Visual weight in photography

What is Visual Weight in Photography

Visual weight is that element in the photograph that catches your attention at once. There are many factors that can affect the visual weight, including color, size, contrast, and even the actual weight of the element. This Buzzle article elaborates more on visual weight and how it affects the balance in photography.
"There are no rules for good photographs, there are only good photographs."
― Ansel Adams
Where would we be without balance? Probably rolling off the cliff and crashing down the mountainside. In real life, balance gives us a steady and stable feeling. This is the same feeling that echoes within us when we look at a photograph with the perfect compositional balance. Our need for maintaining equilibrium and harmony in life makes us want to look for balanced images. A major factor for maintaining balance in photography is the visual weight. It is defined as the perceived weight of an element in the photograph, and measures how much attraction the element gets. In simple terms, it is that something in the photograph that gets your attention.

In an image, different objects have different visual weights. Things that are big, bright, and colorful attract more attention than darker, less colorful elements. Contrast, like the presence of a small black dot on a white paper, carries a lot of visual weight as well. The greater the visual weight, the more the eye is drawn to that element in the photograph. The comparative visual weights of the different elements in an image also add to the sense of balance to the photograph. If you are learning the tricks of photography, and want to make your photographs look interesting and well-designed, then here are some tips that will help you get the right visual weight.

Factors that Affect Visual Weight in Photography

There are many factors that affect the visual weight in photography. It is your job as a photographer to balance the different elements so as to perfect the compositional balance of the photograph. Here are some things that you need to check when measuring the visual weight of the elements.

Size

Great Dane with Mouse

Larger objects appear to have more visual weight that smaller elements in the photograph. A large-sized element occupies more space, and hence, commands more attention. If the subject matter is the focal point of the photograph, then making it larger in size is a good idea. However, if you need to balance a large-sized element in a photograph, you can try placing it next to several small elements or next to an element in a contrasting color. Multiple small objects packed closely together have more density, and hence, greater visual weight.

Contrast

Contrast Photography

Very light or dark elements when placed in contrasting surroundings draw our attention immediately. For example, in the image above, the red apple contrasts heavily with the rest of the image. Color contrasts, like using blue and yellow, or red and green, are used to achieve great compositions. These colors complement and accentuate the qualities of other colors. Elements with high contrast have more visual weight and appear significantly prominent.

Color

Colors for Visual Weight

Whether they are white, black, or gray, colors are an integral part of any design. There are specific colors that attract our attention more than others. Two colors, such as red and blue, have different visual weights. Usually, red is heavier and will draw more attention than yellow, which has the least visual weight. To balance an element in red, a large number of lighter-colored elements in green and yellow would be required. Other than the color, saturation also matters. The more saturated the color, the more attention it gets. So, dark purple will have more visual weight than pale pink.

Lightness/Darkness

White Lotus on Dark Background

As compared to lighter colors, darker colors carry more visual weight. Naturally dark objects, when placed in contrast with a lighter object, appear to be heavier and attract immediate attention. The more contrasting the value between the object and the background, the more is the visual weight in photography.

Placement

Placement for Visual Weight

The composition of the element has a significant impact on the visual weight. As the distance from the center of the image increases, the visual weight of the element increases. Usually, objects around the edge draw more attention, which is why it is a great idea to place the focal point of the image off-center. So, if you need to balance a bigger element with a smaller one, then place the bigger element in the center and the smaller element towards the edge. Other factors that influence the visual weight include:
  • Objects in the upper part of a composition are heavier than objects in the lower part.
  • Objects on the right attract more attention than the objects to the left.
  • Objects placed on Rule of Third lines, cross-sections, or in the corners of the composition have more visual weight.
  • Vertical objects appear visually heavy as compared to horizontal objects in a photograph.

Depth of Field

Depth of Field

The depth of field is the range of distance that appears sharp in a photograph. This varies based on the camera, the aperture, and the focusing distance. By changing the aperture setting on your camera, you can change the depth of field. If you want to focus the viewer's attention in a specific place, then you can choose to have depth of field in your shot. The greater the depth of field, the more the visual weight.

Complex/Interesting

Complex Tree Roots

Your eye is immediately drawn to complex patterns or interesting images. These objects appear visually heavier than objects not possessing these features. Since simple objects are immediately understood, our attention wavers. As compared to this, complex designs and patterns are difficult to understand and process, and therefore, hold our attention for much longer.

Actual Weight

Contrasting Weight for Visual Weight

It might sound a bit ridiculous, but the actual or the perceived weight of the object does have a bearing on its visual weight as well. Objects that are actually heavy or look heavy, like a large book, or barbells at the gym, can have more visual weight than elements which are lighter, such as a feather.

Other Factors that Affect Visual Weight

Muscles with Tattoo
Writing in Photos
Cute Baby Photography
Human Faces
Isolated Elements
Isolated Elements

The concept of visual weight in photography relies heavily on the elements that we are exposed to in the physical world and the responses they evoke from us. To create a balanced image, it is important to give different elements in your composition more or less visual weight. This can be done through size, color, placement, and contrast so that all the heavy elements in your photo are balanced out by something with a lighter weight. This is the key to a balanced and harmonious composition.
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