On the topic of composition, on aspect that is frequently discussed is balance. It’s a concept that seems simple enough, but I feel that it is perhaps commonly misunderstood. Too often, we let our left brains take over and the word “balance” seems to trigger an objective measurement between parts of the image. As our more adapted and better trained right brains will tell us – assuming we let it speak – balance is simply the relationship between the positive and negative space in a composition. Of course we cannot truly discuss such a topic without a great example. And so I would like to introduce to you one of Shobha Srinivasan‘s compositions, Two Is Better Than One!
There are many reasons why Two Is Better… compelling, and I’ll get to that, but I wanted to focus on the lesson at hand first and foremost. Compositionally, this photo is balanced, though it may not seem the case. Hypothetically, if you were to try to envision one side of the photo versus the other, it would topple off the left side. But that’s where the misconceptions lie. Now balance in that manner is one valid way to think of a composition. But that’s not the only way – and that certainly doesn’t apply here. That type of balance is reserved for much broader compositions featuring subject(s) that are framed with lots of “white space” or negative space (and as an aside, the negative space is only about half as “heavy” as the subject). But we’re going to discuss the other means of balancing a photo: Positive vs. Negative.
Positive/Negative Balance is a means in which the subject matter equals the negative space. In theory, it could be used for any type of composition with any type of subject, even one that is completely within the frame. But let’s be honest, when the subject (the positive space) is entirely within the frame and the positive and negative spaces are equal, that makes for some boring compositions: Technically correct, but aesthetically uninteresting. And so a prerequisite of aesthetically pleasing positive/negative balance is that the subject must be clipped. It should be slammed up against the edge of the frame, spilling out of the frame, parts of which never to be seen through the viewer’s eyes. Shobha has framed Two Is Better… so that table and both chairs are clipped by the edge of the frame. By doing this, Shobha has forced our mind into observing shapes and the lines. Sure, our minds can comprehend this as a table and chairs, but the simple distortion of the clip is enough to throw the left brain off kilter. It forces our left brain to think more like the right brain. Sadly, we can’t keep the left brain at bay entirely; we need to appease it somehow, and that’s where the negative/positive balance comes into play. Our mind is now evaluating the comparison between the two, and we generally find that a near balance between them is more aesthetically pleasing. Shobha’s photo complies with the positive/negative balance by posturing the table and chairs closer to the bottom of the frame (because bottom heavy is more stable, of course). The negative space is the brickwork on the ground to the top and right of the frame with a small section in the bottom left corner. Two is Better… works for this reason, and it is compelling because it entertains both parts of our minds.
Beyond the compelling positive/negative balance expressed in Shobha’s photograph, there are other great aspects of this photograph that I would like to point out. Let’s start with the textures featured herein. Wood is one of the great sources of texture. It has a natural beauty in that it is both structured and free-flowing in its long, stretched grain. Masonry is another good source of texture in it’s particulate structure. Capture the light just right with either of these surfaces, and it’s bound to turn up well in a monochromatic photograph such is the case here. Pattern is also exhibited through the solder rows of brick and the paralleled arrangement of the wood pieces and the rivets holding them in place. The elements are man-made, but the beauty behind is very natural. Which leads me into the careful treatment of this photograph. This is a photograph that I feel may not have been so strong in color. I must commend Shobha’s use of sepia tones as it really pulls out the wood grains and the mortar patterns within the brick. The tone also slams home the natural aspects of the materials at hand, another attachment to the would-be viewer. All in all, the simple beauty and compositional mastery behind Shobha’s photograph, Two is Better Than One!, has earned it’s spotlight this week.
For more great inspiration from the mind and camera of Shobha Srinivasan, I would strongly encourage you to browse and follow her Flickr Photostream. If you would prefer, you can also follow Shobha on 500px where she is also a member. We have also featured another one of her works, If I Had One Wish…, earlier this year.You will find in her portfolio a number of simple but elegant compositions and demonstrations of her strong sense of color. Many of her photos are processed in a stylized manner that is warm and comforting, no matter what the subject matter. I think you’ll quite enjoy her work and will be inspired by it.