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What is the Balance?

Your combination of subject and the camera’s viewpoint and framing often divide up the picture area into distinctly different areas of tone, colour and detail. Frequently these are the shapes and proportions of objects themselves, but sometimes they are formed by the way edges of the frame ‘cut into’ things: a cropped building or person.

Think of these ‘parts’ as areas or bands of tone, pattern, colour, etc., which to some extent you can alter to different proportions, move around, and make to fill large or small portions of your picture, all by change of viewpoint or angle; this in turn affects meaning too.

The main division in a scene might be the horizon line, or some foreground vertical wall

or post which crosses the picture, or even the junction of wall and floor in an interior. With a distant landscape, for example, tilting the camera will shift the horizon, and might alter your picture content from the ratio one part sky:three parts land, to the reverse.

When most of your picture is filled with dark land detail there is an enclosed feeling, and the added foreground makes scale differences and therefore depth more apparent. With most of the picture area devoted to sky, the impression is more open and detached.

A central horizon, dividing the picture into two halves, splits the picture into areas of equal weight with neither predominating. Much depends on the range of shapes, colours and tones in each half. Complete symmetry is unusual in analogue photography and when used it creates a strong overall pattern, often surrounding and leading to a centralized main subject. Photographers who use digital manipulation are freer to create repetitive pattern through building up repetitions of symmetrical shapes.

The best placing of divisions depends on the weight of tone, strength of colour, and pattern of detail they produce in different parts of the picture. One approach is to go for a balanced effect where weight of tone allows the centre of the picture to ‘pivot’ like a set of scales, but without being monotonous and over-symmetrical. On the other hand, a picture intentionally structured to appear imbalanced can add tension and will stand out amongst others. A slight movement of camera angle can create an extraordinary sense of chaos.

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