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Visual Weight in Composition

Have you been struggling with the composition of your images? Even if you try to carefully arrange all the elements, some things just don’t fit in there, right? Well, guess what, there’s a whole list of principles to getting it right and it’s called visual weight in composition. Read along to understand these concepts and use them to create better images. 

Understanding Visual Weight in Composition

Visual weight is a compositional term that describes the elements present in an image and how much weight they carry in the image. In simple terms, when you first look at the image, your eyes settle on a specific part of the image. That part carries the most weight in the image, and it is not a coincidence, it is by design. Similarly, the image leads your eyes from that part to some other part. That defines the hierarchy of visual weight in composition.  

Here are a few concepts of visual weight that you can use in your images to improve their composition. 

Light Tones and Dark Areas - Visual Weight in Composition

Before focusing on the specific parts of the image, let us talk about the image as a whole. The very first thing that you should know is the Tonal Contrast. It is pretty simple to understand but extremely helpful for improving composition. The idea behind this is to keep things as simple as possible.

First of all, you should know that light or even tones directly affect the feel of the image. Light tones create a sense of easiness and lightness in the image, whereas, dark elements tend to create a heavy feeling. You should notice that the eye settles on the light parts of the image, which can be helpful when adding both tones to the image. 

girl siting - Visual Weight in Composition

People and Faces

Consider a landscape image with some mountains in the background. If there’s even a small figure of a human in the image, then your eyes will go straight for it. This is because humans are hardwired to look for a personal connection to the image. Until the people stand out from the background, they will have the highest visual weight in composition.

Similarly, if you shoot portraits or even group photos, the focus will go straight to the eyes. There’s a strong pull to the eyes, that’s why if you ever want something else to be the focus, try not to place eyes in your composition. 

Visual Balance and Size

The size or scale of an element in the image is directly linked with its visual weight in composition. If you put two similar things in the frame, then the bigger one is going to get more focus. Similarly, as mentioned in the previous section, the tiny human in front of huge mountains still manages to get the most attention. The reason behind this is that the human figure is used to scale the mountains, hence emphasizing their size as well. 

Visual Balance and Color

An undeniable fact about composition is that color matters a lot. A single color can destroy the composition when not in harmony with the overall tone. In order to understand this, you can take it as some warm colors carry more visual weight in composition, such as red has the most weight. Similarly, cold colors or hues have lesser weight but they can be used to balance out the warm tones.

Neutral Background and Isolation

Another way to balance out the colors is to use a neutral background. The idea behind this is that instead of cluttering up the image, just get rid of unwanted elements. When we take in color perspective, think of it as using subdued colors such as light greys in the background and then placing a popping color in the foreground. 

Similarly, you can also use this concept in the isolation of elements. When you single out an element, it is bound to carry more visual weight in composition. 

Girl with a scarf adding Visual Weight in Composition

Photo edited in Lightroom.

High Contrast - Visual Weight in Composition

Another way to have your viewers focus on a specific subject is to increase its contrast. Generally, high contrast and high texture carry more weight in the image. So you can use this principle to guide viewers’ eyes. Instead of increasing the contrast of the whole image, try increasing the contrast of just that specific subject. This is because textures always feel more interesting whereas smooth objects appear lighter. 

Use Negative Space

Both contrast and negative space can work together to complement each other. Imagine negative space as a subject rather than just an empty frame and then try balancing the other parts of your composition with this subject. Contrast on one side complemented with negative space on the other can create a simple, yet mesmerizing image. 

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Conclusion - Visual Weight in Composition

To sum it all up, visual weight in composition is a concept for advanced photographers. Therefore, you must try to deliberately use these principles, maybe just one at a time. When you keep practicing, it will become second nature to you, the only condition is that you keep practicing and learning new things.

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