Negative space in a photograph can have a huge impact! Sounds odd doesn’t it?  Yet believe it or not, the use of something called negative space can be very powerful in photography.  But what is it?  The term is kind of hard to describe in words, but the best way I can think of to describe it is to say that the space that has nothing to compositionally define it relative to the rest of your image.  Alternatively, you could say that it has a lack of a subject or point of focus.  Things like skies are good examples of negative space.  It can bring a sense of scale in ways that are otherwise very difficult to attain.  I’ve shared a few shots of this here that serve as good examples of negative space, but using them to specifically address this concept of negative space directly is helpful.  Take a look at these shots again and think of them in terms of the negative space, and how it enhances composition.


Beach chairs with an Ocean View
Beach chairs with an Ocean View

In looking at this image of the beach chairs positioned to look out at the ocean. A couple questions regarding negative space come to mind.  First, what’s the subject of this image?  My answer when I took this was the chairs!  I liked how they were all positioned the one way, but I thought it was equally important to show what they were looking at – in this case, the negative space of the ocean beyond.  Giving some sense of space and scope here really helped define the image much better than just a row of chairs with no sense of why they are positioned like that.

What are your thoughts on this image?  What is the subject – the chairs or the ocean?  Does the image work better with the ocean there?

The Orange Frame
The Orange Frame

Portrait style images with negative space are of value not only for their inherent visual command, but also as marketable images.  Magazines love images with negative space in them that are compelling – primarily because there is a lot of real estate available to place text copy (look at magazine cover photos – they almost always have a substantial amount of negative space!).

Beach Umbrellas dotting an empty beach
Beach Umbrellas dotting an empty beach

In this final image, there is negative space both above and below the subject (the beach umbrellas).  Both the skies (and ocean) above, and the sandy beach beneath really make your eyes gravitate toward the umbrellas and the leading lines into the horizon!  What do you think of the use of negative space here?  Does it work for you or do you wish there was more substance to the photograph?

See how using this technique can actually work to your advantage?  Like the examples show, skies work well in this regard, but you could use this approach to better accent a photo or design.

Anyway, that’s the photo tip and post for today.  Anyone have any thoughts?  Got examples you can share?  Feel free to sound off with your thoughts, tips, ideas, suggestions in the comments.

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3 thoughts on “Think Negative (space) not Positive

  1. Shot 1 continues to be a favorite of mine, very much so because of the effective use of negative space.

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