Using Negative Space in Photography

There are many different ways to introduce creativity into your photography. But negative space is one creative photography technique that’s often overlooked.

woman shooting photo in snow storm

What Is Negative Space in Photography?

Negative space, also known as dead space or white space, describes the area around the main subject of an image. It’s usually a simple, abstract background that helps your main subject (or ‘positive space’) stand out.

Negative space can be just as important to the composition of a photograph as placing the eye line of a portrait in a good spot or using the so-called ‘Rule of Golden Thirds’.

What occurs in the space around your main subject can enhance or destroy the composition of the photograph very easily. Negative space can:

  • Declutter a photo
  • Add interest
  • Change the mood or emotion
  • Emphasise context
  • Provide a sense of scale
  • Provide space for subjects to move or look into
  • Create a minimalist effect.

How to Use Negative Space Effectively

An easy way to start paying more attention to negative space is to actually start ignoring the subject you want to photograph. Your preconceived ideas of how that object should look may prevent you from seeing a new and original perspective!

Instead, focus on the negative space around your subject and consider how you can use it to enhance the photo. Pay attention to the lines, textures and gaps around the positive space.

Some of our other tips include:

  • Make sure that the positive and negative spaces are well balanced against one another.
  • Ensure that there is at least twice as much negative space as there is positive space.
  • If your subject is moving or looking at something, ensure there is negative space for them to move or look into.

3 Perfect Occasions to Use Negative Space

1. Macro Photos

two butterflies on a stalk

When you’re taking an up-close picture of something with intricate details, you need the area around your subject to be plain and uncluttered.

If it’s possible to do so, move your subject (or otherwise the camera) to a place where you have a plain backdrop, such as a white wall.

This will mean the negative space surrounding your subject does nothing to detract from the subject by adding shapes and textures that create opposing compositions within the frame.

It will also allow the flash to hit a single surface that is not distant from the flash and reduce flash drop off.

2. Group Photos

Another example where it’s really important to use negative space well is in group photographs, where there are opposing things happening in the background.

Simply fill the frame and cut down on the amount of negative space around the group. The photo is about the group rather than the background, so it’s unnecessary to feature it in your photograph.

Of course, there are always exceptions to the rules. And using lots of negative space around a group of people is a great way to demonstrate scale, as you can see in the photo below.

group of hikers in snow

3. Silhouettes

Perhaps the most classic example of negative space in photography is the silhouetted subject. The photograph is exposed correctly for the background and the subject in the foreground becomes black.

Therefore the negative space around the subject is the thing that creates the subject.

silhouetted window using negative space

So next time you take a photograph, think of the space around your subject and see if you can work with it to create a better picture.

For more creative photography tips and inspiration, be sure to check out the Camera House blog today!

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