If used correctly, the empty space you leave in your shots (negative space) can make your photograph more interesting and easier to focus on rather than trying to fill every inch of the frame with interest. Negative space can play several important compositional roles so here are a few tips to help you think more about making the most of what's not in your scene:
Reinforce What's Important
The obvious role of negative space is to show the viewer of your image what is and what isn't important in your shot. If there's nothing else fighting for focus, their eyes will be able to settle on your main subject without searching the rest of the shot first.
Balance Your Shot
Negative space can make a shot appear more balanced and as a general rule, you need twice as much negative space to the area taken up by your subject. For example, if you shot a close up portrait and your subject filled the right third of the frame, you'd want the two thirds to the left to be negative space.
Give Your Shot Context
Of course there are times, such as when you're shooting environmental portraits where you want to make the most of the size of the place you're taking photos in, when the above rule won't apply.
With environmental portraits it's often what's around your subject that gives the shot more interest so filling your frame with your subject would mean the context would be lost.
Space For Your Subject
If you do place your subject to one side of your frame make sure they're looking towards the area of negative space. The same goes for action shots where they're running through the frame as generally your shot will be more compositionally pleasing if they have space to move in to. Of course, if you're wanting them to increase the sense of speed or want to make people wonder what they're looking at, position the negative space behind them, almost pushing them out of the frame.
Negative Space Doesn't Have To Be 'Empty'
By using one colour in your background when shooting indoors or by throwing it out of focus if you're shooting outdoors, it won't become a point of focus for your viewer so all attention will fall on your main subject. However, sometimes adding blur to your backgrounds will leave your shot with less impact. For example, if you're out shooting portraits and behind your subject is a mountain scene, shooting with a smaller aperture so you get front to back sharpness will exaggerate the amount of negative space around them, giving the shot more meaning and impact as a result.
Exaggerate The Negative Space
Take the idea one step further and strip all the colour out of your shot, leaving just the shapes and space around them to tell your story. You could also remove all the textures from the shot by shooting silhouettes.
Photo by David Clapp
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