Balance in photography is a crucial principle of good composition. A photograph has balance when different areas of the frame equally draw the viewer’s eye. This happens when objects, colors, or the sides of the image have the same visual weight. There are also several different types of balance, including symmetrical balance, asymmetrical balance, and radial balance.
Learning how to achieve balance in photography is an important skill for any photographer. Below, we’ve broken down the differences between each form of balance and provide guidance on how you can implement them in your imagery.
Symmetrical Balance in Photography
Symmetry is everywhere in nature. It’s a core attribute of mathematics, art, architecture, design, and photography. Examples of symmetry can be found throughout human history, from Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics to Leonardo Da Vinci’s The Last Supper, a well known example of symmetrical balance in art.
Symmetrical balance in photography, such as left-right balance, is when both sides of the frame are balanced against each other. This does not necessarily mean that both halves of the frame are identical; an image is considered symmetrically balanced as long as there are some clear parallels. If a subject is positioned in the center of the photo as a line of symmetry dividing opposite sides, and both sides feature equal visual weight, your photo is balanced.
Just as symmetrical balance in design is important, symmetrical balance in photography works using the same philosophy. It’s all about artfully using symmetry lines to create sides of equally distributed weight.
Asymmetry in Photography
Sometimes called informal balance, asymmetrical balance in photography is more difficult to master. In asymmetrical balance, the subject is off-center, yet both sides still draw the eye. An asymmetrically balanced image might have two subjects in different areas, with neither subject dominating the attention. Alternatively, one side could have the primary subject, while the other side features multiple smaller subjects.
Arrangement in Grey and Black No. 1, also known as Whistler’s Mother, is a painting by James McNeill Whistler. It’s a famous example of asymmetrical balance in art.
Asymmetrical Balance and the Rule of Thirds
One way to achieve asymmetrical balance is to use the rule of thirds. That rule states that the best location for a subject or focal point is one third from the edge of the frame or one third from the top or bottom of the frame. (Imagine a grid with nine equal parts; the focal point would be at the intersection of any two lines.)
Another way to achieve asymmetrical balance is to use colors with contrasting weights. An image full of bright colors can be balanced by juxtaposing them with more neutral colors.
Tonal balance is similar to color balance, using black and white images that carefully balance light and dark. Just as bright colors carry heavy visual weight, so do dark colors. A tonally balanced image contrasts those darks with light or white colors.
Radial Balance in Photography
A third type of balance in photography is radial balance. Radial balance photos, in keeping with the concept of a radius from geometry, focus on drawing the viewer’s eye along a radius toward a central focal point. As opposed to the horizontal or vertical lines that you might normally use, when shooting radial balance photos your lines protrude from your subject at the center of the frame.
You don’t need literal lines to create radial balance in photography. Usually radial balance in photography involves lines, circles and spirals, but you can take the more subtle route creating radial balance using colors, tones, textures or a creative use of objects.
We hope you’ve learned some valuable lessons about symmetrical, asymmetrical and radial balance. Just as it is in art, symmetrical balance is a very useful concept in photography. Asymmetrical balance is less intuitive, yet can make for some truly unique photos. Radial balance in photography is used for more niche areas of interest, and is a great way to use shapes and lines to produce an arresting image.