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20 tips using visual weight to improve your composition

What is Visual Weight mean in photography?

Visual Weight is a compositional tool used in photography to draw your eye to a focal point. Visual weight is a phrase given to compositional elements in your scene. Some subjects or objects will have a more substantial impact compare to other components in your picture. It is up to you to decide what is more important and include it in your composition.

What is visual weight means in photography? Optical illusion? Find out how to use it.

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Photographers, always looking for the most effective arrangement and a well-balanced photograph. These are important rules of photography to create visually compelling images. 

It is an endless way to achieve a visually compelling composition. 

Visual Weight in photographs is an essential factor in defining your image's interest or importance to create balance. 

The question is?
How do visual weight effect an image?
How to use visual weight as a composition tool? 

These are great questions that we will explore in this article. Check out these compositional visual weight examples and tips.

How do visual weight effect an image?

1. Light colored elements > feels light
2. Dark colored elements > feels heavy
3. Text > feels heavy
4. Eyes, faces close up > feels heavy
5. Negative (empty) space > feels light
5. Pop of color > feels heavier than surrounding
7. Balance and scale > effects the over all feel of the image

1. Light colored or even toned elements

Light colors and highlights attract the eye more than dark tones. The example below of this flower tonally very even and feel relatively light creating a compositional visual weight balance. The black and white version gives a more dramatic feel, but the overall experience leaves a light and airy quality.

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Image by: Joanna Kosinska

Visual weight b&w linen preset

B&W Linen Lightroom Preset

TIPS:  Light Colors
Sometimes overexposing your shot gives you the bright and airy feel. Focus on a smaller part of the object using a macro lens to blur part of the object to create a softer look.

2. Dark colored elements

Dark colored elements are one of the most interesting way to create visual weight in photography. In the case of deep, moody shots with many blacks, you might think that the black would overwhelm the whole image. Nevertheless, suppose the idea is to show a dark, gloomy street like the image below the dark colors become an essential part of the scene.

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Retro Matte Lightroom Preset

TIP:  Dark Colored Elements
An image with darker areas adds drama. Try a little underexposing your shot for landscapes where the sky is more prominent. Or use your light meter in your camera to expose to the lightest part of the scene to bring out the shadows.

3. Text elements

Read more about compositional visual weight and check out examples and tips. Using text in photography could be tricky. Depending on if you are only using letters, numbers, the impact is far different from adding meaning to those letters. Do you want to say something and communicate something as loud and clear as it can be?
See the difference below and tell me what you think is more interesting or have a more profound effect.

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Blue Shadows Lightroom Preset

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Image by: Jon Tyson

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Image by: Jon Tyson

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Milk Chocolate Lightroom preset

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Image by: Kin Li

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Sharp Enhance Lightroom Preset

TIP:  Text Elements
Create text with objects, add negative space with text.  Have the text to be the hero of your image. Mix objects with other elements like had-written words.

4. Eyes and faces

Take a look at the photo below. What is the most prominent part of the image? The eyes. They are the elements creating the most visual weights.
One can argue that placing the eyes horizontally to the top part of the image could strengthen the the impact.

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Image by: Hassan Khan

Visual weight portrait brush preset

Portrait - Skin Color & Portrait - Brush Preset

TIP:  Eyes and Faces
Placing the eyes horizontally doesn't mean you need to follow this rule.  A little bend to felt or right look over the shoulder. There are endless positions you can try to create a visual effect using different position of the eyes. This also include faces. 

5. Negative space

Another composition rule is using negative space as a visual weight to render a compelling image. The area around the main subject is, which is left empty, called negative space. It is the space surrounding the topic that helps clarify the real focal point. The negative and positive space working together can reveal the true center of attention of the photograph.

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Image by: Simon Berger

Cool Pastel Lightroom Preset

Cool Pastel Lightroom Preset

TIP:  Negative Space
Move around the subject, get down low to the ground, shoot upward to see if you can include some negative space. Look for a view that detaches the subject from its surroundings. Getting closer will help you to fill the frame and isolates your subject.

