Photography Composition Series: Creating Balance & Symmetry

photography composition

The way you view the world helps shape the way you compose your images with your camera.  The details you choose to include (or leave out) when composing your images tell a story.  They tell the story through your own personal perspective.

Photography Composition:  Creating Balance and Symmetry via Click it Up a Notch
You can utilize compositional strategies to help strengthen your message to the viewer of your image.  There are so many compositional strategies to choose from like framing, creating movement, creating depth in your images and negative space.  Learning multiple compositional strategies will really enhance your images.

One of my personal favorites is using balance and symmetry within the frame.  I tend to be drawn to center focused compositions and images with negative space to offer balance to my main subject.  Looking for balance & symmetry in my environment provides stability and calm for the compositions in my images.

Photography Composition:  Creating Balance and Symmetry via Click it Up a Notch

Photography Composition:  Creating Balance and Symmetry via Click it Up a Notch

Using Symmetry to achieve balance in photography is a great way to show stability in a scene like with architectural images.  Symmetry is achieved when there is a mirror image (or close to a mirror type image by using elements of the same size/mass) on either side of the frame like in the building above.  This makes the center of the frame the main focal point.  Using Symmetry can make the image feel stagnant because of the lack of movement throughout the frame therefore the focal point needs to be interesting enough to gain and keep the viewer’s attention.  Using other techniques than symmetry to provide balance can offer more interesting images.

Photography Composition:  Creating Balance and Symmetry via Click it Up a Notch

Photography Composition:  Creating Balance and Symmetry via Click it Up a Notch

There are different ways to use elements in your photographs to provide balance like using color, contrasting tones, and visual weight.

In the below image the glass in the top left corner helps provide balance to the main subject (the quiche) in the bottom right corner.  I could have used negative space in the top left corner to balance the elements in the image but I wanted the additional detail of the drink to add to the story.  The image would be heavily weighted in the bottom corner without the drink & it may have seemed like something was missing.  The drink fills in that gap while also adding to the overall image.

Photography Composition:  Creating Balance and Symmetry via Click it Up a Notch

When looking to add balance to your images it can be helpful to know what will draw the viewer’s eye first in the image then balance it with the opposite in tones (or color).  When you are shooting for black & white images, the eye is drawn to strong contrast.  For example, in the above image the subject has on dark clothes & there is a strong contrast in that area of the image.  Therefore the eye will go to the subject first.  The lighter area (weaker contrasted area) of the photo is the concrete and this large space helps to balance the darker area of the image where the subject is placed.  You can use this tip to draw the viewer to a certain object or subject by looking for the way the lights and darks contrast with each other.  The darker area will pop from the lighter area and even if it is a small portion of the frame it will draw the viewer in.

Photography Composition:  Creating Balance and Symmetry via Click it Up a Notch
Photography Composition:  Creating Balance and Symmetry via Click it Up a Notch

You can use color to create balance in an image too.  In the examples below, one image has the red/green color combo along with the red being used in opposite corners of the image.  This helps balance the image because the eye is drawn to the color red over the neutral color of the concrete.  Having the color in both sides of the image helps give equal weight to those elements and therefore provides balance.  You can see the same strategy illustrated in the image with the orange bike & the orange fire hydrant.  The colors hold equal weight in 2 parts of the image and stand out against the background of the frame.

Photography Composition:  Creating Balance and Symmetry via Click it Up a Notch
Photography Composition:  Creating Balance and Symmetry via Click it Up a Notch

If you want to cause your viewer to feel uncomfortable or you want to illustrate tension though your imagery then purposefully creating an image that is out of balance is a great way to use this compositional strategy to meet your vision.  If an image isn’t drawing you in or seems flat then take a minute to analyze the composition of the image and ask yourself what isn’t working.  Look at the composition considering some of the basic rules and see if there is something out of balance.  Then you can move forward from there & try something new.  A different angle, emphasize a different element in the frame, choose another compositional strategy to use. 

How do you use the compositional strategies to enhance your images?

Read more in our Photography Composition Series:

- Creating Depth in Your Images
- 4 Types of Framing
- Negative Space
- Creating Movement in Your Images

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Photography Composition Series: Creating Movement in Your Images

Photography Composition Series: Creating Movement in your Images via Click it Up a Notch

Ever wondered why certain photographs seem to draw you in, making you feel an instant connection to the subject or moment within the frame? Chances are it’s because the image integrates movement, which can communicate mood.

Movement is actually a principle of art, along with other principles such as proportion, rhythm, unity, balance, harmony, etc. Integrating these principles into your photography compositions contributes to a more eye-pleasing, emotive image.

7 ways to use photography composition to create movement

1. Use repeating patterns and lines
You want to keep the viewer’s eyes moving throughout the image. When composing, look for lines and patterns, which can create a sense of motion, or a rhythmic feeling. Your eye follows the pattern from one thing to the next, leading you to the subject and comfortably throughout the image.

