The Importance of Balance in Imagery; Achieving Visual Zen

Balance. Such a pleasing word isn’t it. We live our lives in search of it, whether it be a work/life balance, or perhaps a well-balanced diet. Sometimes, we simply strive for balance when standing, depending on how many wobbly pops we’ve that night. Look up balance in the thesaurus and you can instantly see why we yearn for such a thing. Harmony, peace, stability, poise, composure, even steven (yup, it’s in there); these are all things we as humans tend to strive for. When balance is acheived, we tend to be at one with the world, far away from the vaccum-sucking power of chaos.


Okay, I’m back. My point here is that there lies deep within our psyche, a yearning for…balance. We then could assume, that we seek the same controlled outcome within our imagery. One thing that myself and Kelly Funk stress within our Coast in Focus photography workshops, is the importance of a balanced composition. Time to bring in the visuals.

Haslam Lake in Powell River, BC

So, what does balance mean within the realm of photographic imaging? It means that the image is evenly weighted within its borders. Take the image of Haslam Lake here. Balance is achieved thanks to some pre-thought elements found within the environment. First of all, the clouds are a bit more vibrant and fluffy on the left side of the image. Offering a sense of counter-weight on the right side are those two rocks protruding from the lake shallows. Zenfullness (couldn’t find this on, but it sounded right) is present within the vertical split of the image (left vs right). Now, to achieve a similar state of  higher Zendom within the horizontal split (top vs bottom) I needed a foreground anchor balance. Something that even-stevens the weight of the upper half of the image in the clouds, mountains and blue sky. My solution was to make that rock on the lower left side of the image the anchor.

Voila! The image can now be hung safely on the walls of yoga studios everywhere without disturbing even the shakiest Downward Dog pose.

So what does an imbalanced image look like? When the image doesn’t successfully keep your eyes moving within it, and instead drives your attention to one side vs the other, the image is unstable and may self-destruct without ample warning. Not really, but hopefully you get my point. Imbalanced images tend to create uneasiness in the viewer, if you feel that, chances are balance is missing from the image. The easiest way to achieve imbalance, is with a crooked horizon line. Watch those very closely.

Straight horizon line

Crooked horizon line tipping the image

The yellow line was drawn in Photoshop to show how important a straight horizon line is to achieving visual balance. The second image with the crooked horizon line, tends to pull on your chakra, giving the image a heavy left side.

There are times when a crooked horizon line and imbalance offer pleasing results. These are not the norm and are usually the result of trial and error. Wedding and fashion photographers are usually very good at this and the results can render very dynamic and impactful imagery. As with anything, photographic rules should really be considered guidelines. Challenging them can truly be half the fun. Just know that most viewers are effected by balance and tend to appreciate images of the stable variety, over ones that tend to cause neck strain.


Dragon Boat team in Powell River for a calendar photo shoot

Coast in Focus II ~ The Lower Sunshine Coast

It’s official! The Coast in Focus photography weekend workshop is coming to the Lower Sunshine Coast on October 1-3, 2010. Fall on the Sunshine Coast is an amazing experience. Not only are the colours beautiful and the light warm, there is also lots of room to move and explore as tourist season winds down dramatically in this region. This is my favourite season to get out and explore, shoot and enjoy this stunning region I call home.

This past May, we welcomed sixteen incredible individuals to join us in gorgeous Powell River for the first Coast in Focus workshop. Although the weather was extremely challenging (my hiking boots are still a little damp) the weekend was a tremendous success and I am still seeing dramatic improvements in the imagery our participants are producing. What an experience for all of us.

Coast in Focus participants after shoot at Stillwater Bluffs

There was great demand to see this workshop series come down south to the Lower Sunshine Coast…….and we concur.

So if you didn’t get the chance to join us in Powell River, now is your chance to learn how to vastly improve your imagery and photography skills in one of the most spectacular settings in British Columbia, or the world for that matter. We will cover topics including composition, lighting (natural and artifical), working with subjects, storytelling, essential gear, camera basics, aperture and exposure, and my favourite subject….how to infuse creativity into your image making.

Kelly and I are very excited for October. New this time around, is the proud sponsorship of Outdoor Photography Canada magazine, Canada’s coolest publication for all things nature photography! And best of all, included in this year’s package is a free subscription to the magazine for every participant!


Click here for the full details. A little hint: this PDF is 4 mb, so please be patient as it downloads for you, might take about 1-2 minutes. While you let it download, you could always visit or and learn some more about the instructors. Or you could play Farmville. Whatever your pleasure 🙂

The “Suggestion” of Thirds

Here in Powell River on the beautiful Sunshine Coast of BC, the weather is warming up quite nicely and my yard is starting to show some fantastic blooms. You gotta love spring.

As mentioned in my last post “Spring Brings Macro” I talked about a future blog on the “rule of thirds.” Well, here it is.

According to Wikipedia, the rule of thirds is a compositional rule of thumb in visual arts such as painting, photography and design. The rule states that an image should be imagined as divided into nine equal parts by two equally-spaced horizontal lines and two equally-spaced vertical lines, and that important compositional elements should be placed along these lines or their intersections. Proponents of the technique claim that aligning a subject with these points creates more tension, energy and interest in the composition than simply centering the subject would.

Okay, great. Let’s visualize this shall we?

Biker on Palm Beach

I’ll start with this shot of my good friend Kelly taking in a magical Powell River sunset from a mountain bike. I have divided the shot into nine equal sections, as described above by Wikipedia. See how Kelly sits right along the meeting point of two of those lines? This, in a nutshell is the rule of thirds at work.

Biker on Palm Beach - Centered

Here, I have cropped the same image to show you what happens when Kelly sits directly in the centre of the frame. I greatly prefer the image that follows the rule of thirds in this case.

Let’s look at another example. This time, I’ll illustrate the rule with a vertical image. Notice again, how the key subject is positioned almost directly upon two intersecting points of our divisional lines. This composition invites the eye to focus first on the subject, then follow an inviting path towards the branch and unopened buds in the background. If I were to have centered the subject, the image would not have this inviting feel.

Plum Blossom

Who doesn’t love rebellion? Although I am an advocate for the rule of thirds, there comes a time when breaking the rule not only makes me feel like a photography badass, it increases the overall impact of the image. Take this image below of a kayaker in Desolation Sound. I played with a few different compositions here, including utilizing the golden rule, but I always get drawn back to this image, where my main subject is centered.

Kayaker in Desolation Sound

In my opinion, the centered aspect of my main subject works well here because of the balance offered by my kayak on the left, and the beautiful volcano-shaped mountain on the right.

Here’s one of my favourite shots taken on my honeymoon last year on Vancouver Island near Parksville.

Paradise Bridge

The bridge and its reflection are centered within the composition and create an overall sense of balance. Another example of when breaking the rules is a good thing. Deciding on when to use the rule, or when to break it, only comes from practice. Continue to experiment. Shoot. Shoot. Shoot. Digital photography is great for experimentation, you can always rely on your delete image button when a certain composition isn’t working for you 🙂

If you are interested in learning more about the art of composition, join Outdoor Photography Canada columnist Kelly Funk and myself at Coast in Focus in Powell River May 28-30. We’ll uncover more photography rules, and how to effectively break them!