InWonderACS3x5I just returned from a wonderful weekend of boundless creativity from over 50 different artists, musicians, and authors at the 3000 Weeks art festival in Austin, Texas (see for all of the details). Now that I’m home, I felt inspired to write a photography lesson on the importance of Balance within an image.

In the last post, I talked about the Rule of Thirds and its powerful impact on photography. Today I want to address the Rule of Thirds’ close cousin the rule of Balance and explain how the two interact with each other.

Let’s Get Started

From the last post, you should remember my calling the Rule of Thirds the Tic-Tac-Toe rule and describing how to line up an object with the axis points and the corresponding sections of a camera’s viewfinder or view screen so that it follows a tic-tac-toe pattern.

As seen in my examples, there are over 20 different possible subject placements found using the Rule of Thirds. The role of Balance within the Rule of Thirds deals with a slightly fewer array of subject placements. Specifically Balance is used with Rule of Third images in which the subject is either in the far left, right, top, or bottom third of the photo or a subject is aligned with the upper left, upper right, lower left, or lower right axis of the photo. After looking at these photos, you may have noticed that the subject in each feels a little underwhelming or off-balance because the two thirds of space often overpower the subject such as in the photo “Dripping Texture”

To combat this problem, a photographer may choose to add a second “balancing subject” into the photo along with the main subject to help stabilize the photo’s empty space. So what I mean by a balancing subject? Well, this second subject is something that could be the subject of the photo if it stood alone, but is actually overpowered by the main subject. Viewers will intuitively understand that the secondary balancing subject is less important than the main subject because of the main subject’s ability to dominate the secondary subject. We’ll discuss several of these dominance techniques in a minute, but first I need to remind you that a photograph’s subject overpowers everything else in the photo primarily through the use of Selective Focus. If you don’t remember my teachings on the rule of Selective Focus, I strongly encourage you to read my July 4, 2012 post “Selective Focus Meets Depth of Field” before you continue with the current lesson on Balance.

Assuming that you either just finished reading my blog post about Selective Focus or you remember the lesson well enough to know the differences between foreground, middle ground, and background, let’s continue. In order for a main subject to dominate a lesser subject, the main subject must be in hard focus (i.e. not blurred). The main subject can exist in the foreground or, more rarely in the middle ground, while the balancing subject usually will appear in the layer behind it. Most of the time, I shoot balanced, rule-of-third photos with the main subject in the foreground and the lesser subject in the background (such as “Blue Undulations”). Occasionally I will shoot a photo in which the main subject is in the middle ground while the lesser subject exists in either the background (such as “Lone Tree”) or the foreground (such as “In Wonder”). I have yet to shoot a balanced, rule-of-thirds photo with the main subject in the background and its balancing subject in the foreground or middle ground, but that can be done too.

Another important way that the two subjects are distinguished from each other is by location within the photo. If a photograph’s main subject appears in the right third of the photo then its balancing subject will logically go in the left third of the photo. If a main subject exists at the lower left axis then its balancing subject will most likely appear in the upper right axis. Things like difference in texture, shape, size, or color can also help viewers know which is the main subject and which is the lesser balancing subject. The balance of these subjects creates a relationship between them and adds added interest to the photo.

Let’s Break It Down


Foreground dominance:
“Blue Undulations”

Middle ground dominance:
“Lone Tree”

“In Wonder”

Location: Main subject on bottom and balancing subject on top
“Blue Undulations”

Location: Main subject aligned with the lower left axis, balancing subject aligned around opposite axis
“Skeletal Terrain”

Texture: Main subject’s texture is more pronounced than that of balancing subject
“Lone Tree”

Color: Main subject is more colorful than balancing subject
“In Wonder”

Photographer’s Note

This photography “rule” works best with only two subjects: one main subject and one balancing subject. These photos are all about the relationship between the main subject, its balancing subject, and their interaction with the environment around them. Just remember that three or more subjects is a crowd and you don’t want crowded shots with this technique. Just as the Rule of Thirds is the go-to principle for shooting landscape and photography, the rule of Balance is also heavily used in landscape photography and cityscape photography.


Shoot at least 10 images with a Rule of Thirds subject which is balanced by a lesser subject. You can follow my examples by shooting trees in relationship to mountains or bodies of water or you can shoot objects in relationship to one another or animals in relationship to plants, etc. Make this fun for you. After all, this is your time to express yourself. Also please keep in mind that both landscapes and cityscapes for this exercise should be shot with the following ratio: one third sky/background, one third horizon/middle ground, and one third foreground. I will explain the other idiosyncrasies of landscape photography in the next post.

Until we meet again, I wish all of you brilliant flashes of perspective!

[ O*] Alycia