Balance and Proportion: 2 Principles of Art to Apply in Photography

This photo taken in Dombes on a foggy and sunny morning is balanced. The left and right sides attract the viewer in the same way.

Principle #2: Balance

By definition, balance is: "A just proportion of the elements of a whole."

This is not a very explicit definition for our artistic activity, because we have to define what is implied by 'right'.

If we apply this definition to art, balance is a way to give a sense of stability to a work of art. The two main concepts of balance in art are symmetry and asymmetry.

These two concepts may seem obvious, or easy to understand and imagine. However, they are not so easy to implement in photography, especially in nature photography.

Toute qui va dans Castle Valley dans l'Utah aux Etats-Unis.
This road leading to Castle Valley in Utah cuts the picture in half. It makes it balanced.

Balance in photography influences the composition of your photos. A good balance management creates harmonious photos (see previous paragraph).

A photo is said to be balanced when the left and right sides of a photo attract the viewer's attention in the same way. Neither side is dominant over the other.

To see if a photo is balanced, all you have to do is mentally draw a vertical line in the middle of the photo. Then, you check that there is a symmetry of masses, colors, tones, shapes, lines, and figures.

This is a fairly simple exercise to do. You just need a little practice.

You will probably think that you should consider the balance of the top and bottom half of your photos. You are right, but it is not very important. You can have for example a lot of elements at the bottom of a photo like mountains, trees, or rocks, and few elements at the top like a blue sky.

However, when you look at it, the photo is balanced. The human eye makes an analysis from the left to the right or from the right to the left. It all depends on the culture. The important thing is that the scan is done laterally.

The balance of a photo results in a harmonious photo.

Symmetry is the way to get a perfectly balanced photo.

In a symmetrical photo, the left and right sides have the same visual weight. You can fold the photo in half. The two parts overlap. This is also called formal balance.

Asymmetry is the second concept of photographic balance. It allows you to create more dynamic photos than symmetry. This is why the rule of thirds, the golden ratio, or the golden spiral was invented.

Let's say you frame a photo using the rule of thirds. For example, you place your main element on one of the highlights on the left. To create an asymmetrical photo, you simply highlight elements on the right as well.

They can be of different sizes, colors, and shapes. But they create a certain kind of balance.

At this point in the article, you may be wondering why it is important to create balanced or unbalanced photos.

A balanced photo creates visual harmony, stability, and tranquility. But it can also be static. Many photos that are balanced one after the other can become boring.

Creating unbalanced pictures creates the opportunity to include dynamism, tension, and action.

As always, in an artistic and expressive activity such as photography, everything will depend on the meaning you want to give whether it is through messages or studies. To balance your photo and reinforce its reading, you combine:

  • Colors.
  • Masses.
  • Shapes.
  • Tones.
  • Photographic attributes.
  • Elements.
  • Shades.

Whatever elements you use in your compositions, remember that the closer an element is to one side of the frame, the more visible it is and the more weight it has. I am not implying to place them very close to the edges, but you should strive to respect the rule of thirds, the golden ratio, and the golden spiral.

When you are in the field, you will visually arrange the elements of the scene to try to achieve photographic balance. You will use the grid of your viewfinder or your screen. But often, and especially in nature photography, it is not possible to control the elements.

This is where the development of your photos comes in. With a computer and retouching and correction software, you will crop or modify the saturation of certain colors, change the value of certain tones. You will improve and reinforce the balance of your photos.

This is an essential step in the creation of a photo.

To conclude this paragraph concerning the balance which is the second element of art to use in your photos, I will recommend you not to take everything at face value as always.

The balance can be symmetrical (formal) or asymmetrical (informal). A balanced photo gives stability. An unbalanced photo creates tension.

This principle of balance is a great way to make your photos interesting. But first you have to think about the meaning you want to convey. Then you think about balance. It is a tool and a means, not an end in itself.

Principle #3: Proportion

A definition of proportion is:

[An] Aesthetically satisfying relationship between two elements of a whole: balance of surfaces, masses, dimensions.

In art, proportion refers to the relationship of certain elements to each other and to the whole.

In photography, the principle of proportion consists in highlighting the subject of a photo by considering its size and its relationship with the rest of the image.

For example, proportion is used to show the size of a main element. For example, if you are photographing a small bird, you can place it next to a large animal to show its actual size.

The main subject does not always have to take up all the space in a photo. Proportion also helps to give an idea of distances. For example, everyone knows that a mountain is a natural formation that is very large. By creating a photo with a foreground and a mountain in the background, you give the impression that it is small. The viewer will interpret this fact as a great distance.

The principle of proportion in photography allows us to give a scale of values for both sizes and distances.

Proportion in photography establishes a relationship between the size of a photographic element when compared to another.

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If the proportions are incorrect, the resulting image will not be realistic or abstract.

The Perfect Proportion

A photograph is often a rectangle.

I am using the case of most cameras that have a rectangular sensor. If you want to place your main subject in this rectangle to have a perfect proportion, you must place it on a strong point.

You have several techniques at your disposal: the rule of thirds, the golden spiral, etc.

But there is a so-called perfect proportion: the golden ratio.

By placing the most important point of your photo on this point, you will get the perfect proportion. That is, the ratio between the frame of the photo and the most important point in the image is perfect.

The golden ratio is also called the number of beauty. In the development tools, you have at your disposal different ways to crop. Take advantage of this to get images with perfect proportions.

Black and white photo of a red deer stag during the rut.
This photo of a deer during the slab is framed according to the principle of the golden ratio.

Principle #4: Accentuation

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