Negative space in photography is a technique that can be powerful and dramatic. Most great photographers have some images in their portfolio that include the use of negative space. It can be striking, give perspective and evoke feeling and emotion.
Also, it's a little like the spiciest sauce in the kitchen. You use it when the occasion is right. Not every day.
Let's look at the subject of negative space so you can try out the technique.
What Is Negative Space?
Negative space is the area around your main subject that isn't used. The positive space is your main subject.
Here is an example of negative space. The subject is the hiker and the rock. The negative space is the sky. You can see the subject only takes up a small part of the image. Yet your eye is drawn to the subject instantly.
Also, you get perspective on how small the person is in relation to his surroundings. You can't see the mountain he climbed, but you can imagine how high it is. A feeling of inspiration, hope, satisfaction, and joy can come from looking at the image. Do any other feelings come to mind? People will react differently to images due to many factors – this is the beauty of photography and art.
Let's look at another image. This is an action shot of a man diving into the ocean using negative space created by the water. The main subject is the man jumping but included in the subject matter is the wall and spectators. A subtle but interesting element is the person on the ground who is holding a camera. That gives us some information such as the jump was planned and they probably know each other. Would you have noticed these details without all of the negative space? Probably not, as you would have been distracted by other elements in the image. Negative space gives clarity and focus to the subjects. It pushes your eye and your mind straight to the subject intentionally and with purpose.
How Do You Create Negative Space?
The best images using negative space often have a single person or animal as the subject. Look for subjects outside that are surrounded by nature. Landscapes often offer great negative space. Water, desert, forest, grass, and sky are all great to use in your image. Urban settings can work well too. Watch out for large concrete areas, sports fields, parks and dark areas that might be in shadow.
Place your subject in the area of the frame that works best. Consider if they should be facing into or away from the negative space. There are no rules about where in the image the subject needs to be. It could be to the left or right, in the corner, or even in the middle of the image if they are surrounded by negative space.
Photograph your subject using different compositions if you have time. Experiment while you are shooting and include plenty of negative space. You can always reduce the amount of negative space in the editing process.
Try not to include any other subjects in your negative space, as it will distract the viewer. Don't worry if that isn't possible. That is why we love the magic of Photoshop and Lightroom. We can always remove any small objects later.
When Should You Use Negative Space?
Here are some times you should consider using negative space.
To demonstrate scale, the size of a person in contrast with a natural space such as a mass of water or field.
To evoke emotion that your viewer can relate to, such as happiness, fear, or sadness. An image of a small child sitting on the ground crying surrounded by negative space would draw feelings of sorrow and lead the viewer to think about what caused the situation. The same child could be standing up smiling with his hands in the air. The negative space could be the sky. This would bring a feeling of happiness, joy or excitement.
Negative space can be used to draw out feelings such as loneliness, motivation, or surprise. The color, shade, or brightness can impact the image too. Dark negative space can be used for undesired emotions, while light colorful negative space can be uplifting and joyful.
Images using negative space can be helpful to illustrate broad subjects such as depression, poverty, health issues, and education. An image's simplicity can mean it can lead itself to tell many stories depending on the text that goes with it. This image below of a young girl could be used in a magazine article for an array of social issues that young people face.
Negative space can be used to create drama artistically. For example, many wedding photographers will use negative space when photographing newlyweds. Sometimes the goal is to create a beautiful image. At nighttime, the use of lights can be effective for this technique.
Also, outdoors in wide-open natural spaces, it can be effective. A wedding or portrait photographer might also like to demonstrate love and intimacy. For example, this image below makes you feel like the couple is having a romantic moment together. We know there are likely many people watching them, but the negative space has created an illusion of them being alone.
Another Example Of Negative Space
After you have photographed some images using negative space with people or animals, you can also consider using still objects.
Flat lays can look amazing with negative space. You simply arrange your flowers, spa products, cakes, or whatever you are photographing to the area you want to focus on and leave the background clear. If you are photographing for stock libraries, this kind of image can be popular as designers love to use negative space to add text. Also, it looks gorgeous, artistic and professional.
So there you have it! Negative space can be a powerful technique for all photographers. Use it wisely at the right time and add some eye-catching images to your portfolio. It's a dramatic photography technique, so use it at the right time. You don't want the spiciest hot chili sauce served up on your meal every day, or eventually, you won't say wow when you taste it. You want it sometimes when it will blow your head off!
Just remember… Negative space helps you tell your story. YOUR story.