Negative Space in Photography

Negative space photography is the area surrounding the main subject in a photo that is left unoccupied. Put simply, it is the space around the object itself that helps define the positive space (or main focus). In other words, subject in the image in this type of composition is sometimes referred to as positive space photography.

When used creatively together with the rule of thirds, negative and positive space can communicate the composition of your photograph.

Negative Space

Negative space art is an easy way to create beautiful, minimalist photographs that hold a dramatic impact. Having large spans of empty space can really draw the viewer in. Meanwhile, continually holding strong emotion.

The human eye is designed to see reality in 3D, through two eyes, the camera, on the other hand, is manufactured differently. As you all know, a camera sees in 2D through a single lens, this is why there is often a difference between the way you see a composition and the way that the camera perceives it.

It is for this reason that space in photography is so important. It allows us to truly consider our composition, and how the camera will see it.

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Sense of Scale

Negative space photos surround the main subject can portray a sense of scale/size to the viewer.

This can be useful if you’re a landscape photographer as shooting subjects close up can take away the feel of the location from the audience. Stepping back from the edge of your shot can often have more impact on the image than it would if you were to be right in the action.

The further back you are from your subject (positive space), the smaller they would appear, achieving a greater atmosphere, with a completely different ambience.

This works perfectly when standing next to large structures and buildings, you’ll also see instances where hikers are stood atop a mountain.

Negative / Positive Tip

When framing your composition, be sure not to include any distracting features, as this can deter from the poignant message that you are trying to send.

Depth of Field

Positive and negative space photography can work in the opposite way in terms of scale, to make the subject appear larger than it actually is.

Exaggerating negative space around your subjects can create some interesting forms and illusions.

Shooting with a wide aperture (low F/number) can make this technique much easier to accomplish.

Remember

Opening your aperture wider results in a reduced depth of field, which means the background will be blurred and more emphasis is put on your subject.

Take flowers, for example, it is up to you as the photographer whether you want to preserve the subject in its original context (in the plant).

But if you want to shoot with a high amount of negative space, making the flower head appear isolated.

An out of focus, green background can be pleasing in when capturing flower photography, as it is what you would expect to see

Be sure, in both cases, that there are no distracting elements in the background as this can take the simplicity out of the shot.

negative space
negative space

‘However, here at iPhotography we encourage our students to develop their own style, so try out different ideas and discover something new’.

Selective Framing

There are many composition techniques that can be used to draw attention to the main subject. For example, is framing your photograph. The rule of thirds is the most useful to offset your positive space. Read more about the rule here.

By using negative space to frame your image, you are removing any distracting elements from the photograph. Therefore your subject will stand out.

negative space
negative space

Decluttering your composition will make the subject stand out more. Your shot more captivating than if they were against a busy background.

Remember to consider the rule of thirds when shooting very minimal shots. It is important that your main subject remains the main focus.

 

This technique can work particularly well at the beach or near a lake. This is because the water, sand, embankment and sky can provide an undistracted composition.

Your subject holds the power of the photograph with the help of being emphasised by negative space.

negative space

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The other challenge when shooting through glass is the tinting. Unfortunately, architects and designers didn’t think about us photographers when creating these skyscrapers.

Their windows are invariably tinted in some way to help with heating.

This means that some of your photos may have a green/grey tint to them.

It’s not the biggest issue as you can rebalance this tint in editing with the ‘tint’ slider for example.