Composition or is it balance

Within the art world painters are taught to balance their works via a number of means.  What do I mean by balance?  Well I mean the objects, people are placed within  the frame in such a way as to provide the viewer with the meaning and emphasis clearly explained by the position and size of each part of the painting.  For example Arnheim in his book “Art and the Visual Perception” discusses how the use of a dark area on a coat/cloak of one of the principle figures  is used to balance and define the meaning of the work of art.

Now for a painter to provide balance is technically easy just because the artist can include whatever they like within their art work. They can emphasise faces etc with tonal range.  If it is a copy of a landscape scene it is still permitted and easy to add an object, delete or diminish objects to achieve the balance required for a well composed painting.

Within photography the same license is not available.  As the artist is really creating a work by the use of light on a light sensitive surface it is very difficult to  not include those parts of the scene that do not add to the balance of the composition.  However we see many photos where the artist has found the balance.  They have used objects or part of the landscape to ensure that there is no discord within the scene.   No doubt additional work in off camera tools can enhance aspects of the work.  However if the image does not have balance in the first place the task is significantly more difficult to balance the image.

As a test,  find a landscape photograph that you like and examine it.  Can you see how the artists has used components of the landscape to balance the image for the viewer.  Is there a foreground object that is larger but leads to the main subject further back in the image,  ie directs your attention to the point of the photograph.  It may not be an object, it may be lines that point or take the eyes into the image.  If the image is unbalanced then the mind will be uncomfortable and seek a way to resolve the conflict,  mostly by discarding the image as not worth further time.

For example Hiroko Sugimoto takes landscape pictures of the ocean.  Sugimoto uses the middle of the image, the centre line, and then ensure that the soft focus and indistinct horizon are clearly balanced between the sea and the sky.  Sugimoto does not use rule of thirds in these images he uses balance to ensure that the deep beauty of his work is conveyed to the audience.


So composition for photography is no different to painting.  The image must be in balance.  It is up to the photographer to find how to balance the scene and still capture the reason for stopping to take the photo in the first place.  I believe that this applies to all genres of photographic work and explains why we like so many works across so many genres but find that snaps just don’t hold the interest.


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