Visual Balance – Means Taking Another Look

visual-balanceWhat is balance? Does it mean all things have to be equal? Well, yes and no. There are basically two types of balance. Formal balance is the balancing on opposite sides of a given point, either by one or more elements that are identical or very similar. Think of a nice formal portrait of someone staring straight ahead. If you were to fold this picture in half, it would look the same on both sides. Both sides would have one eye. Both sides would have one ear. Both sides would show half a nose, and both sides would show half a mouth. This is Formal balance; and it is most often recognized by subjects that are uniform in shape, thus creating a rather harmonious effect.

Informal Balance is the balancing on opposite sides of a given point, by one or more elements that are dissimilar or contrasting elements. Say we had a picture of a baby playing with some blocks. If you folded that image in half; on one side you would focus on just the baby, but on the other side you would focus on just the blocks. Here you have two entirely different things that do not even remotely look the same, but that’s OK. Informal balance is less obvious, because its subjects are often not uniform, in fact they vary greatly. There is nothing wrong with this, because it gives the viewer more to appreciate.

Is one type of balance better than another? That depends on what you’re shooting. Buildings, monuments and cars are often taken as a formal balance shots, after all . . . that’s how they were built. On the other hand; mountains, plants and people often come in different sizes, shapes, and colors. Obviously, since I also used people in the first example, you can always choose to shoot any given subject in a variety of ways. This is where both personal style and taste come into play.

At one time or another, I’m sure all of us have seen or taken a shot of a mountain reflected off a perfectly still pond or lake. If you get in close enough (leaving out the things on the edge of the lake) the shot almost becomes an abstract work of art. Very interesting, very intriguing, very much a formal balance shot. But what happens if in the lower left hand corner we add a man in a fishing boat trying to net the big bass that’s on the end of his fishing pole? Is it any less of an interesting shot now? No. In fact, many would argue that it is now much more interesting. This is Informal balance at its best.

visual-balance2Both shots have emotional appeal, but one makes you feel peace and one makes you feel active. This is one of those areas that people who only take snap shots, just don’t get. If every thing you shoot is always dead center and always the same on both sides (formal balance) your work can get boring really quick. Don’t take that wrong, you can take really great formal balance shots, but you have to plan it that way. When you decide which balance looks best for any given situation; you are the master creator . . . you are in control.

Have you ever noticed two people arguing and suddenly a third person shows up and magically makes them feel like friends again? That third person has an eye for balance. He or she can see both points of view and has the gift to make others see a different point of view as well. That’s what learning balance is all about. As a great photographer; you should work at seeing things in more than one way. More importantly, you should be able to help others see things differently than they have before too.

One of my all time favorite photo lessons was to shoot a mailbox. The rules were simple. It had to be the same mailbox and each shot had to be uniquely different. Oh, and by the way, you had 36 shots. Think that sounds easy? Well let’s see . . . Up, down, left, right, close-up, far away, that’s great now all you need are 30 more shots. The point of that lesson was to force you to look at things differently. Most people liked their last three or four shots the best. Why? Those shots forced them to look at things differently. If you always shoot formal or informal, take a step back and look again. I promise it will bring more balance to your work and your life.

About the Author:
Award winning writer / photographer Tedric Garrison has 30 years experience in photography ( As a Graphic Art Major, he has a unique perspective. His photo eBook “Your Creative Edge” proves creativity can be taught. Today, he shares his wealth of knowledge with the world through his website.

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