. As mentioned above, symmetrical balance is very intuitive, and is simply achieved by placing the subject front and centre. Placing the subject at the centre immediately draws attention towards it, and the surrounding background is then used to diffuse the shot, giving it that sense of balance. The overall composition should have equal weight horizontally and vertically.

However, they are also other ways of achieving balance. Also known as informal balance, asymmetrical balance is the most common form of composition. With techniques like the rule of thirds, asymmetrical balance is about using your perspective to place emphasis on your subject. By placing elements in your shot and subject off-centre, you’re able to create a composition that balances itself out.

Give it a go a see how you can create true balance using simply a few elements and subject in frame.

Photographed with Nikon D800 and AF-S NIKKOR 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR at 34mm, ISO 100, f/22, 1/4s

Overall, balance can be used to give your shots a sense of serenity. These guidelines and techniques are there to help create eye-pleasing compositions, and are by no means strict rules. Ultimately, balance is about bringing different elements together to create visual harmony.

And as with anything, experiment to find what works for you.

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