Photography Composition Made Easy: What is Negative Space Photography?

How to use negative space in your photography? And how does one create impressive images while not pointing the camera directly at the subject?

You have to be aware of your focus in your imagery and understand why negative space in your photos can depict different moods and emotions and how you can convey them too.

Some photographers are immensely using negative space in their work – a composition approach to draw attention to the subject whilst creating a sense of stillness.

In this article, you’ll learn how to use this approach to construct images of your own.

negative space photography

Negative space is the blank area surrounding your subject in your photographs. In other words, it is the space around the object or subject itself that helps define the positive space; which is where your focal point is.

Any type of photographer will find it useful, whether you’re a landscape or a still-life photographer.

Stepping back from the edge of your shot can often have more impact to the image than it would if you were to be right in the action. Negative space can work in the opposite way in terms of scale; to make a subject appear larger than it actually is.

Negative Space And Scale

Here’s a key benefit of negative space:

The more negative space you show in relation to your subject, the smaller the subject feels (and the bigger the negative-space-filled surroundings feel).

Now, this is obviously a problem if you’re trying to show a subject that looms large in the frame. Here, you might want to choose a tight composition that includes less negative space and far more positive space. 

But if you’re aiming to create a sense of scale, where the subject feels tiny in comparison to the surrounding environment, then adding lots of negative space is the way to go.

Negative Space Photography

Depicting Emotions Through Negative Space

The psychology behind negative space is usually to construct images that depict stillness while specifying something. The space difference between the main subject and the surrounding area allows the viewers attention to wonder.

This is greatly important when depicting emotions like loneliness and solitude.

The rules aren’t too specific, using the space in your photos is a personal option you make. Once your eye can depict visual details easier, it will happen intuitively when composing an image.

When looking at your subject, you will learn to always see the surrounding area. You’ll start to see different color compositions and contrasts but also textures and differences in lighting.

Look for points of view that isolate the subject. Do this through contrast and color differences.

How Light Affects Negative Space

You can use light and shadow to create negative space. Lighting can emphasize a subject in a stark and dramatic way, and shadows that extend into the background can further emphasize the subject’s relationship to the space. That works best with bright, direct light.

Paying attention to a subject’s form is something you can only really do with hard light. Softer light can create blurrier, gentler shadows, and that effect can be at odds with the stark definitions that characterize many negative space photographs.

Create Your Own Negative Space

Be open to what negative space can be. There are all kinds of negative spaces waiting to be discovered. Negative space can even be something added by the manipulation of camera settings. Shallow depth of field can create a blurred background for your main focus to pop against, and the right photography composition can turn any setting into a negative space that grabs the viewer’s attention.

Negative space photography is all about contrast and scale, and a skilled photographer can achieve that effect with bokeh or other effects that turn part of the frame into a blurry negative space and another part into a sharply defined subject. 

Photos of emptiness can have any subject matter. Negative space photography can be food photography or fashion. It can be street photography on a busy New York corner, portraits of posed professionals, or even product photography. As long as it situates the subject within an open area and gives them sufficient emptiness to interact with it, any photographer can use negative space to create stunning images.

Negative Space Photography

The Importance Of Negative Space In Photography

Negative space can drastically change the atmosphere and narrative of the image. In many cases, negative space is the atmosphere, that creates those things in the first place. It can provide context, create a sense of lightness or likewise heaviness, depending on the theme.

Many other composition techniques can be used to draw attention to the main subject. Because the negative space might lack detail, one might not perceive it as an element of composition itself, merely a means to emphasize other elements. Maybe the most controversial and known image where negative space has been used is Robert Capas The Death of A Soldier. Controversial for its vagueness of origin.

But these are technicalities and should be taken as mere guidelines to this specific compositional element. But to truly compose something unique, the photographer should always experiment with the artistic output.

If you liked this article, you might also like 7 Amazing Tips To Build A Creative Photography Composition

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