Photography

What is Radial Balance in Photography?

What is Radial Balance and How do we Achieve it in our Images?

Having balanced composition is an important part of creating an interesting image. But balance isn’t just about creating symmetry between the left and right or top and bottom. There are different types of compositions in photography that balance the visual weight of an image. These are asymmetrical balance, symmetrical balance, mosaic balance, and radial balance.

In this article, we will learn more about radial balance and how it can be an effective technique in creating photos that draw the viewer in.

Table of Contents

What is Radial Balance?

Radial balance is created by using evenly spread orientated lines, shapes, forms, colors, or patterns. These surround the centre to create radial symmetry. This draws the viewers eye into the middle, creating a central focal point. It can be an effective technique for creating a visually appealing photo.

Radial balance in photography.
Example of radial balance. Image by Francesco Ungaro

Why is Radial Balance Effective?

Many of us remember the feeling of tranquillity when looking through a kaleidoscope as a child. The radial symmetry of the colors, patterns, and shapes around the center grabs our attention. They can create a captivating, almost calming effect. This is because when things are symmetrical and we see evenly balanced visual weight. Our brain then reads that image as being well-formed, whole, or complete. It’s why we know something doesn’t look right when two very different-looking weights appear balanced on a see-saw.

Radial balance can also add depth to an image as it creates an effect similar to looking down a tube or tunnel. The leading lines of the composition surround the central point and naturally draw our eyes into the middle of the circle.

Radial balance composition occurs in nature and in architecture. It helps create a sense of perfection in our world. If you grew up with access to paper and a pair of scissors, you might remember creating ‘snowflakes’. We create these by folding a piece of paper in quarters and cutting out shapes to form a symmetrical star-like figure.

These paper shapes which represent the true symmetry of a real snowflake are great examples of symmetrical balance. The circular symmetry of the snowflake makes the object feel whole. When you use the radial balance in your image composition, this sense of wholeness replicates in your photos.

Snowflakes as an example of radial balance.
Snowflakes. Image by Carolina Grabowska


Radial Balance in History- An Artist’s Inspiration

Artists have used radial balance as inspiration for centuries, long before the invention of the camera. The balanced symmetrical composition is in many historical cultures around the world.

One of the earliest and most interesting examples of visual radial symmetry is the mandala. This is a circular-shaped, geometric configuration of symbols. Often with patterns surrounding the central point. Mandala essentially means ‘circle in Sanskrit. For many Buddhists and Hindus, it is said to be a symbol of the universe.

The mandala shape as radial balance.
Symmetry in a mandala. Image by Alesia Kos

Examples of the Mandala and other circle-shaped, symmetrical artworks can also be seen in many other cultures and religions throughout the world. These include Persian, Aztec, and Christian (think of those stunning round glass windows in churches).

The mandala is said to have a calming effect and is often used as a tool for meditation and other spiritual practices. The same feeling can be obtained in your images by using the radial balance in your composition.

Photographers, artists, and designers have used radial balance as inspiration for their work in modern days. They know that it will help draw the viewer into the center of their images.

Breaking Away from the Rule of Thirds

In photography, we are traditionally always taught to always use the rule of thirds. This means placing your subject or focus point in one-third of the image to create space for your eyes to lead to it. This technique relates to asymmetrical balance. The visual weight of your subject balances the other two-thirds of the image.

However, rules are made to be broken. The technique of putting your subject in the center of your photo to create circular symmetry might seem a little daunting to those who have had the rule of thirds drilled into them. But done right, you might find the use of radial balance to be one of your new favourite composition techniques.

Creative radial balance.
Radial balance at night. Image by Jeremy Perkins

Where to Find Radial Balance for your Images

Once you are aware of radial symmetry and begin to search for it, you will notice examples of radial balance popping up in all sorts of places. If you’re looking to create a photograph with an eye-catching radial balance, explore these locations. You may soon begin to draw inspiration from your everyday world.

Natural Radial Balance

The original creator of radial balance and symmetry is mother nature.
Interesting symmetrical composition is all throughout our world in different elements. Here are a few examples of good natural photo subjects that provide a sense of balance through their form.

