How do we know what is pleasing? Isn’t that just a little subjective? Oh, this rule of thirds, you say? Last month I visited Celebration, Florida, which I am amused to report, was an excellent example of a unified and visually balanced little town. It was calming to stroll around, without any wonky vernacular architecture. Who am I kidding? Give me a little variation. a little spice. A little heinous paint job. I’d take New York, LA, or Naples over this any day. So too much unity, too perfect balance is not as interesting.
Within the frame, within any composition, balance is addressed. There’s the literal weight and visual or implied weight – at least that’s what we are dealing with in 2-d – the implied weight of line/color/shape/etc. In general terms we’ve got symmetrical balance and it’s counterpart asymmetrical balance.
Jules Ko gives us an example of a very symmetrically balanced image. The location is already formal and classically designed. The rows of columns and flags are going back in linear perspective and she has posed the groom and the groomsmen to reflect that formal organization. The groom's head in right at the vanishing point (which may or may not be interpreted as hilarious...).
This example of asymmetry, from Nicki Pardo, is a great example of how negative space can be used in balancing a composition. The majority of real estate within the frame is the wall, which creates a large shape stretching from top right corner to the bottom right corner. The subject is seemingly the dress itself, but the framing that Nicki uses also gives a feeling of anticipation. This wedding dress is in a contemplative context, and the asymmetrical arrangements of shapes keeps the dress still at a distance from us, the viewer.
A great way to look for unity and balance in your images is to rotate them upside-down. Do they still look good? Does it balance on it’s head? Is the image too heavy on one side? The Top? The Bottom? I will sometimes rotate album pages to check for the balance and proportion from frame to frame. See this gorgeous symmetrical image of Boston's Liberty hotel from Simi Rabinowitz.
The Visual Thinker, Boston Wedding and Portrait Photographer Allana Taranto of Ars Magna Studio, drinks of an exorbitant amount of tea during the winter months and worries about staining her teeth and in her own balance act loves to smile anyway.