Photo Composition for Better Photography
Notes from the Web



Balance is the placement of compositional elements within the frame so as to create a feeling of harmony and equilibrium. Balance creates a sense of unity when no one part of the composition overpowers another. Balance is also a state of equilibrium between opposing forces.

Balance is concerned with these elements:

  • Color
  • Mass
  • Value

and may also include

  • Texture
  • Positive and Negative Space
  • Abstract and Non-Abstract features

Balance is generally but not always the goal of an artwork. Sometimes, imbalance is the goal, because it highlights some theme or message by increasing its "weight" or importance.



Balance typically involves a seesaw equilibrium between the left-right, top-bottom, or front-back (depth). This is somewhat different than distribution which is concerned with the numbers and sizes of objects in a composition. Just as you can have bad balance, you can also have bad distribution.


For objects or shapes found in nature, destination of secondary and background objects is expected to be random, else the composition looks contrived.


Symmetrical - Asymmetrical Balance

Asymmetrical balance (also known as informal balance) is characterized by arranging related or unrelated objects of different visual weight on either side of a photo which can contribute to interest, tension or movement.

Symmetrical balance (also known as formal balance ) refers to elements being equal on both sides of a composition, thus projecting a feeling of restfulness, equality, and calm.

Generally, asymmetrical balance is by far more effective than symmetrical balance.


Look for an axis or center of balance, that acts as a fulcrum. A small figure far from the axis would balance out a large figure close to the axis - just as a child at the end of a see saw would balance out an adult near the fulcrum.


Balancing Color

In regards to composition there seems to be several types of color balance, one based on "weight", one based on harmonious use of colors within a color scheme, and another based on contrast.


Balance seems to rely on the product (multiplication) of mass x color. Thus larger shapes are heavier than smaller shapes. Additionally, dark colors add weight to a shape as can vivid saturation colors.

Don't divide your work by placing all your cool colors on one side and all your warm colors on the opposite side.

Color schemes:

For harmonious balanced choose colors which are neither too different (saturated red and green) nor too similar (neighboring shades). Hue, saturation and brightness differences can all be used to modulate balance.

Complimentary Colors - try creating objects and backgrounds with complimentary colors. For example: red on green, blue on orange, yellow on purple.


If your subject is composed of mainly cool colors, you might want to surround it with warm colors to create a contrast.

Contrast is also created by dark versus light colors, strong against weak.


Balancing Mass

Regardless of their actual physical weight, large objects in a scene seem heavier than small ones. Their "psychological weight." Requires balance in the same way that the furniture in your living room requires balanced placement.

Don't place a group of large, dense objects in one area and attempt to balance the piece by placing weaker, smaller objects in the adjacent corner.

Placing the subject to one side of the photo and balancing it with another object on the other side is much more interesting than simplifying centering the subject.


Balancing Value

Value and mass are integrally related. An area of dark value can be considered heavier than an area that is brighter in value.

Appraising the visual weight of each contrasting region will lead you to understand the tonal balance of the scene (or perhaps the lack of).


Balancing Space

As compositions can be empty or too crowded (busy), some semblance of balance is called for.



Correcting balance means panning the camera to the left or right, zooming in or out, or shooting from a lower or higher angle.

A wide-angle lens can create asymmetrical balance with a large object in the foreground and a smaller looking object in the background. This will make the front objects appear very large in the picture frame while the rear or distant objects will appear smaller even though they are actually larger.

You can create unequal balance by finding a position that will cause one object to appear larger or smaller because of the new angle you chose.

Unbalance objects might look like they are falling out of the picture.