One compositional goal that you can strive for in your photographs is that of balance. You may think that achieving balance in your pictures is an easy thing to do. All you have to do is to center your subject in the frame, but that goes against the rule of never putting anything in the middle of your photo (actually, it’s more of a guideline than a hard and fast rule, I’ve seen many a image with its main subject in the center). But it’s more complicated and nuanced than that.
Balance can also be accomplished through symmetry as well. You can have two (or more) items in a photo of similar size and shape to help balance out the picture like kids on a seesaw. And although it may sound counterintuitive, you can also create balance out of asymmetry as well. You can a rather large subject and a counterbalance that is smaller but has a stronger visual impact to achieve a compositional equality.
A few days ago I shot a spectacular sunset from Peltier Road near Blossom Road in Thornton. The fading sun lit up the cloud-filled sky with the brilliant colors of red, orange and pink. I found a leafless tree along the roadside as my subject to starkly set against the beautiful sky. After taking several shots a pair of headlights came down the road out of the west. I could have waited for the pickup truck to pass by but I decided to use it as apart of the photo.
The eye tends to go to the lightest part of a photo first. Although the truck was much smaller than the tree, its bright lights drew attention to it and help to bring balance to the scene. It was sort of like moving the fulcrum point of a teeter-totter so that a smaller person can ride it will a larger one without being outmatched weight-wise.
There are sometimes when just a small adjustment to where you’re standing affects what you include in your pictures and thus the balance of your composition.
On a trip to the Cosumnes River Preserve near Thornton dramatic clouds hovered overhead and I photographed two scenes that demonstrated how balance can be important to an image. Along Franklin Blvd. near ear Desmond Road a wooden bridge crosses a small creek. I used it in my foreground set against a backdrop of the cloud-filled skies. The span emerged from some low trees on the southern banks of the creek. The visual problem lies in where the bridge trails off on the right side of the frame. The viewer’s gaze tends to meander off the right edge of the photo, causing the composition to be out of balance. I moved back a bit so that I could include a tree on the northern bank at the edge of the frame. It provided a visual counterweight to the trees on the left side and created balance to the scene.
I moved onto the lonely road and used it as a compositional element of lines leading to a vanishing point on the horizon. I centered the road in the frame with the horizon low in the composition. A tall tree crept into the very far left edge of the photo. If there was another on the right side it then the picture would have some symmetry but there wasn’t, throwing the photo out of balance. However, by simply moving up a few steps I eliminated the offending tree from view and balance was regained.
There are many other techniques that can be used but the consideration of balance should be an important part of any photographer’s compositional toolbox.