Balancing Composition

The best part about being a photographer is that we have choices. We can decide which lens is best, the type of exposure we are looking for and other variables. However, one of the most important decisions we need to make is the composition of the photograph.

As we look through the black rectangle that is our viewfinder we must make the decision as to what to include in our photograph and what to exclude.

The simplest composition choice to make while photographing is a balanced scene. This is where the photographer frames a subject and then add something to balance this. You can do this by directing someone into the scene or just finding a different vantage point.


Here we have simply added a person to the scene to give the waterfall some balance, as well as some scale. You can see that the person is also looking at the waterfall, which makes the viewer drift their eyes to what that someone is looking at.

If you were to get more than one person to go out on the street with you and both of you start staring up, maybe even pointing at the top of a building, the next passerby will likely stop and look to see what you are looking at. This is a known syndrome called FOMO. Or, Fear Of Missing Out.

Most people know this, FOMO is the driving force behind social media and why some people must be connected at all times. But as photographers, we can use it to direct a person to look at what we want. Just simply place a subject in the frame looking at something and the viewer of the photograph will do the same thing.

When we are looking to balance out a photograph, we can move around to make different compositions.

On the beach, in Maui, we saw what we thought maybe a pretty sunset so we started looking at different compositions.


Then this turtle washed up with a wave and things began to change. Now we had a subject to photograph. This will no longer be just a sunset but a relaxing sea turtle basking in the sunset.


Since it’s frowned upon if you try to physically move a protected sea turtle to make a better photograph, you have no choice but to reposition yourself in order to get a better composition.


The balance I chose was the turtle balanced against the setting sun. Knowing that most viewers will be attracted to the lightest subject in a photograph, I knew the sun needed to have something offset it. Same with just the turtle sitting there, the sun dropping in the sky adds a balance to this image.

Next, we have “The most photographed barn in America” as our subject or is it the Grand Tetons that is our subject?

Grand_Tetons_ Barn-copy.jpg

This is such a popular spot in Grand Teton National Park, there seldom a window of time where someone else is not there trying to photograph the same thing you are. The historic T.A. Moulton Barn along Mormon Row. This barn can be found when you are driving north on Highway 89 take a right, on Antelope Flats Road. Go East on this road about a mile and you should see the barn on the right.

Getting a balanced composition of the barn and the Teton mountain range is the challenge as well as getting the correct light. I would suggest early morning but the barn is worth checking out any time of day.

In this shot, I positioned the camera in and amongst the tall grasses to the south of the barn. This gave me something in the foreground but also it gave me an angle that shows both the large triangle of the mountains along with the triangles of the barn for a nicely balanced photograph.

Copyright 2015, Terry VanderHeiden