Balance

This post is my learning log for exercise 1 “Balance” in  TAOP project 3: Dividing the frame.

The purpose of the exercise is to take half a dozen of my old pictures and analyse how the balance works in each of them. To make it interesting, I have picked five pictures I consider well-balanced an one that clearly is not in balance.

For each picture, I have identified the main picture elements that needs to balance with blocks of orange colour, and shown how the balance works on a simple, visual seesaw scale.

Fig 1: Symmetrical

In this, relatively simple example, the gentleman with the expensive Canon gear is almost a mirror image of the two tourists. His lens matches the tourist’s outstretched hand, and the symmetrical picture is in balance.

Fig 2: Large central weight

In Fig 2, the centrally placed half-marathan runner stands out in her bright, Orange t-shirt. She is balanced by the two supporting children placed at the left edge.

Fig 3: Horizontal and vertical

In this picture of St Stephen’s Tower (my friend Steve always tells me that his name isn’t Ben!), the visual weight of the belltower is kept in balance by Westminster bridge stretching from the far right of the frame across the centre.

Fig 4: Silhouette and spotlights

The bass player from the band Franko is balanced by the two spotlights illuminating him. The spotlight at the top of the frame appears to give more “weight” than the one at the bottom, ensuring that even though he is also somewhat close to the edge of the frame, the overall picture still appears balanced. This point of the vertical position of an element having an influence is similar to physics, where the force created by a weight is proportional to the weight’s distance from the pivot point.

As well as the balance explained above, I also think there’s an interesting interplay, or balance, between light and shadow here. The bass player is all shadow, with his mass being defined by the little of his outline that is visible, whereas the mass of the lights are defined by the darkness surrounding them.

Fig 5: Diagonal tension

When I edited this picture after the photoshoot some months ago, the overhang on the right annoyed me. As it sometimes happened, I had been so focused on the main subject that I simply hadn’t paid enough attention to what was at the edges of the frame. So I tried to photoshop it out, but didn’t like the results that gave me. At the time I shrugged my shoulders (figuratively speaking) and decided to just leave it in. But now, with the hindsight of this exercise, it seems clear to me that the reason I didn’t like it without the overhang was that the picture then got out of balance. There’s already a tension between the diagonal lines created by the train, by the open door in the background and by Jayde leaning out over the platform, so without this basic sideway balance, the picture felt loopsided.

Fig 6: Imbalance

While the blue triangle is placed in the middle of the frame, the slice of lemon creates a tension by pulling the image out of balance. As well as the use of complimentary colours, I think it’s this lack of balance that gives the picture its visual interest.

In looking through my photo collection, I found that it was sometimes hard to understand the balance in the picture. As the course text suggests, a simple composition makes it easier to identify the main picture elements and the balance between them. However, I also found that I sometimes struggled to decompose my favourite pictures even if they had a quite simple composition. Maybe this was because it requires a certain emotional distance from the picture and the story in the picture in order to really see the details.

This can’t-see-the-forest-for-the-trees blindness is something to be aware of. Although I think it’s normally quite easy to get a “gut feel” for whether a picture works or not, it can be risky to rely too much on it. As mentioned in the text for Fig 5, my initial gut feel was that the overhang was unecessary and therefore had to disappear, and it’s only now, after not having looked at the picture for a while, that I was able to realise just why that gut feeling was wrong.

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