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2. Use sunlight.
A sunburst, light leak or a streak of light creates lines that seem to be moving…often leading the eye to your subject or enhancing the mood of the image. These streaks of light can create a dreamy, moving effect. A landscape image can suddenly feel alive if light accentuates certain elements. A portrait can be given that “wow factor” when light is incorporated to enhance movement.

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3. Use lenses.
They can have different effects on motion, creating a kind of optical illusion of movement. A wide-angle lens such as a 35mm or less can make subjects look slightly closer/larger in proportion to the rest of the image if placed close to the lens.  This intentional distortion can draw immediate attention to certain subjects and make the viewer feel as if the subject is moving straight towards them.

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A Lensbaby lens produces blurring effects, almost as if you are panning or zooming your lens as you hit the shutter. The result is blurred streaks leading your eye right to your subject.

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4. Use implied motion.
Yep, you can fake it! Pose your subject so they look as if they are moving, but are actually still. There is definitely an art to this type of posing and one that I am still working on! Walk behind your subject and ask them to turn and look at you briefly. Or, as you observe your subject being who they are naturally, ask them to repeat a certain motion again so you can capture it…i.e. a “look”, or a movement that looks natural. I’ve noticed a lot of fashion bloggers using poses portraying movement. It gives that non-posed look despite the fact that they are posing!

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5. Use Actual motion.
This seems obvious to mention, but don’t be afraid to crank up your shutter speed to freeze real moments of movement. Make your viewer feel as if they were there! Anticipate what will happen next and stand ready to press the shutter at the right moment!

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6. Freeze or blur actual motion in camera to emphasize movement in a scene.
This can add a dramatic effect, especially with street photography, and can give the viewer an instant connection with the moment at hand.

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7. Techniques for capturing blur. 
Two of my favorite techniques for capturing blur are panning and using long exposures.  Panning keeps your subject in focus while the background shows blurred motion. Likely subjects to use would be a moving car, a cyclist, a bird in flight, a child running, etc. Long exposures keeps your shutter open, causing anything moving in a scene to be blurred.

Panning tips:

  1. Use a subject that is going parallel to your body, follow it as it goes left to right, on a straight trajectory.
  2. Be aware of your surroundings so you don’t trip or run into someone!
  3. Have your camera set ahead of time and anticipate the next movement.
  4. Slow your shutter so it stays open anywhere from 1/100 to 1/8 of sec. Experiment with shutter speeds until you get the look you want!
  5. Use the lowest ISO possible for a clearer image.
  6. Use autofocus to lock focus on your subject as it moves. Start tracking your subject before you press the shutter.
  7. Using AF-C autofocus mode on your camera will continue to focus on a moving subject if the shutter is pressed half way.
  8. Remember, it is unlikely that your subject will ever be completely in focus! I can attest to this! Be patient and keep practicing. As long as your subject is more focused in relation to the rest of the scene, the image will achieve the effect!

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Long exposure tips:

  1. Movement can be emphasized by focusing on a still subject while capturing the blur of things moving around it. The contrast of still vs. motion in a single image can be captivating!
  2. Wind and clouds are actually your friend in long exposures! Swaying tree limbs and low moving streaky clouds will add movement when captured with a slow shutter.
  3. Experiment with shutter speed to get the desired blur effect. I usually start at about 1/30 of a second if I am hand-holding my camera. You can go slower if you have a tripod to eliminate camera shake.
  4. Use the lowest ISO possible because longer exposures have a tendency to introduce more noise.

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Now you know the secret to why certain images seem to grab you more than others! Next time you study an admirable piece of artwork or an eye-catching photograph take notice of the principle of movement.  It truly is that little kick that makes art feel alive!

Read more from our Photography Composition Series:

- Creating Depth in Your Images
- 4 Types of Framing
- Negative Space

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Photography Composition: Negative Space

As we explore just some of the many photography composition methods, I would talk about negative space. I love it & use it often. Negative space basically means the space surrounding your main subject. Using negative space is a way to bring out & add emphasis to your main subject even though it might the smallest thing in the image. I find pictures using negative space to be more simple, clean & easier on the eyes. I think it offers the eye a pleasing way to scan across the ...continue reading

Photography Composition: Negative Space

Photography Composition: 4 Types of Framing

Photography Composition: 4 Types of Framing

Framing, photographically speaking, is one of my favorite ways to emphasize the subject I'm photographing. Framing immediately brings attention to your subject. Whether it be a very literal frame (that went through a popular "prop" phase), environmental, or structural framing, framing with light or lack of light, they all work well to bring the viewer's eye to your subject. Framing is actually defined by wikipedia as 'a technique used to bring focus to a subject'.  So, like more advanced ...continue reading

Photography Composition: Creating Depth in Your Images

Photography Composition: Creating Depth in Your Images

Incorporating depth into images is something that I’ve fallen in love with lately. It is a great concept to utilize when creating images that tell a story.  When an image has depth, it almost feels as if you could step right into the picture.  Let’s talk about some ways that we can effectively incorporate depth into our images. Focal Length Wide angle lenses are my tool of choice for creating depth.  Telephoto lenses compress the background and we are left with beautiful creamy bokeh that ...continue reading