Essential Composition: Balance

Essential Composition: Balance

Creativity

Essential Composition: Balance

Balance

The concept of balance in composition is one most people can easily understand, even those who don’t consider themselves artists or photographers. After all, the idea of balance can be a lifestyle goal; balanced time, a balanced diet, and just trying to stay balanced and upright to keep from falling over are things to which we can relate. Balance is a universal concept.

In gestalt theory, the Law of Symmetry states that the human mind will constantly seek balance in all visual information it receives from the eyes via the optic nerve. It says that if something appears unbalanced, the viewer will waste valuable time trying to resolve the problem instead of focusing on the scene’s contents. Concerning photography and composition, photographic balance refers to “visual weight” within the image frame and how it’s arranged. The placement, size, and brightness values of all the visual elements will determine if the image feels in equilibrium or not. Photographic balance is harmonious. When an image is out of balance, it can give the viewer a negative or uncomfortable feeling or sensation.

There are two types of compositional balance used in photography, art, and design: formal and informal balance. Symmetry is a type of formal balance where two sides of a photo are mirror images of each other. Symmetry can refer to vertical balance – where the top and bottom are essentially the same – or as horizontal balance – where the left and right sides of the image are equal.

Balance

A reflection is one of the few instances where bisecting the photo through the center of the image frame is effective compositionally. Symmetry works when the photographer wants to communicate or project equality, equivalence, uniformity, or even fairness. There is little visual tension with this arrangement, and all the visual elements are harmonious.

With informal or asymmetrical balance, visual equilibrium is achieved by counterpoising two or more elements at opposite ends of the image frame. The arrangement can be horizontal, vertical, or diagonal. Image balance is achieved by strategically placing two or more of these strong visual elements and distributing them equally within the photograph. While formal balance creates symmetry, informal balance leads to an asymmetrical composition, yet it’s still balanced.

Balance
Balance
Balance

When positioning two powerful visual elements at opposite ends of the image frame, you give the image informal balance and trigger powerful visual tension and energy by moving the viewer’s eye back and forth between the two elements via a virtual diagonal line (see above). These elements could be two competing focal points with varying sizes and colors, as long as they are conspicuous. The result is an image that achieves photographic balance and harmony and is also dynamic. You can learn more about photographic balance and many other compositional concepts in my e-book, Creative Composition: Image Design Masterclass.

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Richard Bernabe is a professional photographer specializing in travel, wildlife, and nature as well as an author of books, magazine articles, and travel essays published world-wide. Richard is a global influencer in the fields of photography, travel, and wildlife conservation with more than one million followers on social media platforms. He leads several photography tours and workshops all over the world and is invited to speak to photography and conservation groups all across the globe. 

KelbyOne Outdoor Photography Conference

KelbyOne Outdoor Photography Conference

Announcements

KelbyOne Outdoor Photography Conference

Before you read what I’ve written below, be sure to first watch the video posted above. That should be enough inspire you to join me and 17 top notch photography professionals for the KelbyOne Outdoor Photography Conference on May 18 and 19, 2021. This is the third KelbyOne Live Event I’ve had the privilege of participating in (Landscape and Wildlife as well) with each event professionally produced and packed with some of the best photography instruction you will find anywhere on the Internet. 

I will be presenting a course on “Wildscapes: Fusing Wildlife and Landscape Photography” on Wednesday, May 19 but there is so much more than just my class. There are courses on outdoor sports photography, macro photography, astro photography, underwater photography, environmental portraits, post processing and many many others. See the entire schedule here.

Register here and get the early-registration special before the event begins. Watch the event live on your computer or at your convenience. Each class is recorded so you can go back and watch any class you like at any time. 

See you there!

Creative Vision Newsletter




Richard Bernabe is a professional photographer specializing in travel, wildlife, and nature as well as an author of books, magazine articles, and travel essays published world-wide. Richard is a global influencer in the fields of photography, travel, and wildlife conservation with more than one million followers on social media platforms. He leads several photography tours and workshops all over the world and is invited to speak to photography and conservation groups all across the globe. 


5 Pro Tips For Wildlife Photography

5 Pro Tips For Wildlife Photography

General How-To

5 Pro Tips For Wildlife Photography

pro tips wildlife photography
Wildlife photography is booming with shooters of all skill levels as advances in digital technology and better lens design make capturing wild creatures easier and less expensive than ever before. And if you’re a wildlife enthusiast, you can practice your passion from the far-flung corners of the world or the comfort of your backyard with a bird feeder and some natural wooden perches.

And even though it takes a great deal of skill and patience to master most basic wildlife photography, it also requires some creativity and imagination to capture images that inspire and stir the soul. If you desire to elevate your images beyond the mere ordinary and uninteresting, these five pro wildlife photography tips will set you in the right direction. Not only will they help you create more professional-looking images, but more compelling ones too.

