Friday, 9 May 2014

Photo Composition Tips - Visual Weight

Last week we published an article (Tips & Tricks For Using LINES To Create Better Photos!) from our friends Rob and Lauren over at Photography Concentrate

Today, let's talk about another important element of composition, that of visual weight which again is taken from their latest tutorial, Incredibly Important Composition Skills

Balance is Comfy
A balanced photo feels comfortable to look at. Your viewer can take in the entire image, and enjoy the experience, discovering all the little bits and pieces that made it into the frame. 

But an imbalanced image can feel awkward, like your eyes are being pulled too much towards one part of the frame. When that happens, your viewer can get stuck and miss out on all the great details of your image. 

So how do you make an image feel balanced? There are a few ways, and today we’ll talk about one of the most fascinating. 

It’s a concept called visual weight, and it’s going to completely change the way you look at things.

What On Earth is Visual Weight?

See, each element in your scene carries a certain amount of ‘visual weight’. Elements that are more eye-catching are considered to be heavier, while elements that are less eye-catching are lighter. Makes sense, right? 

Take a look at the photo below. Where do your eyes go first? Second? And then where do they go after that? The things that grab your attention first have the most visual weight. Those that don't really grab your attention have less visual weight.

Now the nifty part is that there are different factors that can influence how much visual weight an object has. And as a photographer you need to know what these factors are and how they work, so you can use them to your advantage. Let’s dig in!


I’m a big fan of color, so I find this one to be absolutely fascinating. See, different colors carry different amounts of visual weight. Colors that differ from the other colors around them tend to stand out, like a bright hue in an otherwise muted scene, or a light colored object among dark ones. 

But it goes even further. While there’s still a bit of debate out there, it’s generally agreed that red is the heaviest colour, and yellow the lightest. Everything else being equal, a bit of red in your scene is going to grab a lot of attention! 

In this scene there are lots of bright colors – the blue sky, the green grass and the yellow flowers. But it's the red of the girl's shirt that catches your eye and has the most weight of all!

2. SIZE 

In general, large objects tend to have more visual weight than small objects. They take up more of the frame, so they can do a better job of catching our attention. 


Objects with unusual shapes, or shapes that stand out from those around them have more visual weight than familiar or common shapes. 

This also applies to sharp shapes versus blurry shapes. When something is in sharp focus, the edges of the shape are more defined and stand out more, giving the shape more visual weight. 

Think about how you view a scene where everything's in focus versus a scene where only a small amount of the scene is sharp. There's a big difference in where your attention is directed, right? This is why a shallow depth of field is a great way to eliminate distractions, and bring the attention to your subject!


When you see a simple shape, like a circle, it doesn’t take too long for you to understand what it is. But a complex shape, like a tree, has so many different elements. It’s a lot more likely to engage your attention, so it has more visual weight!


Areas of contrast – like light and dark side by side – are very eye catching. Objects that have more contrast in them have more visual weight. Simple! 

A Dalmatian is full of wonderful black and white contrast! That contrast gives the dog lots of visual weight, and helps him to catch your attention in a busy frame. 


Now, this is kind of a funny one. If something actually weighs more in real life, it’s generally going to have more visual weight in a photo. 

See, so much of the way we see things in a photo has to do with how we experience things in real life. It’s all connected!


Tight groupings of objects have more visual weight than single objects alone. This is similar to the previous concept of real weight. What would be heavier in the real world? A whole bunch of small rocks, or a single small rock?


Objects that are placed near the edges of the frame carry a lot of visual weight, and attract our eyes easily. And they tend to be even heavier if they’re actually touching the edge!

Also, objects placed along Rule of Thirds lines and intersections get an automatic boost of visual weight. Pretty handy, hey? 

(Psst, if the term 'Rule of Thirds' doesn't ring a bell, listen up! The Rule of Thirds is a compositional technique that uses imaginary lines to divide your frame into three equal sections, both horizontally and vertically. It suggests that, by placing key elements along the lines, or the points where the lines intersect, you'll create a more interesting, pleasing composition. Cool!) 


And finally, negative space (empty, non-distracting space) carries considerable visual weight. It's a super useful tool to balance out your composition!

The negative space of the sky and building both have visual weight, and help to balance out the bright, complex shape of the bell tower.

How To Use Visual Weight For Better Compositions

Ok, so now that you know the different factors that influence an element's visual weight, let's figure out how to use that to bring balance to the photos!

Think of the center of your frame as a balancing point. You can arrange the elements in your frame around this point in such a way that they balance. And to get them to balance you need to match up visual weights. 

For example, if you place a large object on the right side of your frame, the right side now contains a lot of visual weight. How can you balance it?

Use what you know about visual weight! Try adding a pop of bright color, a uniquely shaped object, or a big patch of negative space on the left hand side. 

Shooting Tips!

Now don't worry if you're feeling a bit overwhelmed by all this stuff. It takes practice to start using visual weight to create better photos! Here are some simple tips to get going and create stronger compositions:

#1. Pay Attention
The most important thing is simply to become aware of visual weight while you're shooting. As you're composing your shot, take a moment to consider how the different elements in the frame are attracting your attention. Where do your eyes go first? Second?

#2. Emphasize Your Subject
One of the best ways to take advantage of visual weight is to help draw your viewers' attention to your subject. So when you're taking your shot, think about how you can give your subject a lot of visual weight. 

A couple easy ways to do this are to increase the size of your subject, or change where they are placed in the frame (remember, edges and Rule of Thirds lines give them more visual weight).

But don't stop there. Get creative with all the other factors that influence visual weight, and you'll start to create some really striking photos!

#3. Remove Distractions
Bringing attention to your subject is important, but you'll also want to get rid of distractions that pull your eyes away from the subject. These can make your photo uncomfortable to look at. 

As you're scanning your scene, check to see if there's anything that has a lot of visual weight that's competing for attention with your subject. If there is, and you don't want your viewer to latch onto it, you'll need to find ways to minimize or eliminate it. Sometimes you can move the element, or change it. And sometimes you'll just need to frame it out of the shot.

#4. Check the Edges
This takes the last point a bit further. You need to pay careful attention to the edges of your frame. Remember that elements at the edges, and especially those that touch the edge, have a lot of visual weight. That means that anything at the edges of your photo has the potential to be super duper distracting, and totally ruin your shot. 

The big black edge is mega-distracting, and ruins the photo.

Before you press that shutter, take a quick look at your edges and make sure they're distraction-free!

Once you know about visual weight, you start to see things differently. Try it out! Take a few minutes to check out some of your favourite photos, and think about the visual weight of the different elements. Then pick up that camera, get out there, and use what you've learned to create some fantastic photos!

Want S'More?

This little discussion of visual weight comes from our latest tutorial, Incredibly Important Composition Skills. It’s a 225-page eBook that is packed with information that will get you seeing the world in a new way, and improving your photos too! It contains over 300 example photos and illustrations to help you see these essential concepts in action, and learn fast.

In the tutorial you'll learn the two other ways to achieve balance, along with 6 more compositional techniques you can use to create captivating images. You'll also discover all of the compositional elements, learn how to fix common composition mistakes, and a ton more!

Head here to learn more about Incredibly Important Composition Skills. Then pick up your copy and prepare to transform your photos and the way you see the world! 

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