Negative Space in Photography

What is negative space in photography and how can you use it to make better photos?

September 20, 2023

Voir la version française de L'espace négatif en Photographie.

Negative space in photography is a good way to illustrate the famous expression, "less is more."

By its nature, nearly any composition that highlights negative space is a minimalist composition.

The subject is featured by isolating it in the composition through ample space around which eliminates the superfluous. It is the Negative Space!

You can bring more attention to your subject by bending the traditional rules of photography.

With negative space, we no longer focus only on the subject, but on the background. More importance is given to what is around, and by decentralizing the subject, it adds to the visual impact of the photo.

In these two examples, the large area of emptiness directs our gaze, providing almost the same weight as the subject. This lets us imagine what is beyond the void of empty space

Negative spaces work best as plain soft backgrounds. These backgrounds do not need to be overly complicated. A cloudy sky with a bird flying can result in a great negative space image.

What is the most important in this image is this feeling of excess, freedom and the ability to make the subject breathe in an airy composition, rather than a given type of negative space.

For me the simplest composition to practice this type of photography, is a subject isolated on the ocean. as in my photo, "seule au monde."

Or on a background of beautiful blue sky as we see in this photo, "Up in the Air."

You may notice that all of these examples so far have been color images.

As you start to create your own photos, you might quickly see how black and white is more suitable for negative space photos because the eye is not distracted by colors. Using black and white works well for strengthening the subject, lines, and "Graphism" elements of the images.

Some negative space compositions that work well in black and white will often put a small silhouette in a big space, whether urban or in nature as we see in this photo by Maryse.

You can see a few of my photos that also illustrate this silhouette idea.

In black and white we can play with strong contrasts. Through the play of shadows and light, we can create intriguing negative spaces. The lighting can enhance a subject while shadows enhance interactions with the space.

For negative space, everything is a matter of contrast and scale.

if you enjoy macro or flower photography, you can tune your camera settings by using a wide aperture (lower number like f/1.8 - f/4 for example) which results in a shallow depth of field. This will allow you to make nice blurred out backgrounds which become the negative space for the subject to be featured.

This shallow depth of field results in a pleasing "bokeh", or quality of the background shapes and forms, which enhances the visual impact of the negative space.

You can use the same technique while photographing animals and wildlife.

As you have seen, there are all kinds of negative spaces and it’s up to you to create your own. As long as the subject is isolated in a space open enough to invite interactions, you will find success.

TOPICS: essence of photography

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