Negative Space


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Negative Space

1 Sep 2021 4:14PM   Views : 568 Unique : 332

Negative space is something I use from time to time. It can be a useful tool in your image making. An antidote to in-your-face filling the frame?

I came across a video on YouTube recently talking about negative space. This got me thinking more deeply on the subject. Now, it's generally regarded in photography that you should 'fill the frame'. That's all well and good and for many images it is best to see the subject at a reasonable size. That brings to mind a quote from the photojournalist Robert Capa (If your pictures aren't good enough, you aren't close enough) that essentially says you need to get your subject to fill the frame. To be fair, much photojournalism does require 'getting in close'. Equally, strong photojournalistic images can make good use of negative space depending on the story being told.


There was a trend a number of years ago with bird photography to get the creature as large as possible in the frame, without cropping off the extremities. This created very claustrophobic looking results which at first might look impressive but could become tiresome. There was no sense of environment or surroundings or even space to 'look into' or 'move into'. Of course, those last two ideas may to some appear as 'rules'. They aren't, though they are a useful guide and compositions do look better balanced and pleasing to view when those factors are taken into account in some way. The idea does live on in some quarters today because it's so easy to crop an image. Some take it too far and crop the life out of the image because the subject is relatively small in the scene, to the detriment of technical quality. Sever cropping does not a wildlife photographer make. But that's getting way from the point. Looking more constructively, if your subject is small, for whatever reason, use that to the advantage of the image.


So what is 'negative space' and why would you want to use it? (I have to point out before some 'clever' person does so, that it's not about storing old film!). It's an area of an image that's not filled with subject. That area can suggest vastness of an open space, solitude, isolation, insignificance, contemplation, or a sense of scale.

Is negative space devoid of detail? It's often the case, for example a large white sky, but could equally be a large area of concrete wall behind a portrait so there would be some texture.

How much negative space should you use? That all depends on how you want to portray your subject], the story you want to tell or the mood you want to convey. Try varying amounts. Don't just limit negative space to white or light tones. An large area of darkness can be equally effective if that suits the mood.


Using negative space is just another compositional tool. One requirement for utilising negative space is for images used in editorials and advertising where text can be used in those areas. If you're shooting stock photography it's an idea to take some shots to allow for that.

Consider its use in landscapes, portraits, action, natural history and still life.

All text and images Keith Rowley 2021

Tags: Negative space

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dudler Avatar
dudler Plus
20 2.1k 2048 England
1 Sep 2021 6:55PM
You've seen my office, Keith, judging from the crack about old film...

Really useful: the crucial thing, of course, is knowing when to use it, and when to go in close... And that's another story!
pink Avatar
pink Plus
20 7.4k 11 England
14 Sep 2021 9:02PM
This is something I need to make myself do more, I had a look through my portfolio and could only find one image in about 20 pages! not good enough.
I appreciate that certain genres work better than others, but I do seascapes which lend themselves very nicely to this.
Inspiring article as usual Keith, made me look for more opportunities, watch this space Smile

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