Compelling Wildlife Photography
“Shadow Bear” Alaskan coastal brown bear in dramatic back light. Lake Clark National Park, Alaska USA

Look Beyond Conventional Front Lighting

The most frequently used lighting choice when shooting wildlife is front lighting. “Point your shadow at the subject” has been the tired refrain of wildlife photographers for decades since it can be assured the bird or animal will be evenly illuminated. It’s easy. It also happens to be unimaginative and dull. You’ll miss out on other exciting and creative lighting possibilities by always opting for the sun at your back. Side lighting, directional sunlight from a 90-degree angle can reveal texture and add depth to your wildlife subject, creating the illusion of three-dimensions. Backlighting, which is essentially shooting directly into the sun, can give translucent materials such as fur and feathers a beautiful glowing rim light. This effect is much more dramatic than conventional front lighting. However, be aware of possible underexposure, autofocus difficulties, and sun flare when shooting backlit subjects.
Wildlife Photography
“Approaching a Rift” I used 1/6 second shutter speed to give this still image the illusion of motion.

Pan With Long Exposures

Add some dynamic movement to your images by introducing some long exposures into your wildlife portfolio. Animals on the move or birds in flight offer suburb opportunities to use slower shutter speeds with camera panning. Freezing the action with faster shutter speeds will nearly always be the initial impulse for most wildlife photographers, but sometimes it’s better to go with the flow! Start with 1/15 second for moving subjects and experiment from there: faster exposures for rapidly moving animals and longer exposures for slower. You want to express motion while preserving the integrity of the animal’s primary features so it’s recognizable, especially the eyes, if possible.
Compelling Wildlife Photography
“Desert Nomad” Oryx stopping for a rest in the Namib Desert, Sossusvlei, Namibia. The wider perspective pulled in the background lines and shadows, making this a far more compelling image than a mere close-up.

Go Wide

When shooting wildlife, the photographer’s first impulse is often to grab the biggest, longest lens in the bag and zoom in as tight on the subject as possible. This strategy is great if you want to start counting fur fibers and feathers, but it isn’t always the most compelling option. Every so often, try resisting this urge and explore a more expansive view instead. Not only can the surrounding environment give perspective to the moment and help tell a story about the creature’s life and habitat, but it can also help create a more compelling composition by bringing in complementary lines and visual elements. The next time you’re using a telephoto lens, pull your eye away from the viewfinder every so often and look around at the subject’s surrounding environment and ask yourself if it’s adding more to the whole story or not. You would be surprised how often the answer is yes.
Compelling Wildlife Photography
“Paulet” An Adélie penguin welcomes visitors to Paulet Island, located on the northeastern tip of the Antarctic Peninsula. I was flat on the ground shooting upward with a wide-angle lens for this intimate portrait.

Get Low

With but a few exceptions, the absolute worst perspective when photographing wildlife is at a downward angle. Capturing the top of an animal’s or bird’s head isn’t going to move or inspire anyone. Psychologically, it’s condescending and authoritative. Aesthetically, you have the immediate ground as your background and little or no eye contact with your subject. Choosing a low, eye-level perspective, especially with the smaller animals, makes it much easier for the viewer of the image to relate and connect with the animal. The emotional implication is mutual respect, not dominance. Getting low also delivers far more interesting, out-of-focus backgrounds where the subject almost “pops” off the screen.
Compelling Wildlife Photography
“Polar Intrigue” Polar bears engaging in play fighting – a great example of both gesture and interaction, Barter Island, Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Alaska USA

Show Gesture and Interaction

The three most essential ingredients in a successful wildlife image are composition, light, and gesture. Everyone knows something about composition, and we talked a little about light earlier. Gesture is defined as the “movement of part of the body that expresses an idea or meaning.” We want our images to have meaning, so why not let our animal subjects help us express it? Don’t be satisfied with photos that only show a static animal or bird staring blankly into the camera. Show how these animals interact with one another, play, mate, or hunt for food. Unless you intend to photograph a documentary image for a field guide, don’t be satisfied with a simple stock wildlife portrait. Wait for something special to happen, and then be ready to act!

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Richard Bernabe is a professional photographer specializing in travel, wildlife, and nature as well as an author of books, magazine articles, and travel essays published world-wide. Richard is a global influencer in the fields of photography, travel, and wildlife conservation with more than one million followers on social media platforms. He leads several photography tours and workshops all over the world and is invited to speak to photography and conservation groups all across the globe. 


