Guide to Radial Balance in Photography
While there are no unbreakable rules when it comes to how you arrange the elements in your photos, there are a number of guidelines and principles of composition in photography that are super helpful.
Many have been used to create balance in visual art for centuries and they really do help achieve more attractive images, regardless of the medium.
Of these composition techniques, the rule of thirds is probably the most well known, but radial balance has probably been in use far longer.
So what is balance in art? Let’s take a look at what it is and how it works.
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What is Radial Balance in Photography?
In geometry, the term radius refers to the distance between the center of a circle and its outer edge. “Radial balance” comes from the idea of creating balance by using radially orientated lines, shapes or forms that draw the eye towards a central focal point of an image.
Many other compositional tools have you place elements with horizontal or vertical lines. With radial balance, on the other hand, forms, colors, or textures are arranged around the middle of your image, radiating from your subject like the rays of a sun.
While lines, circles, and spirals are most commonly used to achieve radial balance in an image, you don’t need lines at all to create it. You can have a central figure surrounded by radiating colors, textures, or even a distribution of objects.
In fact, one of the older forms of using both colors and form to create radial balance can be found in ancient mandalas. A more modern example can be seen in how a kaleidoscope works with colors.
If you’re used to using the rule of thirds as your primary compositional tool, using radial balance may seem a bit strange at first. Not only are you centering the subject, but you’re also creating symmetry in your photography.
Both of these are generally avoided in the rule of thirds – see our complete guide to understanding the rule of thirds.
Why is Radial Balance important?
In art, balance refers to using elements such as lines, colors, textures, and forms to create visual stability in an image. A well-balanced composition will improve the aesthetic potency of your photos.
Since very early art, radial balance has been used to create a sense of peace and stability in an image. Ancient petroglyphs often contained spirals and labyrinths. Other images carved into rock contained lines radiating out from a central point.
Mandalas are also ancient and use a geometric configuration of symbols to draw the eye towards the center. Depending on which tradition they came from, they were used for everything from focusing a meditator’s attention to trance induction.
On the flip side, an image composed with radial balance can also create a sense of movement or momentum for the viewer. Some radial compositions can even trick the eyes into imagining motion in a fixed image.
One thing that all radial compositions do, however, is draw the eye to the subject in the center of an image, creating an added emphasis. If you really want to create a strong focal point, radial balance is a more than effective technique to place your subject upfront and center.
9 Examples of Radial Balance in Photography
At first it may seem like there isn’t a huge variety of subjects that lend themselves to radial balance, but that can be misleading.
Flowers, nautilus shells, snowflakes, a staircase, tree rings, doorways, fireworks – the more times you look for radial compositions, the more they’ll pop up in nature and everyday life.
Here are a few different examples of where you can find radial composition out in the world.
Final Words on Radial Balance
Radial balance, when used creatively, can add both energy and stability to an image. So if you’re looking to broaden out from the rule of thirds in your compositions, give radial balance a try. (If you photograph flowers, odds are you already have).
What do you think? How do images composed with radial balance affect you? Do you use it as a composition technique?
Hopefully this article has shown you some practical examples to help get you started. If you enjoyed it, you might also like our guide to what is asymmetrical balance in photography too.
Leave any comments below and we’ll get back to you. Happy shooting!
Usnea Lebendig is a travel and landscape photographer who loves trekking in the wilderness, exploring other cultures, and using photography for social activism.