6. Pop of color

Bright and saturated colors draw the viewer's eye, but complementing colors or colors in the same family could also create a visual effect. When using a pop of color as visual weight eliminating everything is not always necessary. Try to keep the background or surrounding areas of your object simple.

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Tone - Red & Blue Green Lightroom Preset

TIP:  Pop of Color
To avoid being too obvious, look for indirect ways to incorporate a pop of color to draw interest.

7. Balance and scale

Balance and scale are also essential parts of visual weight as a composition tool. Achieve balance when the element in the photo feels natural and pleasing to the viewer. The scale is a ration between two objects showing evenly or virtually out of portion.

In the image below, the small rocks feel large compare to the ocean in the background when in real life, the opposite is true, another great example of compositional visual weight.

Image by: Tyler Milligan

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Light Blue Lightroom Preset

The image below is a great example of a balanced and scaled photograph using not only the size of the objects but also incorporating leading lines and pop of colors.

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Distance Matte Lightroom Preset

TIP:  Balance and Scale
Experiment with adding different scaled elements to your photo, creating a balanced feel. Aerial photography is a perfect example of how scale could lead to a well-balanced image.

How to use visual weight as a compositional element

8. Symmetrical

Symmetry is a desirable choice for photographers. In this case, the scene is divided into four sections, invisible lines drawn in the center horizontally and vertically creating a center point. Vertical symmetry is the most effective in architectural photography. 

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Image by: Joanna Kosinska

TIP:  Using contrast
The obvious way to compose an image using symmetrical visual weight is to place your subject in the center of the frame. Arrange the frame so both sides are even and balanced.

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9. Asymmetrical

Most of the time, we want to put subjects in the middle of the frame, so achieving asymmetrical visual weight can help us use the rule of third rule.
Asymmetrical doesn't mean one-sided or unbalanced. On the other hand, it will be more appealing, as the opposite of being symmetric or boring :).

You might think this image is unbalanced but the heavy weight of the books balanced by the strong wood steps.

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Sometimes the rule of third will give you an unbalanced feel, but if you put another object in the frame it will benefit filling in an empty otherwise distractive space.

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TIP:  Asymmetrical
Create angles by rotating your camera, group objects together that are in different sizes against another element.

10. Size or Scale

Size or scale is another effective way to show visual impact. More massive objects appear to be closer and smaller ones seem to be farther away. Playing with size and balance in your composition will help you to create engaging images.
More significant objects usually would have more visual impact than smaller objects. You can achieve this by using a smaller object as your primary focus by creating a vast distance between your subject and the background.

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TIP:  Size or Scale
A photograph is two-dimensional. To communicate dimension and depth in a photo, you need to reproduce a three dimensional image. . One way to achieve this is to introduce compositional factors that contribute to a sense of scale in the picture. Include objects of typical size to give viewers a point of reference from which they relate to how big or small everything else is.

11. Color as visual weight

Bright and saturated colors naturally will attract the viewer's eyes. An explosion of colors will stand out from an otherwise subtle background. This technique will guide your viewers to the main attraction in your image.

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TIP:  Color
Red and yellow colors are the most captivating and powerful colors. Find that pop of color in your scene. Create abstract image using color. Use the color wheel to find the best contrasting color.

12. Tonal Contrast

Tonal Contrast will give you notably energetic visual weight in black and white photography
You might want to consider using the rule of third and or leaving some space in your image to breathe.

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Image by: Emile Seguin

TIP:  Tonal Contrast
Use light and dark areas in an image for the best tonal contrast. The more significant the difference between the two, the more prominent the tonal contrast will be.

13. Texture

Just imagine a strong texture against a soft background will create a natural point of interest. Or just a texture itself will be the center of your focal point.

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There are different ways to use texture. You can create it by applying abstract techniques or use what nature offers you.

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Very Green Lightroom Preset

TIP:  Texture
Texture is a random element in a compressed format. Find it in nature like in the woods, on the beach, or even the sky; you can easily find it anywhere. Just have to look. If not in the distance, then look closer.

14. Focus As Visual Weight

Focus is one of the tools you can use to guide your viewer's attention to a particular interest in your image.
Using depth of field as a visual weight is a very dynamic tool to create visual impact.

