How To Use Negative Space In Photography

Brandon LazovicMay 16, 2018

Wondering how to effectively use negative space in photography? Read our guide for tips on using negative space to your advantage in the composition of your photos.

What are negative space photos?

In a nutshell negative space in photos often refers to the amount of white space in the background of a photo around your subject, whereas positive space refers to the subject or objects in the composition.

When I say white space, I’m not necessarily referring to the actual color white, but rather any color that serves as the background in the composition. Negative space around the main subject can be great for making that subject stand out, like in low key photography. It’s also used as a resting place for the eye and minimizes noise that might be distracting.

Photo Challenge 2018: Negative Space Photography example 3

Negative Space Psychology

Prioritizing negative space will evoke a myriad of feelings like solitude, loneliness, contemplation or even a certain level of importance as the eye prioritizes the main subject before eventually moving to look at the rest of the background.

It also invites the viewer to use their imagination based on the minimalism of the photo, considering the photo is less cluttered and allows for a more reflective approach when crafting a story behind the picture.

Photo Challenge 2018: Negative Space Photography Example

Negative Space or Empty Space?

While negative space is associated with empty space, I would argue that it can be applied in situations where you want a central and clear focus on a specific subject, or even multiple subjects in the frame with the size difference between the subjects and the amount of empty space in the photo. A general rule of thumb is to make sure that the negative space takes up more real estate in the frame, so to speak, than the subject your focusing on.

The goal of negative space is to push the viewer’s eye to positive space first. Your background can involve multiple subjects or objects, but they should blend in with the background and be in the periphery of the viewer so as to not detract from any positive space in the photo.

Photo Challenge 2018: Negative Space Photography Example 2

Tips for Effective Use of Negative Space

One thing that I’ve learned as a budding photographer is that practice makes perfect. Sometimes it’s difficult to illustrate techniques with the expectation that you’ll produce stunning photos. With experience comes awareness beyond that of your subject.

The rule of thirds is a good starting point, but being aware of your background and ensuring that it enhances your main subject while providing positive contrast is an important consideration when shooting.

A good way to think of negative space at first is through a sense of minimalism in your photos.

Sometimes it works best to get close to your subject, change up angles so you’re shooting low to the ground, or using negative space will add that feeling of isolation compared to the scale of your subject, but when first starting think of minimalism and how you can represent that in your composition.

Negative Space Photography Background

When I first saw the prompt for this week’s challenge, my mind instantly went straight to using the vlogging equipment that I purchased at the beginning of the month (links to that equipment will be listed at the end of this piece). I recently purchased a white backdrop curtain and two studio lights for proper lighting, which would be perfect for this week’s photo challenge.

Photo Challenge 2018: Negative Space Photography header photo

For Mother’s Day I bought an assortment of flowers and thought it would make for a great subject coupled with the negative space of my white backdrop curtain. The biggest struggle wasn’t shooting, but setting up and putting away all of my equipment after the shoot!

Beyond getting the right composition for the photo, adjusting the white balance on my camera took longer than expected. Initially I shot with the SMC Pentax-M 50MM F4 Macro Lens I purchased in April, but all the photos were turning out a cool blue that I didn’t want to play with in post-editing, so I resorted to my Pentax SMCP-DA 50MM F/1.8 Standard Lens instead. linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram