Guide to Radial Balance in Photography

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While there are no unbreakable rules when it comes to how you arrange the elements in your photos, there are a number of compositional guidelines 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.

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 the image. Both of these are generally avoided in the rule of thirds.

Why is Radial Balance important?

An image of a flower where the focal point is on the center of the bulb

Credit: Teryani Riggs

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.

Types of plants lead the eye to the center of an image - an example of the three balances in art.

Many plants have a spiral or bottle-brush structure that lends itself to radial balance. | Photo Credit: Teryani Riggs

The center of a colorful flower is another way to show balance in an image

One common example of radial balance lies in the architecture of flowers, their petals fanning out from a clear center. | Photo Credit: Teryani Riggs

The design of this straw hat questions the way people view an everyday object

Radial balance can be found in everyday household objects. Here the eye is drawn to the tip of a straw hat. | Photo Credit: Teryani Riggs

The shape of this tunnel encourages our eyes to focus on the building in the image

This blue tunnel in Hong Kong leads the eye effortlessly to the architecture behind it. | Photo Credit: Joel Fulgencio

In art, what is balance? An image of the top of a lightbulb creates a sense of balance

For more unusual subjects, try creating radial balance with light – or in this case, a light bulb.| Photo Credit: Teryani Riggs

The shape these pretzels are placed in the image is an example of balance for art

While circles and spirals are the most common form of radial balance, there are many other ways to create it. Here the three pretzels draw the eye to a central triangle. | Photo Credit: Teryani Riggs

An image of St. Hedwig's dome taken right underneath

Buildings and their interior design are often built around radial balance. Here the dome at St. Hedwig’s Cathedral almost looks like a mandala.| Photo Credit: Lysander Yuen

Image of a boat is spinning right to create circular waves

It’s not always easy to get a bird’s eye view, but for radial balance it’s often helpful. In this image, the waves create a sense of motion that in turn, lead the eye to the center. | Photo Credit: Matheo Jbt

Image of people wearing arm bands joining hands gives a sense of unity

Using humans to create photos with radial balance is a way to suggest cooperation and collaboration. | Photo Credit: Perry Grone

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 shoot 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.

Usnea Lebendig

Usnea Lebendig is a travel and landscape photographer who loves trekking in the wilderness, exploring other cultures, and using photography for social activism.

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