A balanced image isn't a symmetrical image; it's an image that works within itself
Balance: it's a crucial concept to understand if you're looking to compose good photos. While it can be easy to conflate balance with symmetry, they're very definitely different. Symmetry is exact; balance isn't. There's no scientific exactitude or perfect equality to balance; it's far more subtle than that.
The theory behind creating balance in your photos rests in injecting a tension between the subject and the background, and thereby ensuring that the eye wants to move across the entirety of the frame.
What's the draw?
When you're looking for balance in your frame, first identify the image's major draw–whether that's an area of high contrast, a mass of colour, or a strong line–then compose the remaining elements to complement it.
By composing the frame to emphasise the tension between the subject and the background, the scene will have a point of focus, a feeling of movement, and a sense of direction. Although the eye might be directed toward the subject, no part of the image feels under-used or superfluous. Rather, everything is working in harmony to create a whole.
Even if the subject only comprises a small portion of the overall image, by ensuring that there’s a strong relationship between it and the background, the subject won’t look overwhelmed and the composition won’t be lop-sided.
If you choose a placement that puts the model far over to one side of the image and leaves the other side a blur of background it could be easy for that photograph to become horribly unbalanced. The portrait can still work, however, if the model’s eye-line or positioning directs you across the emptier portion of the frame.
The gaze or orientation creates a tension, which in turn creates a feeling of balance. Similarly, by not having such a blurred background and there being something to complement the model in the emptier side, the image will take on a sense of balance.
Light and shade
If you’re photographing in strong light, try using a shadow to give balance to a composition. A shadow that falls so that it replicates the shape of the subject can add an interesting dimension to your image, or shadows can be used to elongate or widen the subject, drawing the eye down or across the frame.
Don’t feel as if you must balance your images between left and right or horizontal and vertical. Diagonal lines provide a strong sense of movement in a composition, and balance works just as effectively on a diagonal, too.
So many balancing acts
Balance can come in many different forms in an image – you might want to counterpoint contrasting colours, or position your skyline high up in the frame so that it feels as if it’s cascading downwards, for example – but by being certain of the story that you’re trying to tell, thinking carefully about your subject placement, and having a feel for movement and direction, you’ll produce beautifully balanced images.