Lesson 17 – Create Harmony and Balance in Your Frame

Create Harmony & Balance

Harmony and Balance are two key principles of design.

Using these two principles, you can improve the composition of the scene and make decisions like where to place certain props and what colors to use.

Harmony is a sense of completeness in a photograph achieved by combining similarities. Elements in a harmonious photograph blend together.

We’ve been talking about creating harmony in your photograph by using colors that support the story. Understanding harmony helps decision making much easier.

Balance in a photograph is the way visually the weight is distributed. Balance is usually divided in two main categories – symmetrical and asymmetrical.

A simple exercise to learn balancing a photograph is try to think about each element to have some “visual weight” depending on the size of the prop, and color. Roughly think about these props with their “visual weight” placed on this frame. Will the frame tilt or flip in a certain direction?

If yes, the frame is not balanced. Move some props and rearrange so that the frame feels more balanced.

The trick is to keep it artistic, have some drama and keep the frame balanced. Yes you can plop all the props and subject right in center and have a perfectly balanced frame. But where is the fun in that.

Artistically it may become boring. Again, there will be some subjects that will look perfectly appealing and artistic when they are right in the center.

Let’s take a look at some bad food photos taken some time back (More on taking bad food photos in Lesson 26).

When I started photographing the breakfast scene, I started with this arrangement. Note that there is no food subject in the scene yet. At this stage, the goal is to identify a prop composition.

Breakfast Peanut Butter-1

Clearly in this photo something is missing. This photo does not look balanced either.

I moved the props couple of times and then started bringing one element at a time. Once the composition felt good, it was time to bring some final elements.

Since the story here was that this was at breakfast, I thought of adding milk in the glass and here’s what I got.

Breakfast Peanut Butter-6

I don’t know about you, but for me, the white color in the photo seemed a little off. The photo did not look in harmony. Basically, we had these props and subject that had warmer tones and milk was adding a neutral/white tone to the photo.

To create harmony of color, orange juice seemed more appropriate as the tones were matching and the photo felt more cohesive. Here’s what I got.

Breakfast Peanut Butter-7

In food photography, prop styling plays a big role in creating a harmonious and balanced photograph. These decisions related to props should be made way in advance of food coming out to the scene.

The reason I say that is because "arranging" props and looking for harmony and balance is much easier when the food is not visually interrupting these decisions. You do need to know how food will look and what visual weight will it add. This also gives you time to try various arrangements when food is not rushing you to take the photo.

As you try new arrangements and add new elements, experiment and learn what feels balanced and what element brings harmony to the photo. Developing that sense of harmony and balance takes time and gets better with practice.

One Note: If you've noticed in this lesson (and other lessons), we've only talked about arranging props and elements in the photo. We have not talked about lighting or styling or any other element. (Hint: look at the photos) Some of you have shared that assignments are taking longer, the key is to focus on only one element in these assignments. If you have time and want to add everything that you have learned so far, yes, please do that. But if you have limited time, just focus on the lesson and the assignment. 

In the Comments…

…share your thoughts about this lesson. Have you used these ideas before? Harmony and Balance are more easy to show visually than by words. Do you have more questions about this topic? Ask your questions in the comments below.

Today’s Assignment

Estimated time: 30 mins (or depending on how organized your prop storage is)

Step 1 – Just like before, today again, select the subject. Ideally use the same food subject, you have been using last couple of days. This will give you an easy way to measure your improvements.

Step 2  – Recall the details that you documented on Day 8. Or if this is a new subject, go ahead and complete Day 8 exercise for this new subject.

Step 3 – Based on Step 2, decide what elements/props will you use in the photo. 

Step 4 – Arrange the props. Do the best you can to visually balance the scene. Assign “visual weights” and balance the frame.

Step 5– Again, compare these photos just like you did in previous assignments. Recall your story and the specific elements we discussed earlier. Which one of these photos compares closely with your story?

Step 6 – Upload the best photo/s on Lesson 17 Album on the new Facebook Group. If you are not a member of the facebook group, you will not be able to view the album. Request access from the FB Group page.

  • Elina Belova

    The advice to focus only on one task each day is very useful. I had impression that we need to take care of all of the previous lessons when producing new assignments.

  • Sonja

    I think I’ve used these ideas before without defining them. Thank you for putting it into words. I love the balancing the frame concept and assigning weight! Thank you for putting this course together!! It’s so helpful!

  • Raia Torn

    I really don’t think I’ve ever done this before!

  • Guest

    I’m still waiting to be approved for the fb page, so I will keep posting here I guess.

    Ok so I am not super happy with this photo in general, but I do think it is one of the best I have as far as “weight balance” of the props. By the way Neel, that example was really practical and made a lot of sense – thank you!

    • Sarah Linden

      Great color combinations!

      • Thanks so much Sarah! Really appreciate that!

    • Not sure why that posted as guest, but this is me haha

    • I like the soft colors a lot!

  • Struggling to keep up with the assignments. Doing each one but still another two days behind, hoping to catch up over the weekend. Really enjoying looking at all of the fab photos being posted.

  • Ambrosia Pardue-Lee

    I’ll be posting here until I have access to the FB page. I hope people look here too 🙂

  • Catharina Linkenbach

    today I chose two very different pictures in terms of balance/ centredness and visual weight. the first one was my halloween contribution; there’s not that much going on, but to me it feels calm and balanced.The second has a lot going on in the frame, but it feels ok to me because it is pulled together by the paella pan (which I use as serving tray often).