What is negative and positive space?
The definition of negative space is the area around the subject in a picture. Negative space might show up when the space around the subject forms a creative shape – the use of negative space is to create an artistic effect.
Whereas positive space is the subject. For example, a person’s face in a portrait or trees in landscape photography.
The reason why negative and positive spaces work so well together is they achieve balance in a photo. Without the negative and positive space, a picture can overwhelm a person due to too much positive space – or might be dull due to too much negative space. Balance is the key.
To make sure that there is a balance between negative and positive space, plan the areas where your negative space will be as much as you would your subject.
Negative space tips
When stepping into the photography world, we put our focus on capturing the perfect subject and being able to tell a story through them. However, we should also be thinking about how to create a balance through using negative space.
Here are a few tips for using the negative space to your advantage.
Less is more
This saying might be a cliche, but in this context, it is also true. Adding too many items to your photos can cause a distraction from what is important. If the object in your picture is the subject, and there is nothing else fighting for focus, then the viewer’s eyes will be able to settle their glance on the main element.
It might be worrying having negative space, as you don’t want to make the picture look empty, but the texture or solid colours are perfect to use in the negative space. Doing this creates a balance, with the background looking wonderful whilst pulling the focus on the subject.
To create a balance between the positive and negative spaces, the positioning of the subject is a crucial point. When photographing a portrait, if you place the person to one side, we recommend that you make your subject look towards the negative space. Doing this makes the shot more appealing to a viewer’s eye as it will seem that they are looking into this space.
However, depending on what kind of meaning you want your photo to have, you might want to place your subject to look away from the empty space. The picture will most likely give a mysterious look of the unknown as the viewer will have no clue what the subject is looking at.
Negative space doesn’t have to be empty
When photographing inside, it’s easier to control the balance between the negative and positive space. However, when having a photoshoot outside, many photographers might be worried that the landscape will take the focus away from the main subject. Due to thinking this, they might blur the background, but this element can actually give a different impact that the photographer doesn’t want.
Blurring parts of a picture can pull a viewer’s focus onto the background to try and figure out what is behind. Therefore, for example, when shooting a portrait and the negative space is a lake, try using a smaller aperture. This helps keep the focus on the main subject as a viewer will no longer be trying to figure out what is behind.
Try it in black and white
Although colours can create a photo that is bright and alluring, they can sometimes distract a viewer from what they should be focusing on. Black and white photos are then seen as ideal, as they rely on the contrast between the highlights and shadows. Of course, using colour and texture in a negative space can help make the subject stand out, but a black and white picture can create a timeless effect.
When capturing the photo, it would be ideal to take it in colour, and during the editing, you can alter it to black and white. Doing this will give you an option to whether or not you should keep it in colour or have it in black and white.
What do you want your photo to say?
When photographing your subject, trust your instincts and experiment with different ways to capture a photo. Although the rule of thirds is a clever guideline to follow when balancing the negative and positive spaces, it isn’t a recommendation that you have to always follow. Depending on what you want your photo to say may affect where you place your subject and whether the negative space is empty or not.
Trusting yourself is a vital factor when photographing – so follow your instincts. If you believe your subject should be standing in the middle, with their back to the camera as they climb a set of stairs – then go for it!
Negative space photography ideas
If you are interested in capturing the balance between positive and negative space, here are some examples that you can try out for yourself.
1) Have a hand holding onto a sparkler on a white background. The composition between the light and the empty background will pull the focus on the sparkler.
2) Go to a beach setting and have a person stand with only their feet in the water, positioning them to the side. The negative space will not be empty, but that is perfect as it will create a reflective look with the subject – this will pull the focus on the person.
3) Use two bowls with soup in them and place them on a crumpled up towel in the corner. The empty space could be an old wooden table. Shoot this from a bird’s eye view, then the contrast between the subject and empty space will be balanced perfectly.