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Did It Do It: Did It Have Balance.

Formal balance

For the past three years, I’ve been teaching an online class with the PPSOP, and since the early eighties I been conducting workshops (notably with Maine Media and Santa Fe) as well as my personal workshops around the planet.

My workshop is about “Stretching Your Frame of Mind”, and besides showing photographers how to incorporate the elements of visual design into their thought process, I also give them what I call my “did it do it” list for good composition. It’s a list of twelve concepts that will help guide you though your thought process on your way to creating a well composed photo. I have written six of them so far on my blog and you can find them by clicking on “Did it do it”.

This list is not meant to be rules, as most of you know by now that I don’t like rules. This list is merely a guide to help fellow photographers understand what goes into “making good photos”. I’ve been mentally referring to this list for most of my forty-six year career, and they have served me well.

The seventh one I’d like to share with you is called “did it have balance”. What do I mean by Balance? The balance between the Positive and Negative Space? Well yes, it’s one of my many crusades when working with students of photography, but it’s more than that.

Balance is about visual weight. A balanced photo is what we as photographers try to achieve because it makes for visually inviting images. A balanced photo gives the viewer a feeling of stability. We all are more comfortable when the environment around us is feels firm and steady. When I’m composing, I’m looking for harmony between the various shapes, colors, and most important, the areas of light and dark and shadows they might create. A sidebar here is when I tell my students to work on “mastering the light”, I also tell them to “master the shadows” as well, since shadows are our best friend.

In the psychology of Gestalt as it pertains to photography, the main goal is to take control of how the viewer perceives and processes information when looking at our photos. We want to make him an active participant and when we can do that, he’ll stick around looking longer. By using visual weight correctly, and distribute it evenly, we can pull the viewer’s eye around our composition which in turn makes him work harder…and that’s a good thing!!!

There are two types of balance, Formal and informal (asymmetrical) balance. In my first of two posts on this subject, I want to talk about Formal balance.

Formal balance is positioning your subject or subjects (either identical or similar) around a central point or an imaginary line drawn down the center of the frame, dividing in in half. Thus, both sides of the vertical middle are equal. Formal balance is much easier to create than informal balance.

In the photo above, I was specifically after Formal Balance. It was shot used in a brochure for a company in Louisiana that raises crayfish for mass consumption. The graphic designer wanted something that he could use for a wrap-a-round cover. In other words a similar subject on the front and back of the brochure.

Visit my website at: www.joebaraban.com and be sure to check out my new 2013 workshop schedule at the top of this Blog. come shoot with me sometime.

Don’t forget to send me a photo and question to AskJoeB@gmail.com


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    { 8 comments… add one }
    • Gary Thursby March 28, 2013, 12:19 am

      Black strip, light strip, black strip, light strip, black strip, light strip. Figure ground with fisherman on boats adds up to a very nice shot! Was this shot on a telephoto lens Joe?

      • Joe March 28, 2013, 1:33 pm


        A long lens would have compressed the photo too much, and it would have been hard to pull focus from the foreground to the horizon.

        I can’t remember what lens it was, but if I had to guess (since I shoot just about everything with a 20mm lens), it was either that or something a little longer…but not much.

        Bte, you’re exactly right about the bands of light and drk areas. That’s exactly what I see when I “see past first impressions”


    • Gary Thursby March 28, 2013, 10:40 pm

      I have taken up the challenge of using a normal plain ole 50mm lens on my camera for a year! It really helps you see a focal length and not just walk up to a subject and start zooming in and out. Zooms kind of make photography harder to learn in my opinion. If you have that zoom on your camera you can not seem to help zooming it constantly. I do not know what it is about it, just like i always want to hear the click of the camera! Do you know where the frame lines of a 20 would be before you raise the camera to your eye Joe?

      • Joe March 29, 2013, 8:20 am

        Ernst Haas (a great photographer whose photos I have in my house) once said, “The best zoom lens is your feet”. I couldn’t agree more!!!!

        One other note about carrying one lens…If you have a hammer in your hand and everything looks like a nail, you have a problem. That’s not to say that shooting with one lens is bad (Bresson always did), it’s just food for thought.

        I have no idea where the frame lines would be. Since I like to get “up close and personal”, or get a lot of (in focus) information in my frame it’s usually my go to lens.


    • Gary Thursby March 28, 2013, 10:53 pm

      Oh one more thing Joe! Sorry should have included it in my other comment. Isn’t pull focus a movie terminology where one actor is in focus and the other actor is out of focus. But when the in focus actor turns to look at the out of focus actor, the cinematographer will “pull focus” to put the out of focus actor in focus. Actually I think they have focus pullers to do this job specifically. Hope that makes since!

      • Joe March 29, 2013, 8:24 am


        Besides a career in still photography, I’ve also been a director-cameraman for years. I’m use to having a focus-puller next to me. It also can mean getting everything sharp from front to back, although I use it more in stills.


    • Debby Currie May 16, 2017, 9:11 am

      Hi Joe,
      Beautiful! Enjoying your blogs and comments too

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