How To Use Negative Space In Photography

How To Use Negative Space In Photography

You may have heard the phrase “fill the frame” especially when you like to take portraits. The closer the better. Right? Well, today I will try to confuse you once again and tell you that there is a rule in photography that says the total opposite of fill the frame. I will explain to you how to use negative space in photography to give your pictures more options and a different look.

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What stands out isn’t the sky or the wall. It’s the guy on it. Right? 😀

What Is Negative Space

Negative space is pretty much empty or very even space around your subject. It could be a sky a wall or anything really that doesn’t have a lot of contrast. The way it works is that it gives your subject a so-called “breathing-room” For example when you try to create a portrait that is supposed to symbolize freedom, you will probably want to have a lot of negative space to create the feeling of freedom while a tight cropping would make it impossible. It also works great to focus the eyes of the viewer to the important things in the picture. Especially when you don’t have any leading lines that you could use. It kind of works the same way as the technique of high-end fashion stores that leave a lot of space between the clothes on the rack, so you automatically pay more attention to the single piece because it makes your brain think it must be more important.

How To Use Negative Space In Photography

 

 


Where Do I Use Negative Space

As I said above I like to use it to create a create a feeling of freedom or calmness for example when I take pictures of kids, dogs, or anything that has to do with calmness and freedom. It could even be as simple as a flower.

Showing Scale

Another way I like to use it is when I want to showcase the size of something. For example when you do a photo story for a client. Lot’s of frame filling portrait shots. They look awesome, but they don’t really show the whole person as a person. Is she a tall girl or small? How is her body language? All these things are things that make a person what they are.

Show The Environment

Negative space is also awesome to craft a stronger story in the picture. By showing where the person is or likes to be. For example, when you see somebody in a suite in a skyscraper you think lawyer or businessman. Somebody in a suit in a big seat you might mafioso. Or in front of a sunset might be hubby before the wedding and so on. The point is negative space can really change an image without really showing that much. 🙂

How To Use Negative Space In Photography
She seems to be somebody who likes to dream and travel. Right?

How Do I Create Negative Space

Just find a plain and simple background and there you go 🙂 Ok I will explain a little further.

Plain Background

A plain background is the most obvious thing, right? But it doesn’t have to be a wall or the sky. These backgrounds can do a good job but also can be very boring. When I try to create negative space using a certain background I try to find something that doesn’t have too much contrast so it won’t distract the eyes of the viewer. Also, a very simple way is to just shoot in front of a very dark or very bright background. That way you will kill almost all the contrast and get a very plain negative space.

How To Use Negative Space In Photography
Through the colors and the darkness of the background, the image still works even with all the details in the grass.

Bokeh

This is actually my favorite tool to create negative space since I’m a bit of a bokeh whore. 😀 Use a wide aperture to create a strong bokeh and blur everything but the subject in the picture. This way you are not as limited to a certain background. You could very easily stand in the middle of a parking lot and shoot at f/3.2 and you will still have a nice and clean negative space.

How To Use Negative Space In Photography
Here the background would be too distracting if it wouldn’t be blurred.

Everything

Another important thing to understand how to use negative space in photography is, your negative space doesn’t have to be a blurred or plain background. You can also use the lawn in your garden or the ocean if you are on a beach.
The only thing you should make sure is that it doesn’t have more contrast, color or distracting structure in it. So it won’t steal the show from your main subject. Backgrounds that I like a usually something that has repeated patterns. Like as I said lawn, ocean or a lake or even a stone wall.

How To Use Negative Space In Photography
Here the ocean becomes the negative space.

 


How Do I Compose In Negative Space

A good question 🙂 And the answer is the rule of thirds or however you want as always in photography. 🙂
Ok seriously. The thing with negative space is that it can very quickly look like a bad composition if there isn’t any kind of order in it.

Rule Of Thirds

What I found to be very easy is to just use the rule of thirds just with a lot of negative space. I roughly go with two-thirds of negative space and one with the subject. Of course, this is as always just a rule, not a law. 🙂

How To Use Negative Space In Photography

Which Direction To Face

Also, pay attention to where the subject is looking. 9 out of 10 times you want you subject to look into the negative space (into the middle of the picture). The reason behind that is, that when we see what is in front of the subject, we can understand the picture and automatically imagen a story to it. If you do it the other way around it will very often look like the subject is looking straight into a wall. Which isn’t really natural for most people to do. Right?

This is an example of how not to do it. 🙂

Centered

Another great way that works in a lot of cases is to just center the subject. At the same time, I still use the rule of thirds in the way that I still keep the amount of negative space up to two-thirds of the image. Other ways it wouldn’t have enough space to work. At least in my opinion.

How To Use Negative Space In Photography


That’s already it for my post on how to use negative space in photography. I hope I didn’t confuse you too much with it and that you now have some new composing ideas in your head. If you have any kind of opinion or question to this post, please feel free to comment it below. I will get to you as soon as possible. 🙂

Cheers Aaron

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6 thoughts on “How To Use Negative Space In Photography

  1. Glenys

    I really enjoyed reading about this one. Thank you Aaron. I had not heard the term “negative space” before. Of course it makes perfect sense once you explain what it is. I like your idea to use 1/3 for the subject and 2/3rd for the negative space. I also really liked your tip to have the subject facing into the negative space and not have their back to it. Great tips. Thank you for sharing.

    1. Aaron

      Hey Glenys, thank you for the great feedback I’m glad you learned something 🙂

  2. Jaime

    I’m really enjoying your posts. I like how you address negative space in portraiture. I was thinking it would be better to be close up to really get to know a person, but it makes sense in telling a story that you can’t really know a person without a comparison.

    1. Aaron

      Hey Jaime, I’m glad you liked my post 🙂 Taking closeups is very good too and you can show a lot of detail in them. I like to do a mix of both to change things up a little because when you have 20 closeups from somebody it will become quite boring after the first 3 😀

  3. Erick

    Pretty cool technique for taking a photo, this actually work doing artwork too am I right? And this style of picture emphasizes more in the person or animal who in the photo kinda like a background of his or her mindset. And using a couple of other strategies like blurring to keep the focus on the person it’s really clever.

    1. Aaron

      Hey Erick, thank you for the nice feedback 🙂 Yes you can use the negative space for lots of things. It really is a way to show the person or animal in context and create a little story in a picture. 🙂

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