Asymmetrical Balance in Photography

It’s no secret that one of the keys to creating a good photograph is visual balance in your composition. For centuries artists of all mediums have used principles of balance in artworks to create dynamic and eye-catching photos. Asymmetrical balance is why so many of our shots simply work. But why is that? And what more can we learn about asymmetrical balance to improve our photos?

This article will discuss asymmetrical balance, why it is important in photography, and how we can achieve it.

Table of Contents

What is Asymmetrical Balance in Photography?

There are several types of compositional balance techniques that can affect the outcome of your photo. These include radial balance, symmetrical balance, mosaic balance, and asymmetrical balance. Once you recognize and categorize these types of balance, you begin to notice that asymmetrical balance is possibly one of the most common examples of balanced compositions.

Asymmetrical balance appears in photos all the time. So much so that we are used to seeing and creating it without even realizing that we are looking at an asymmetrical balance.

It’s essentially created by placing two opposing or dissimilar objects in the same frame. This results in unequal visual weight in the composition. For example, half of the image may contain a larger, more dominant object, like a person’s head. This could be balanced by a lesser focal point on the other side, like a blank wall or soft smaller objects in the backdrop.

understanding the value of asymmetrical balance in photography.
An example of asymmetrical balance in the New York skyline.

Another example of asymmetrical balance can be found in this image of New York. The right side of the frame has a large towering skyscraper, and the left side of the frame only has smaller buildings and empty space. The image is clearly not symmetrical. The smaller buildings offset the visual weight of the skyscraper on the right of the frame, which makes the image unequal and asymmetrically balanced. This means that one side instantly draws your attention more than the other side.

Is Asymmetrical Balance just the Opposite of Symmetrical Balance?

The answer is.. kind of! Symmetrical balance is when two sides of the photo appear to possess equal visual weight. One side may mirror the other forming symmetry. This makes all of the elements appear equally important and creates an equal distribution of visual weight.

These kinds of mirror images occur regularly in genres like architecture photography. It can be simple to take a symmetrically balanced photo where the left and right, or top and bottom are mirror images. For example, placing the centre of the building in the middle of the frame can make it look like each half is the same. It is an important aspect and skill in photography if you want to create a symmetrical sense of balance in your photo.

Symmetry makes individual parts of the composition appear equally important.

An example of symmetrical balance.
An example of symmetry – © Ainsley DS Photography.

Although the use of symmetrical balance can result in some stunning photos, it’s certainly not the only way to take visually interesting images. Asymmetrical balance is a little bit more complex, and it can be achieved in many different ways. It’s worth learning about the equal importance of asymmetry and its ability to form a photo that has a different type of visual impact. Because let’s face it, perfect symmetry can sometimes be a little same-same.

The Importance of Asymmetrical Balance in Photography

Asymmetrical balance is known as an informal balance and can feel a little less organised than symmetrical balance. However, this allows for more variety in composition as we are not relying on perfect symmetry originating from a central axis. It can be a great tool in breaking the monotony that sometimes creeps in when constructing images with perfect symmetry.

Unlike symmetry where objects in an image have an equally perceived visual weight. Asymmetry plays on the differences to form a more interesting and dynamic image. This means that one object is given your full attention instead of two objects of equal visual weight competing with each other.

Many people like asymmetrical balance because it feels more realistic than symmetrical balance. Symmetrical balance can form some interesting images and provide a sense of perfection. However, the real world does not work like a mirror. After all, how often do we see the shape or form with perfect symmetry in nature?

Trying to achieve asymmetry might sound a little more difficult than creating a symmetrically balanced photo at first. But don’t fear; it’s easily done. You are probably already taking photos using the principles of asymmetry without even realizing that you are doing so.

Colour in Havana.
Havana- Color and asymmetrical balance – © Ainsley DS Photography.

Tips for Creating Asymmetrical Balance in Your Photos

There are several different ways in which you can achieve asymmetrical balance in photography. Most of the time, the simplest way we can create asymmetrical balance with our composition. However, it’s not the only way to construct an unequally balanced photo.

Although there is no specific golden rule to achieving an asymmetrical image, it is worth playing around with different methods to see what works for you. The basic principles of having one element of your photo with heavier visual weight than the other can be achieved in the following ways.

Using the Rule of Thirds to Create Asymmetrical Balance

The rule of thirds relies on asymmetrical balance to create uneven visual weight between subjects. This principle is drilled into artists and photographers from the get-go as one of the fundamental rules in photography. This is because it is one of the simplest ways to create interesting asymmetrical compositions.

