You may have noticed that some visual elements seem to attract the eye more strongly than others. The ability of a visual element to attract attention – its ‘eye catchiness,’ if you will – is known as visual mass. The concept of visual mass is an important one to photographic composition.
Think of visual mass as gravity: a large object, such as a star, has a lot of mass and therefore a lot of gravity, and can attract the attention of planets, asteroids, comets, and a bunch of other stellar objects. A relatively small object, such as a tiny asteroid, is unlikely to attract much with its relatively weak gravitational pull. The same goes for visual elements within the picture frame. Bold, powerful elements that immediately attract the eye and demand instant attention – these elements have a lot of visual mass. Elements that are relatively discreet don’t get noticed as much and therefore have less visual mass.
Keep in mind, however, that visual mass is not simply dictated by the relative size of an object. Color, tone, shape and other elements can give an object visual mass out of proportion with its physical size. Artists use the term ‘mass’ in the same way...