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Some Ideas on Balance

By John Murray, Master Photographer, Cr., BBA

Certain principles govern the universe, one of which is balance in nature. By examining nature's balance and applying it to all art forms one can learn much about photography. Simple, unwritten principles that exist in nature govern the well - balanced mind. In Pictorial Composition & The Critical Judgment of Pictures, Henry Poore states, "Take from nature the principles of balance, and you deprive it of harmony; take it from harmony and you have chaos." Poore later adds, "without composition, there can be no picture; that the composition of pictorial units into a whole is the picture."

The sunflower is an excellent example of balance in nature. Important elements that form the design of the flower are arranged in a magnificent way. To the naked eye, a field of sunflowers is strewn across the landscape in no particular form. Although the field's beauty is striking in golden colors and harmonious color/scene appeal, the flowers appear completely random with their branches and twigs shooting in every direction imaginable. On the contrary, to the trained student of art observing that same field, there is a delineated rhythm with each twig and stock pointing upward toward the sun. The individual sunflowers face the warm summer sun to bask in its illumination. Upon closer inspection, each sunflower has common characteristics: circular centers, stars gathered around a radius, and petals gathered around the center. Each petal contains the same opacity of yellow and a subdivision of three lines forming seven lines of definition.

Balance must be created to have an appealing image. Rhythm in the flow of observation is crucial to the image's appeal. Rhythm is the repetition of weights and measures arranged in the image to give a pleasing array of design to the overall piece. Rhythm is essential in all forms of art. Music has its time. In photography, balance is achieved with the observation of the image's elements in a circular flow. This phenomenon is referred to as "circular observation" or the "oval spiral". The arrangement of light, color, and line (composition) must entice the viewer by focusing the eye inward, not repelling it outward. Albert Handell writes in Intuitive Composition, " ... an integral sense of balance is achieved through the sense of simplicity and the harmonious placement of the elements of composition - shapes, forms, colors, etc.

- into an integrated visual whole." Light controls the image by its contrast, direct ion, and character statement. Color has a constraining effect with its polarity and harmony. The line compels the viewer with its placement of the subject and overall shape appeal. When these elements are displayed properly, the piece contains balance and holds the attention of others.

A few have seen my summary of my favorite book, Pictorial Composition & The Critical Judgment of Pictures by Henry R.Poore. Because I believe it to be valuable for you, I present these thoughts again. (Taken from Henry R . Poore, ANA In his book which is no longer in print, Pictorial Composition & The Critical Judgment of Pictures, thirteenth edition, revised, G.P. Putnam's Sons New York and London, The Knickerbockers Press, pgs 29,30).

  • Every picture is a collection of units or items.
  • Every unit has a given value.
  • The value of a unit depends on its attraction; its attraction varies as to its placement.
  • An isolated unit near the edge has frequently more attraction than at the center.
  • Every part of the picture space has some attraction.
  • Space having no detail may posses attraction by gradation and by association.
  • A unit of attraction in an otherwise empty space has more weight through isolation than the same when placed with other units.
  • A black unit on white or a white on black has more attraction than the same on gray.
  • The value of a black or white unit is proportioned to the size of space contrasting with it.
  • A unit in the foreground may have less weight than a like one in the distance.
  • Two or more associated units may be reckoned as one and their united center is the point on which they balance with others.
  • There is balance of Line, of Mass, of Light and Dark, of Measure, which is secured upon a scale of attraction which each possesses.
  • The placement of the important item or subject has little to do with the balance scheme of a picture. This is the starting point, and balance is a consideration beyond this.
  • In every composition the eye should cross the central division at least once.  I have resigned myself to a lifetime of art as a student, attacking the discipline of it's knowledge and progressive thought with veracity, strength, and courage.

I have held aside this week for furthering my education, rather than a vacation experience. I went to the fourth floor of the Dallas Central Library on Monday to study a watercolor artist named Barbara Ballinger. Yesterday, the DPPA afforded tenacious opportunity with other Masters of photography within our own profession.

I gained valuable encouragement, affirmation, and direction from Jule Bevis, Tim Ostermeyer, Gail Nogle, Elena Hernandez, David Peterson, Kurt Nelson, Fran Reisner, and Edward Holmberg last night at the meeting. There is no better place I could go and receive valued friends hip and insight into our art like the DPPA The application of this week's study has born a photographic print contrived from compilation of eight images taken around the Biloxi, Gulfport area which is on the rebound from last year's Hurricane Katrina. The various seagulls symbolize an ever present rebound with the valuable character qualities required for such a feat, expressed by what they do best - fly. The challenge of how to express this in a photograph required much contemplation, approach, education, and insight that is still limited by my education.  I realize that our own glory is barely existent compared to God's glory in nature.


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