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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The bokeh effect on that lens was my undoing, as parts of the flower assortment were crystal clear while others were completely blurred. I like the look of it, but I’m curious to see what the photo would’ve looked like if the entire subject was in focus. I could have reshot the blurred components of the assortment and merged it all together in Photoshop, but I’ll be honest in that I didn’t want to go to that great of length in the post-editing process.
Regarding the negative space composition ratio I realize that it runs contrary with the tips I gave earlier in this piece. I did play with shots that were farther out and wasn’t happy with the end result so I scrapped the idea.
Here's my step-by-step of all the edits that I performed for this week's photo:
I always like to boost my contrast a little in all of my photos as part of my style
Boosting the highlights this much really made the photo "pop" more
Decreasing the shadows added a bit more definition to the subject here
Same idea with boosting the highlights to make the photo pop
Same idea with decreasing the shadows to add that definition and contrast
I love boosting the clarity in my photos to add a bit more sharpness to the photo and natural contrast
I typically increase the vibrance to make my photo more colorful without getting overly saturated
This is something new that I tried out. Normally I adjust these settings manually but after playing around with this photo I didn't see a difference that I liked, so I threw on the medium contrast setting on the point curve
After making my adjustments I noticed my greens were a little too "yellow-y" so I increased the green hues to make it a more appealing green
This was to brighten up the greens more and enhance the hue adjustment that I made
Boosting the magenta luminance a touch helped the main subject of the composition, the daisy, more appealing to look at on first glance