Composition is a key skill for every photographer. Our continuing series of excerpts from “The Enthusiast’s Guide to Composition” published by Rocky Nook discusses balance. See all of the great photographic skills books from Rocky Nook.

Balance is important in photographic compositionBalancing negative space

Skillful use of negative space includes keeping the composition simple (no distracting elements) and striking a good balance between the area occupied by your subject and the area of empty space surrounding the subject. Just because negative space is considered “empty” does not mean it doesn’t carry visual weight.

Balance can be trial and error

So how do you know you have the balance? It’s really a matter of trial and error, as well as practice. The rules aren’t carved in stone, and you may find that different subjects change the balance, so stay open to experimentation. When in doubt, start by giving the empty space twice as much real estate as your subject area.

(Conveniently, the rule of thirds helps with that.) With time and practice, you’ll get an instinctual feel for finding a good balance.

There is no exact science for balancing the ratio of positive to negative space. It depends on your subject, its location within the frame, the perspective of the overall shot, and of course, personal preference.

The visual weight of the small bird is balanced with a larger area of negative space.
A large area of negative space on the left side of this image balances the composition with the two
A large area of negative space on the left side of this image balances the composition with the two subjects on the right.
The bottom-heavy visual weight of the rings is balanced by keeping the top two-thirds of the frame empty.
The bottom-heavy visual weight of the rings is balanced by keeping the top two-thirds of the frame empty.

Thanks to Rocky Nook for this chapter from the “Enthusiast’s Guide to Composition.”