Why and How Mastering Masses in Nature Photography

When you create a nature photograph, you must be very attentive to the balance of the masses or you will have a bad photo.

This concept of mass is very important and even essential because it improves and facilitates the reading of your photographs.

This photograph of a red deer stag during the bugle is balanced in masses. No area is swinging in one direction or the other.
This photograph of a red deer stag during the bugle is balanced in masses. No area is swinging in one direction or the other.

Definition of the Photographic Mass

A mass is not measured in kilograms or in pounds alone. In nature photography, the mass is an essential element to master to create balanced photos that will attract the eye of the viewer to the point of interest.

There is no unit like for the physical mass a unit to measure a photographic mass. It is more a feeling in the visual aspect of a photograph.
In a nature photograph, the large photographic elements weigh more heavily photographically than smaller ones.

Dark photographic elements weigh more than clear photographic elements.

The Effects of Mass in a Composition

During our nature photography workshops, we often use the analogy with a Roman scale to analyze if a photograph is well balanced with the masses.

For example, if we see a dark mass in the left part of a photo and there is none in the right part, we say that the photo is unbalanced. The photo seems to lean to the left. Aesthetically, it is not beautiful because the eye of the viewer will automatically go to this mass and his eyes will go down as if he was attracted by gravity. He will not look at the points of interest immediately. The ideal with this analogy of the Roman balance is to have two masses that counterbalance in a photo.

Of course, as usual, there are exceptions to this general rule that we apply. A small photographic element will not necessarily cause a mass imbalance.

The arrangement of photographic elements in a composition is important as we have explained in this article.

Let suppose that the center of the scene corresponds to a pressure point. If a photographic element with a heavy mass is located to the left of the pressure point and if a lightweight element is located on the right, it seems like an imbalance: it is an optical effect.

Role of Positive and Negative Space in Mass Management

In a photograph, the masses have a close relationship with negative and positive spaces. They do not just serve to judge an image as we have described in this article, but they have an essential balance role.

In a photograph the positive space is the space where photographic elements exist with forms.

Negative space as we have described in this article, is the empty space around these forms. Just to remind you, the negative space is the space that surrounds the point of interest of a photograph.

For example, in the picture of a silhouette of an animal, the negative space is the background.

Negative space has an essential function in a photograph: it ensures balance. It allows the eyes of the viewer to relax.

Negative space can be a neutral or contrasting background. It allows you to direct your gaze towards the main point of interest.

The proper placement of shapes in relation to the negative space around them is essential to facilitate the reading of a photograph. This is how we ensure a good balance of the masses.

The absence of content, so of forms, and consequently of mass, does not mean the absence of interest. On the contrary. The negative space can give a completely different view if it is well chosen.

This is for this reason that you must choose the photographic point of view for a scene of nature. This choice ensures a good balance of the masses. The remoteness of the centers of interest makes it possible to assign them a smaller mass.

Quelques exemples de photos avec des déséquilibres de masse

This photograph of a swan taking-off shows a mass imbalance with the dark area at the top.
This photograph of a swan taking-off shows a mass imbalance with the dark area at the top.
This photograph of a Little Egret presents several mass imbalances.
This photograph of a Little Egret presents several mass imbalances.

Some Rules

The strongest interests in a scene always have more mass than others.

Regular shapes have more weight than irregular shapes.

In the western world, the elements on the right side of an asymmetric photograph have more weight than similarly sized elements on the left.

In a photograph, you must be careful how to direct the gaze of living beings. For example, an animal moving in a direction, but its gaze is directed in the opposite direction can cause an imbalance of the masses. You always must monitor the movements of certain shapes in a scene.


Mastering the masses in the composition of a photograph is essential to ensure a good balance of the whole scene. In artistic photography, this is a fundamental concept.

Mismanagement of the masses can lead to complete disinterest by a viewer because his eyes will not go to the essential points of interests.


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