Exercise 09 Balance

Symmetrical Roman Balconies

Symmetrical Roman Balconies

This exercise involves selecting 6 of my own photographs and deciding how the balance works in each one. For each photograph it was necessary to identify the main points of balance, which could be shape, colour, tone, lines or any other elements. Then to draw a sketch of these parts and show how they relate to each other with a balance scale.

Having studied the course text and Michael Freeman’s (2007) ideas in The Photographer’s Eye and having spent a considerable time just looking at other photographers’ images I still found this a challenging task.

At one level I understand the concept of balance whereby a dominant large feature to the left can be balanced by a smaller feature to the right regardless of whether this is achieved by shape, colour, texture or tone but I feel I still need to better understand how this works when there is also depth to the image.  Here I have selected some images where the answer is simple and some where it appears harder to determine.

Fig. 1 Tractor

Fig. 1 Tractor


To start with Fig. 1 and a simple image of three men with a vintage tractor and harvester. I see a clear balance between the group of men on the left and the two large machines on the right which can be seen as one object or two. In addition the machinery forms a dominant triangle from bottom left to top right and the men and hazy background are in a balancing triangle on the left.

There is also a curve formed by the feet of the men, the tractor and the harvester which runs from front to back in the image.

Fig. 2 Dog in Rome

Fig. 2 Dog in Rome

dog-in-Rome-with-shapes-&-fulcrum_D2X8214The dog in Rome photograph in fig.2 appears relatively straight forward. There are 4 shapes left to right, the dog, the couple and the two flower salesman. This gives a balance across the image. There is a strong line, the wall, running front to back and connecting the groups. This may be an over-complication as I can also see the image as just two groups, the couple with their dog as one group and the two salesman as the other.

I see the white shirt of the salesman as a balance to the nearly white dog and because all the other tones are much darker my eye moves back and forth from left to right between these two areas of brightness.

Fig. 3 Doorway

Fig. 3 Doorway

doorway-with-shapes-&-fulcrum_D2X6644In fig. 3 I specifically wanted to explore balance in a portrait frame. I sense that with many vertical compositions there are balances working both horizontally and vertically. In this example it is mostly horizontal with three strong groups left, centre and right but I also see the green window at the top as a counter balance to all the shapes in the bottom of the frame.

There are many textures in play here with a decaying stucco wall, the hard, dull, metal lamp post and the trunks and leaves on the trees. Complimentary colours also have a role with three shades of green left, right and top centre but overall I think it is the nearly symmetrical layout that is the most powerful feature.

Fig. 4 Chillies

Fig. 4 Chillies

chillies-with-shapes-&-fulcrum_D2X6628Fig. 4 is another vertical frame but seemingly simpler. There are two large blocks of colour and contrasting texture with the chillies at the top and the stone seat at the bottom. The man-made seat is nearly positioned in the horizontal centre but the chillies are off centre and a less regular shape so there is some tension between the solid/regular and the irregular pattern that is natural and less solid.

Fig 5. Sheep Dog

Fig 5. Sheep Dog

sheep-dog-with-shapes-&-fulcrum_D2X6264With Fig. 5 I have moved to an image that I found harder to analyse. To my eye there are two clear shapes – the dog and the sheep to the left as one and the sheep to the right as the other but because dog is distinctly  whiter I think he stands alone as an element and thereby making three elements in total. The dog is looking out of the frame whilst the sheep are intent on quenching their thirst and this strengthens his role as the dominant feature.

Fig. 6 The Shepherd

Fig. 6 The Shepherd

Shephard-&-Flock-with-shapes-&-fulcrum_D2X5761Fig. 6 is harder still. There is one long shape formed by the shepherd and his flock and a second, smaller shape made by the left hand dog. This seems to be the main shape balance even though the long shape fills 70% of the horizontal plane.

However, I am more drawn to the direction the dog on the right is moving and the perception of direction that is formed by the receding flock. The dog to the left and the flock form a curve that flows away from the bottom right. This movement might be strengthened by the triangular mountain top right. I think this is an image that is balanced mostly by lines.


Fig. 7 Roccacalacsio

roccacalascio-with-shapes_D2X7552I found fig 7. the hardest to analyse. There are 4 strong shapes. The sky, the triangular rock and sheep to the left, the mountain ahead with its ruined castle and the white road complete with yet another shepherd. (If you photograph in the Abruzzi mountains you tend to have sheep and shepherds in many of your shots whether you wish to or not). I found it difficult to draw a balance scale and think that the balance comes from the two blocks of mountain and rocks divided by the white road which leads into the image and perhaps to the castle.

This was an excellent exercise that made me think long and hard about shape balance. I looked through a number of books and found that Freeman (2007) was the only author to hand who had anything to say on the subject. Internet research added little to my sources.

However, looking at photographs was far more useful and it is interesting to see how accomplished photographers instinctively seek and find shape balance. It is obviously clearer in black and white prints where shape and tone are dominant and the distraction of colour is removed. Cecil Beaton’s photograph of Quintin Hogg has a very clear and simple balance of the subject in a left hand frame and his smaller hat in a, more narrow, right hand frame.

Frederick Evans, On Sussex Downs, has divided the frame horizontally with the white road making a small dark area to the left and a large dark area to the right. His sky line is placed higher than the centre so we have three differing sized blocks divided by the road and the horizon. the trees break this skyline and stop the photograph being purely geometrical.

Robert Adams’ The Farmyard, has many elements spaced across the frame with a large building partly included to the left, then a telegraph pole, a tree and a silo. The last three are quite evenly spaced and the pole is linked into the tree with a white cylinder. Behind all of this the horizon is placed 2/3 down into the frame and everything is knitted together with the telephone lines. There are a lot of elements but the overall effect is very simple and restful, it is a tranquil scene.


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