Stable balance left to right

Visited the geographical center of the US once just to see what was there.  It was interesting to think about how you would determine such a site.  Of course it would involve surveyors, transits, complicated instruments and calculations by men huddled around a table littered with maps and such.  Right?  How else would you pinpoint the exact center of the country?

Simple – balance a cut-out map of the US on a pin and where the map balances flat is the center.  And that’s how they determined it.

Elegant solutions are so great if for no other reason than here’s one that can be repeated by any class of 4th graders in the country.

We generally crave balance, a position of moderate force in all directions acting equally on each other.  It’s so important to many things in our lives from bicycles to skyscrapers to bridges to ballerinas that we take it for granted, as if nature continually moves toward finding balance.  Not exactly.  Physicists tell us the universe strives toward unbalance, a state of disorder measured by an increase in entropy.  Still, we continue to find a sense of stability where balance is provided.

Photographers generally prefer balance as well, guiding a viewer through a scene in an expected way, allowing the mind the dwell on particular aspects measured against other elements.  There are even rules about this, advising where to put dominant subjects and how to use design elements to highlight or diminish certain parts of a scene in order to push the viewer to or from that area in the image.

ISO 100, 80mm, 1/400 sec., f/8

ISO 100, 80mm, 1/400 sec., f/8

This scene was intentionally balanced as much as possible.  I saw the scene emerging as the ship moved across the horizon toward the breakwater opening and the sunlight moved across the water as the clouds blew by.  The horizontal lines are easy – the line of the horizon (which is never to be in the center of a picture unless it needs to be), the lines of dark and light on the water mirrored in similar lines in the sky.  The line of the ship balanced against the line of the breakwater.  There’s even a balance between the light on the beacon and the ship in the shade of a cloud.  It took three shots to get the sunlight on the water just the way I wanted but the wind was blowing briskly and I could see the openings for the sun would line up in the space of just a few minutes to get the beacon in just the right spot.

Sunlight has been absent here for a week so it was great to finally have some contrast to work with.  Might be all we get for a while…

By the way, if you’re in the Milwaukee area drop by the Art Museum to see the special exhibit on color photography  Color Rush.  It’s a great historical look at the development and use of color from autochromes to Kodachrome.  In it you can see how balance has played an emerging role in photography once color became an alternative to B&W.


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