Balance

An unbalanced object or scene causes discomfort in a viewer, so, unless this is a desired effect, we should strive to ensure that our images are balanced. For physical objects, they will balance on a scale if they have equal weight, not equal size. For an image, the unit of measure is visual interest, i.e., our image should be balanced by visual interest. Balance by visual interest can be achieved in a variety of ways, as discussed below. Visual balance is achieved about both the horizontal and the vertical axes.

Balance about the Horizontal Axis

Because of our experience with reality, and with film and video, the horizontal axis is usually placed below the middle of the image. This axis tells us how tall we are, how high up we are, if we might bump our heads on something, and the relative importance of something. Height is usually perceived as a dominating characteristic and characters that are taller are considered more important. So, for example, placing a short character high in the frame and a tall character low in the frame leads us to believe the short character is dominating the taller character.

Balance about the Vertical Axis

Symmetrical balance, i.e., the two sides are mirror images of each other, is the easiest type of balance to achieve. Symmetrical balance is used extensively in architecture and it feels very stable, permanent, and calm. The attention is automatically focused on whatever is placed at the center of the frame. This is a good way to organize a formal scene, e.g., a wedding or graduation scene.

Asymmetrical balance is more common, more interesting, and more difficult to achieve. Balance is achieved by using dissimilar elements with different visual interests. These different methods are discussed below. Always remember that there is an interaction between these and so balance can be achieved by a combination of the methods discussed below.

Balance by Value: The eye is attracted to contrast so a small area of high contrast will balance a larger area of low contrast. wpeF.jpg (6247 bytes)
Balance by Color: The eye is more attracted to color than to a neutral image, so a small region of color, especially a bright color, can balance a larger neutral or dully colored region. Adjacent complementary colors weigh more than adjacent similar colors. wpe10.jpg (6158 bytes)
Balance by Shape: A small complicated shape can balance a large simple shape. Also, a large uncluttered area can balance a small busy area containing many shapes. We can minimize busy areas by placing them in shadow or enhance them by lighting them well. Large simple areas can be enhanced by even bright lighting or by breaking them up with shadows, thereby making them more complex. wpe11.jpg (7388 bytes)
Balance by texture: Texture and surface are similar to value, color, and shape, i.e. a busy, high contrast texture on a small shape will balance a larger shape with a smooth, matte surface. Texture can give an emotional quality to a scene, e.g., soft, fuzzy objects are more inviting than smooth, polished objects. The attraction of the texture can be enhanced or minimized by appropriate lighting, e.g., bright and hard to enhance or soft and dim to minimize. wpe12.jpg (8861 bytes)
Balance by position: A smaller object farther away from the center will balance a larger object that is closer to the center. Even if we cannot move an object in a scene, its visual weight can be affected by the lighting. wpe13.jpg (6524 bytes)
Balance by eye direction: Edges, shapes, and/or groups all imply a visual direction. This can be used to balance a heavier side by having the eye direction point to the lighter side, thus transferring visual importance. A linear object, a shadow edge, or the edge of a light can achieve a strong directional effect. Having the same color on opposite sides of an image can also cause the eye to be led from one side to the other. wpe14.jpg (10212 bytes)
Balance by Physical Weight: The perceived physical weight of an object contributes to its visual interest, with a heavier object having more visual interest than a lighter object of the same size.  


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Last changed June 6, 2005, G. Scott Owen, owen (at) siggraph.org