boats in harbor foggy day

How to Use Negative Space in Your Photos

Without negative space how would we appreciate the positive in our art and in our lives? – Dyan Law

Although I’ve talked about negative space in previous posts, I’d like to expand a bit. I am hoping that this will help when you frame your shots. What is negative space in photography? It’s the area that surrounds your subject in the photo. It’s also known as white space. Like many other photography concepts, this has also been used in art and design for hundreds of years. 

Negative space can be pretty abstract. Sometimes it’s hard to tell where the positive space ends and the negative space begins. It does take some practice to master and it’s somewhat subjective. I do believe that it’s almost as important as the positive space (the subject) and it can easily make or break a photo.

Here are 3 reasons why negative space is important:

1. It helps emphasize the main subject of your photo by drawing your eye to it

Typically we are attracted to brighter areas and vibrant colors (reds, yellows, etc.) in a photo. Ensuring that the subject is well lit and that you don’t have vivid colors competing with the subject is definitely important. Negative space can also help strengthen the composition.

2. It provides balance against the positive space (the subject)

More often than not, we get caught up in the moment and try to include as much as possible in our pictures. The result is a cluttered image. The viewer needs some room to breathe and negative space really helps. Just like in the cover picture of this post. Notice that the harbor water fills a great part of the photo. It’s also important to check the sides and the corners of the frame before you press the shutter button. An unwanted branch in a corner or some wires on the very top can ruin a photo. I know, you can crop them later, but why not avoid them if you can.

3. It forces you to pay more attention to your composition

Most of the time we focus on the subject(s), shutter speed, ISO, you name it. When was the last time you focused on the space around your subject or the gaps between the objects? Paying attention to them helps you capture the shapes and sizes more accurately.

I know that paying attention to the gaps doesn’t come naturally. It takes time and practice. From now on, try adjusting the composition in your frame before pressing the shutter. You want the negative and positive spaces to feel balanced. It can be challenging, but also very rewarding. Remember to be generous with empty space and your composition will improve dramatically. Take a look at the pictures below for some negative space ideas.

Happy negative space shooting!

For more photography tips and ideas, check out my latest photography book, Picture (Im)perfect Photographynow available at Amazon.


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