Essential Composition: Visual Patterns

Essential Composition: Visual Patterns

General How-To

Essential Composition: Visual Patterns

Visual Patterns

The human eye and brain are instinctively drawn to visual patterns. We are a pattern-seeking species after all so we’re always searching for patterns in random data to help extract order from the chaos in the world around us. As a general matter, we love patterns so much that we have a peculiar inclination to create patterns even where none exist. The old axiom “bad news events come in threes” is but one example that immediately comes to mind. There’s even a word for this curious human tendency to create phantom patterns: apophenia.

Therefore, it should come as little surprise that we seek out visual patterns and repetitions in the observable space around us in the same way we seek patterns in every other way. That’s great news for us photographers and artists since we know our audience is already biologically predisposed to like our images if we use them. Visual patterns can be natural or manmade, regular or irregular, the primary subject or a complimentary part of a larger image concept.

Visual Patterns

“Brazen Serpents” Glacial rivers in southern Iceland

Visual Patterns

Patterns are combinations of elements or shapes repeated in regular and reoccurring arrangements. “Discernable regularity” is how Wikipedia describes pattern succinctly. Shapes, lines, and areas of contrast have powerful visual impact when arranged in repeated or corresponding parts either in regular or irregular form. Repetition is a good example of regular patterns and they tend to be manmade. The veins in a leaf or a spider web would be examples of the irregular variety and these are more than plentiful in nature.

What exactly constitutes “good” or “bad” visual patterns is purely subjective. Aesthetically, it’s an indeterminate entity. A forest of tall trees, leaf litter scattered over the ground, a grouping of flowers, a row of buildings, stacked mountain ridges, ocean waves, and flocks of birds are just some examples of literal objects that can be defined as patterns. These are subjects you can encounter on any given day with no need to travel very far to find them. Look no further than your house or backyard if you wish.

Visual Patterns

“Stripes” Zebra fur patterns, Serengeti National Park, Tanzania.

Repetitions

Repetition refers to objects, shapes, forms, figures, or lines repeated in regular, consistent intervals. Think of it as the visual equivalent to the beat in music. Gestalt theory suggests that a repetition of visual forms in a composition is pleasing to the eye in much the same way rhythm is pleasing to the ear in music. In addition, the eye tends to follow successive repetitions creating visual movement through the image frame.

Visual Patterns

“Last Sigh” Stacked ridges and sunset at Clingman’s Dome, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee and North Carolina USA.

Tips For Finding Visual Patterns and Repetitions

  • Look Around! Patterns are everywhere. They can easily be found inside or just outside your home if you don’t care to travel very far. Search for strong graphic elements, shapes, lines, areas of contrast, or colors. Remember, you’re biologically pre-programed to be awesome pattern hunters!
  • One successful strategy is to Fill the Image Frame with repeating elements or patterns for powerful emphasis and the greatest possible visual impact – from corner to corner, edge to edge. If the pattern or repeating visual elements are dominated by lines, try rotating the camera and viewfinder so that the lines create diagonals instead of a vertical or horizontal orientation.
  • Break it! Often a pattern or repetition can indeed be the order that you seek in the visual chaos but it’s too monotonous or boring. How about a break in the order? A visual anomaly within the pattern can create a powerful focal point.
  • Perspective Progression When composing wide-angle landscape images, a pattern or set of repeating objects or shapes can make a compelling foreground that helps move the viewer’s eye up and through the image in a dynamic way. I call this compositional tool perspective progression and it can be every bit as effective as leading lines or power shapes in creating visual movement.

For more help with visual patterns, as well as other photography composition concepts, check out my e-book, Creative Composition. Have fun with visual patterns and repetitions in your photography!

Creative Vision Newsletter




Richard Bernabe is a professional photographer specializing in travel, wildlife, and nature as well as an author of books, magazine articles, and travel essays published world-wide. Richard is a global influencer in the fields of photography, travel, and wildlife conservation with more than one million followers on social media platforms. He leads several photography tours and workshops all over the world and is invited to speak to photography and conservation groups all across the globe. 


Kelby One Landscape Photography Conference

Kelby One Landscape Photography Conference

Announcements

Kelby One Landscape Photography Conference

Join me and other top photography pros for an exciting two-day Live Online Landscape Photography Conference with Kelby One on September 8 and 9, 2020. This in-depth training will focus specifically on you and your landscape photography! This digital conference will teach the techniques, tricks, and secrets that you need to know to get flawless landscapes images everytime!

If you would like to be a part of this exciting and educational LIVE event, you can Register Here.

Creative Vision Newsletter




Richard Bernabe is a professional photographer specializing in travel, wildlife, and nature as well as an author of books, magazine articles, and travel essays published world-wide. Richard is a global influencer in the fields of photography, travel, and wildlife conservation with more than one million followers on social media platforms. He leads several photography tours and workshops all over the world and is invited to speak to photography and conservation groups all across the globe.