Flowers

Flowers are often a wonderful example of radial balance. Flower’s petals draw us into the central focal point and create a symmetrical composition. On top of that, flowers are accessible to almost everyone. They are probably one of the simplest things to practice shooting radial balance on as they don’t tend to move! Try placing your subject in the center of your viewfinder and play around with your focal distance. With so much variation of elements like color, shape, and pattern. You won’t get bored finding the perfect composition for your image.

Flower as an example of radial balance.
Flowers are good examples of natural radial balance

Eyes

The human body does not provide many examples of symmetrical balance. However, our eyes are one of those rare elements. Borrow a model and try using a macro lens to get all the details of our body’s perfect circle.

The human eye as an example of radial balance.
The human eye is a great subject for radial balance photography

Ripples in a Pool

Like a mandala, the ripples in a pool of water can have a serene, calming effect in images. Almost any body of water can work to get a photo of ripples forming perfect radial balance.

Water droplet in a pool can create radial balance.
Ripples in a pool provide a calming symmetrical image

Stars Using a Slow Shutter Speed

For a different type of radial balance, try a little bit of astrophotography. Shoot the movement of stars in the night sky as we rotate around in the universe. This example will surely create a sense of calm in your photo.

example of radial balance.
Astrophotography as an example of radial balance. Image by Instawalli


Human-Made Radial Balance

Radial & circular shapes are almost everywhere in architecture as humans attempt to recreate the balanced forms of natural symmetry.

Fountains

If you do aerial or drone photography, you can probably spot all sorts of visual symmetry from your point of view. Water fountains are often circular in shape and usually have a stunning focal point, like a statue of flowing water in the center. This movement of water would create beautiful natural lines to draw the viewer into the center of the image.

Staircases

Winding circular staircases are often used in images as examples of radial balance. The narrowing shape of the stairs as they reach the bottom (or top) helps to provide a sense of depth in your image. With so much variety in architecture, you could almost form an entire portfolio out of winding staircases.

Winding circular staircase.
Winding staircase as radial balance. Image by Anthony De Rosa

Household Objects

This may seem like an odd subject choice to photograph. But many photographers working in food or in event photography this is very common. These photographers will often find themselves shooting images with perfect symmetrical balance. This is because these genres will often involve photographing plates and glassware.

Cups and plates can provide radial balance.
Homeware can be used to create radial balance. Image by Stas Knop

Tunnels

An image of a dark and spooky tunnel with light at the end is a great example of radial balance. These images also provide a strong sense of depth. You may want to play around with putting an interesting subject or shape at the end of the tunnel. Have fun and see what kind of picture you can create.

Important photography principles.
A tunnel makes a spooky example of radial balance. Image by Anthony De Rosa

Helpful Gear

  • Wide or fish eye lenses can be useful as they naturally curve at the edges and create more focus in the center. Wide angle lenses can be especially good for architecture photos. They are also handy when you need to capture large buildings or structures in your image.
  • Try using a camera with an adjustable viewfinder. When shooting photos down over a staircase or pool of water these are especially useful. It means you can see the screen and get as close to the center of your subject as possible without having to bend over too far. Don’t forget to wear your camera strap!
  • A micro lens is a useful tool. Try it as you explore the many elements in the micro-world with natural radial balance. Using a macro lens will help you focus on the center of the form and capture every pattern and detail.
Even pizza had radial balance.
Even pizza provides radial balance. Image by Beqa Tefnadze

Tips for Achieving Radial Balance in your Photos

  • Make use your camera grid. Just like when trying to create a balanced image using the rule of thirds, the grid on the viewfinder of your camera can be a useful tool in helping you nail the perfect composition. This can help you perfectly find the center point of the image on your viewfinder.
  • If the proportions still don’t look perfectly balanced and you’re finding the visual weight to be a little uneven, try playing around with the perspective in Lightroom (or your favourite editing software).
Important composition techniques and rules in photography.
Radial balance is everywhere. Image by Anna Tis

Conclusion

In conclusion, radial balance is a common compositional form found in both natural and human-made elements. It can be an effective tool in photography to capture your viewer’s attention. Radial balance similarly provides a calming, focused image your viewers may just want to get lost in.

Now that you know what radial balance is, you might start hunting down perfect circles and symmetrical compositions all over the place. Remember that although finding the perfect composition in an image is always a goal of photographers, there are no rules! Go out there and have fun finding balanced symmetry in this largely asymmetrical world.

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