Visual Balance

Visual weight

Every element in a photograph has a ‘visual weight’ attached to it, and a harmonious composition is one in which these elements are arranged in a way that seems to achieve visual balance overall.

Elements that are high contrast, large, dark in colour, placed on one of the key sections of the frame according to the Rule of Thirds or Golden Ratio, or that we know are genuinely heavy, have increased visual weight compared to those that are low contrast, small, light in colour, placed randomly in the frame or that are known to be light.

Subject placement

A perfectly centred subject will quickly draw the eye to the middle of the frame and hold it there. This type of composition can be effective to emphasise a subject’s symmetry and visual balance. However, it can lessen the interest of other types of portrait, with the viewer immediately moving on to more interesting stimuli.

Off-centre subjects inherently carry more interest, particularly in landscape formats, but need to be placed carefully in the frame. The Rule of Thirds and Golden Ratio (see page REF) offer potential solution for off-centre positioning. Alternatively, you could balance an off-centre subject with other elements in the frame or leave empty, negative space (see page REF). Photographs with off-centre subjects and plenty of negative space can make your images more saleable for use in advertising and publishing as designers frequently require space inside the frame to add text and other elements.

Reading directions

In cultures where text is read from left to right, be aware that a background element such as a tree or lamppost which is positioned on the left hand side of the frame can act as a visual block, slowing the eye’s progress across the image. The same element on the right hand side can act as a stabiliser, keeping the viewer’s eye from leaving the image. In cultures where text is read from right to left, the opposite is true.