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Milky Lightroom Preset

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TIP:  Line of Sight
Take advantage of your telephoto or zoom lens and bring the focal point closer. The blurry background helps to give your image dimension and to let the subject be the center of the attention.

15. Light And Dark Contrast

You can capture darker or lighter areas of your scene to draw the viewer's eyes to the focus of your image. It works well to frame your subject naturally. 

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Black and white tone dramatically enhances the difference between light and dark.

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TIP:  Light and dark Contrast
Use your camera built in light meter to focus on the lightest part of the image to create deep shadows and light contrast between light and dark.

16. Juxtaposition

What is the definition of juxtaposition? Two elements being placed close together to show similarities or contrasting effects. There are many ways to interpret juxtaposition technique.
New vs. old (architecture, people, technology), man vs. technology, healthy vs. unhealthy, thin vs. fat, sad vs. happy. I could keep going on.
Check out some of the compositional visual weight examples below.

Organic vs. man made

The Contrast Between Geometric shapes And Flowers Evoke Tension.

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Nature vs. man-made

The green grass implies a surreal but human-made environment, but on the other hand, nature fury fights back.

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lines vs. Circles

Shapes and forms allow you to bring some geometric elements to a photo. The order of the circles and lines alined in order are opposite but also similar. The same color unifies them.

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people vs. perception

Looking at this image makes you wonder how on earth these two people managed to hang on and not fall. After a few seconds, you realize they are lying flat on the ground, but the camera angle gave it a different look.

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old vs. young

Nothing shows the passing time more accurately than a photograph of an older person besides a youngster. We can feel the cultures, traditions through their demeanor and their eyes.

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TIP:  Juxtaposition
You heard the phrase "anything goes"? Only your imagination will hold you back. The list is enormous. Here are just a few more that are not mentioned above. Male vs. female, past vs. present, emotions (happy vs. sad), activities, animal vs. human, etc.

17. text as visual weight

Our eyes tend to focus on letters and patterns or any signs. If you want your viewers to focus on something else, you might want to consider avoiding text.
The image below would also fit under juxtaposition compositional visual weight category.
Can you think of it why? Let us know leave a note below.

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This image a bit different. Even though you can see the text, your eyes first are drawn to the person's reflection in the window reading a book or assuming studying after you realized what was wrote on the piece of cardboard.

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TIP:  Text as visual weight
Using text as visual weight encourages the viewer to think in a certain way. Adding caption or writing note on the image takes away to influence of the viewers' imagination.

18. Isolation As Visual Weight

Many ways you can isolate your subject. Try some of these: shape, color, negative space, white space, depth of field, the list is endless.

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TIPS:  Isolation
Isolated areas attracts viewers attention - it breaks pattern, higher in contrast. It is the contrast that stands out and catches the viewers attention.

19. Angles

This one is tricky. You want to be careful with turning your camera to create sharp or dynamic angles. Use the angles of the actual object for visual impact.
These two compositional visual weight examples were achieved by changing the direction of my camera. 

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TIPS:  Angles
You could also use the actual angles of an object to create visual interest. Like the image above.  Click on the image to see in full size.

20. Color Contrast

Color contrast refers to the different hues and strength between colors. Black and white color contrast create the highest contrast possible. Color contrast can be between complementary or opposite colors.
It would be an excellent tactic to use at least one type of contrast in your image.
Warm colors tend to weight more than cool colors. Red is considered the heaviest color and yellow the lightest.
Image by: Thom Masat

Image by: Davisco

TIPS:  Color Contrast
Sometimes overexposing your shot gives you the bright and airy feel. Focus on a smaller part of the object using a macro lens to blur part of the object to create a softer look.

conclusion

So what is a compositional visual weight?
Visual weight is a compositional element within an image to create a visual impact. Photographs created with these techniques feel more present, stand out a comparison to other elements in the picture.

When you want your viewers to notice some aspects of your photograph, you need to use visual elements to create visual weight or, in other words, a focal feature.

Every detail in your photo has a "visual weigh, focus on the one you feel important to make an impact. Things like its size, contrast, color, tone, and texture might affect a strong effect.


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