On Balance in Photography


Poetry by Norah Weir Oulahen, Print available at Imagekind

It’s not until we understand balance and energy that we can wield them well. ~ David duChemin, The Visual Imagination

Photo by Design was the first online workshop I created. It’s based on what I learned about visual design from Freeman Patterson and Andre Gallant in their workshops.

The first group went through in Fall of 2011. Last week, the 8th group finished this six-week workshop and I continue to learn from everyone who participates and by repeating the exercises myself.

In our final week, we talk about what makes an image balanced. Balance does not mean symmetrical or serene; it can be asymmetrical or dynamic.

To me, balance is something that is felt and not easily explained.

I often think of that rare fulfilling joy when you are in the presence of some wonderful alignment of events. Where the light, the colour, the shapes, and the balance all interlock so perfectly that I feel truly overwhelmed by the wonder of it. – Charlie Waite

However, in David duChemin’s new e-book, The Visual Imagination (highly recommended for those who like impressionistic or abstract photography), he has a section on balance, and gives us a way of talking about it.

DuChemin suggests examining 10 of your favourite images.

The first step is to circle the element in each image that has the greatest visual weight (or mass) and decide what pulled you there. How is that mass balanced by other elements?

Next, he says to identify how the eye moves through the frame, from where it first lands to where it goes next, and so on, until it ends, gets trapped, or moves out of the frame.

In the image above, my eye first goes to the land (and words) in the lower right. It’s balanced by the water (colour contrast) and the rock in the upper left (size contrast). My eye moves from there to the rock in the upper left. It almost seems to radiate.

The image below was taken recently and felt balanced to me. I’ve shown the visual mass with a black circle and then, where my eye moves, in white. You may experience it differently.


Although, it’s fairly “busy,” the circular theme dominates – from the individual cactus blooms to the edge of the pot, to the spiral shape created within the frame.

The bloom in the lower right third of the frame stands out to me as having the greatest visual weight. While some of the blooms are on the edge of the frame, my eye stays within, taking that spiral shape from its beginning at the bottom left to the bloom at the end.

I share this exercise so that you might try it with one of your images. It’s a good tool to have in your repertoire to be able to know what makes an image work and what doesn’t.

Perhaps the most effective way of learning about balance is by looking at photos that don’t have it… Achieving Balance in shots is something that photographers learn over time. The best way to learn it is to scan through some of your older images, looking for those that could be more balanced. ~ Darren Rowse, Digital Photography School

Learn more about The Visual Imagination by David duChemin.

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What is Real?

In contemplative (or meditative) photography, we talk about taking a long, loving look at the real (Merton).

But, what is real?

I believe that our perceptions are certainly real for us and we can always practice widening our lens. However, we will never know the whole story.

Photography helps us to widen the lens.

Filmmaker Louie Schwartzberg shows us the Hidden Miracles of the Natural World at TED2014. Through time-lapse photography and powerful microscopes, we see what cannot be seen through the naked eye. Schwartzber asks,

What is the intersection between technology, art, and science? Curiosity and wonder, because it drives us to explore; because we’re surrounded by things we can’t see.


Technology helps us to widen the lens.

Physicist Brian Greene goes even further in this interview with Krista Tippet at On Being – Reimagining the Cosmos.

IMG_4409Greene describes the evolution of our understanding of the universe. With Newtonian physics, we were able to describe the world through our senses, yet Greene shows how limiting that knowledge can be.

I mean, if you went by your senses, you would think that this table is solid. But we now know that this table is mostly empty space. If you went by your senses, you would think that time is universal, it ticks off the same rate for everyone, regardless of their motion, or the gravity that they are experiencing. We know for a fact that that is not true. We all carry our own clock, and it ticks at a rate that is hugely dependent on those features of motion and gravity. So there’s a very long list of things that you would be completely misled by if you relied on your senses to understand how that feature of the world works.

Greene goes on to describe the hidden realities (possibly even parallel universes) that are facets of the quantum world, which we human beings can’t see.

Both of these people provide lessons in staying open to wonder and being continual explorers of new perspectives. There is always more beyond what we see. They make me appreciate the mystery at the heart of our world.

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The Story Behind the Image – Pink Tulip

For Love of Tulips

Porcelain Tulips

For Valentine’s Day in 2008, my husband gave me a bouquet of pink tulips. Once they were in full bloom, I spent an enjoyable hour or so photographing them with my macro lens.

To me, this particular image shows the essence of those tulips – not only their beauty, but their translucence and ephemeral quality. The softness is something that is present in many of my photographs.

What qualities seem to be themes across your images?

Porcelain Tulips is one of my most viewed photos on Flickr and remains one of my personal favourites. Purchase framed prints and prints on canvas at Imagekind.

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