Balance is the way we perceive the visual weight of space and objects within an image, and how they fit together. There’s no set rule how an image should be balanced, rather the balance is perceived or felt. For example, an object in the foreground can balance with an object in the background, but we don’t have to balance with objects, we can balance with light, details, space or colour as well, we can provide balance with anything that draws the eye around a picture.
Composition generally refers to the way an image is visually constructed and balance is a subset of that.
In the original image, the foreground boat is balanced by the distant boat. The eye is drawn into the image and the space is used effectively.
You will have to excuse my quick cloning job. in this image the foreground boat has ‘traveled’ across leaving an empty space on the left, the visual weight is now balanced to the right and the space is not used effectively.
The only change in this image is the distant boat, by moving it across the empty space has become useful and we feel balanced again. Now the boats are heading out of the image, it feels as if they are now moving away from us but in reality they have only moved a short distance.
What happens if we delete a boat? Guess what, we still feel balanced and I quite like this version. The foreground boat was shifted a little upwards and the distant boat has gone which puts more emphasis on our main subject, the distant boat might have been considered a distraction, depending on how you see the world. Now the light plays a bigger part in the composition with the boat situated centrally within the reflections and with space to move into the image.
None of these changes are particularly dramatic but they can have a big effect on the image and its balance and meaning. The right time to consider balance is when you hit the shutter, that’s what I was thinking about when this was captured, I knew the foreground boat would soon be silhouetted against the sun, and I could see the distant boat was moving in so timing was critical. It turns out I like the image better without the distant boat but getting that foreground boat correctly positioned in the frame and against the light made the image to work. So throw away any thoughts about rules of thirds and the like, and consider what’s actually creating the balance.