The rule of thirds relies on asymmetrical balance to form unequal visual weight between subjects. It is followed by dividing your frame into three by three sections. This means you get two sets of thirds, one horizontal and one vertical, forming a grid of nine squares in total.

You then place your focal subject off-centre in one of the four intersecting points of the grid. The result means that your subject is in the foreground and is given first and full attention in your photograph. The rest of the frame may have other elements however they will not have equal visual weight to your subject in the third of your photo. This makes the balance asymmetrical.

The rule of thirds to create asymmetrical balance.
Using the rule of thirds – © Ainsley DS Photography.

Using Negative Space to Create Asymmetrical Balance

Photographers often leave room in a composition with little or nothing in it. This is called negative space.

Negative space is the area that you leave out around the main subject so that the eyes of the viewer have the freedom to move around inside the frame.

By allowing your main subject to fill one part of the frame and leaving the remainder empty or sparse, the visual weight of the main element in the foreground is balanced out by the remaining emptiness in the photo.

Leaving room around an object is an intelligent way to draw attention to the main element. The vastness of the area around the main focus point forces the viewer to come back and look at that focus point.

Negative space to create balance.
Negative space and asymmetrical balance – © Ainsley DS Photography.

Negative space, however, doesn’t have to be completely blank. Sometimes having smaller or lighter images in the background can help to make your balance asymmetrical.

In fact, sometimes it may be difficult to achieve a sense of balance if one part of the photo is completely blank. For a simplistic minimalistic composition, it can build a sense of power. However, to create a visually balanced composition, you may wish to have another, smaller object or texture in the frame away from the centre.

Using Color to Create Asymmetrical Balance

Despite the focus of composition in creating asymmetrical images, it is not the only way to create a photo with unequal visual weight. For something a little more fun that also combines the use of asymmetrical colors, try finding a bright-colored wall or background. Then find an object with opposite colors and place it on the axis of one-third of the frame.

Using opposing colors is a fun and dynamic way to create an image that isn’t symmetrically balanced. For this, a good understanding of the principles of color theory may be useful. Use this to find out which colors can combine to create a photo with visual asymmetry.

Colour to create balance.
Color theory – © Ainsley DS Photography.

For example, this photo of a colorful lizard uses the principle of color theory to create asymmetry. The result is an eye-catching photograph that draws your eye to the left (or right) elements, forming unequal visual weight.

If you have negative space in your frame, using gradual colors is a great way to break up a photo. In nature, we often find such colors. For example, when we shoot a sunset, we often place the sun in the center of the bottom third of the frame. The gradual colors in the remainder of the composition create a nice asymmetrical balance.

Examples of asymmetrical balance can also be found using lighter and darker colors. Or even in black and white.

Pay Attention to Texture and Pattern

Paying attention to textures and patterns in your composition can help you obtain asymmetrical balance.

For example, this photo of a door in Morocco provides us with two very different textures. The combination of the smaller smooth circles balances out the large textured circles on the right side.

Texture and pattern to create asymmetrical balance.
Texture of Morocco – © Ainsley DS Photography.

Crop in Post

Cropping photos is a common practice for photographers looking to balance the elements in a photo perfectly.

If you haven’t quite managed to nail asymmetrical balance in your photo, there is a very simple solution that can be done in post. Use your favourite photo editing app to crop the photo so that your main subject sits away from the center. Using gridlines and following the rule of thirds to find the perfect axis for your subject will help you create a dynamic composition.

Crop in post for portraits.
A portrait cropped in post – © Ainsley DS Photography.

Choose Objects of Very Different Sizes

An interesting way to balance weight in images issuing objects of opposing sizes is by placing objects of different sizes in your photo. Arrangement of these elements, when combined with the rules of thirds, is a good way to show unequal visual balance.

This creates natural lines of interest in a composition. A photo with two objects or elements of the same size would look symmetrical, and therefore the elements would be competing against each other for our attention.

An example of asymmetrical balance.
Napier, New Zealand – © Ainsley DS Photography.

Conclusion: You Don’t Need Symmetry to Make a Balanced Photo

Moving away from creating perfect symmetry in your photos can help you flourish as a photographer.

It can be as simple as balancing elements in a composition or picking opposing colors to make an asymmetrically balanced image. Examples of asymmetrical balance can be found throughout nature and the human-made world. All we have to do is point our camera in the right direction.

After all, who wants to live in a world of perfect symmetry?

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