Negative Space in Photography

What is negative space in photography?

In photography as well as in design and in pretty much every genre of visual art, negative space is perhaps the single most important element of the photo that helps the subject in your work to stand out and attract the viewer’s attention.Used correctly negative space will help your photos look balanced and pleasing. If we don’t get a balance of (negative) space and activity the photo can feel claustrophobic. Look at the photo below as an example.

Negative space in photography

New York, USA (c) Ivo Popov // Fujifilm X100S

In this photo example our main subject is the line of buildings and the negative space is the white, cloudy part of the photo.

Negative space defines and emphasises the main subject of your photo, it is drawing your eye to it. It prevents your image from becoming too cluttered and gives your eyes somewhere to “rest” while you explore the photo. The result is a more engaging and pleasant composition.

How to use negative space to make your photos more engaging?

When framing your photo, adjust your composition until the positive (main subject) and negative spaces in the shot feel well balanced against each other. You can be as generous as you like when “adding” negative space to your photo (maybe keeping in mind the Rule of thirds).

Adding negative space can also help to give sense of the scale of your main subject. This is especially effective in landscape photography where the vastness of the landscape may dwarf any subject you choose to include. Look at the photo below as an example of that.

Negative Space in Photography

Jaisalmer, India (c) Ivo Popov // Canon 5D Mark III and Sigma 85mm F1.4

Negative space can be used quite effectively for photographing portraits as well. Look at the photo below as an example.

Negative Space in Photography

Bruges, Belgium (c) Ivo Popov // Canon 5D Mark III and Sigma 85mm F1.4

When used correctly to photograph people, negative space can have a great impact on your viewers. It can create a sense of airiness and freedom, it can strengthen the positive emotions in your photographs, it can emphasise the feelings of your subjects and it can also add a sense of loneliness, despair or even fear. Here is one more example.

Negative Space in Photography

Villers-la-Ville (c) Ivo Popov // Canon 5D Mark III and Canon 24mm F1.4

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