Positive and Negative Space in Photography

December 30

14 min. to read

view 432

Studying the art of photography is impossible without the basics of composition. Of course, sometimes you can capture a great shot without preparations, but in most cases, you have to follow some rules. Today we will talk about negative and positive space in photography.

When we talk about photos, we often think about rules to follow. There are many ways to create an attractive composition, but we need to study positive and negative space in photography. This is especially important for beginners. Nevertheless, professional photographers will also find useful information here to help them unleash their creativity more.

We'd also like to say that the further you delve into the study of photography, the clearer it becomes that everything is interconnected with mood and different emotions. Every choice you make and even the sometimes insignificant details make a difference, which is especially evident in the finished photos. Of course, negative and positive space photography is a prime example here, how else could it be? These two pieces are extremely important because of the mood they carry. So, what are these things really and how are such aspects used in art?

What it means for the photographer: basic definitions

At the heart of a strong artistic impression of a photograph, as opposed to simple unpretentious photos, is a fairly simple approach. The photographer has to be able to see the objects that will later turn out to be good shots, and that is not easy. You cannot learn this from books, because you need practice, experience, and a systematic and methodical approach to your work.

As we mentioned earlier, this art often uses the concepts of positive and negative space photography. They refer to the area within the viewfinder.

Positive Space in Photography

It's the main subject and also the idea that any part of the photo that includes the object stands out from the rest of the backdrop. This is a key component of most photographs and helps to convey emotion to the audience. This kind of technique can illustrate the depth of a picture.

Positive photographs are often more fulfilling and active, so the focus is on the object. It's important to note that all of this is usually balanced to produce the most attractive composition possible.

If we look more closely at such examples of space in photography, it will be a dense forest area with a high level of detail and texture, or the piling up of the architecture of a large city without space to breathe. If the photograph is crowded and it is difficult to see shapes and sizes (which means a lot of clutter, no clarity, or too many negatives), then the photograph may not be compositional well designed or perhaps fit an abstract style.

Another side: Negative space in photography

This is the image-free area around your objects. It can be used more effectively to emphasize dimensions, place semantic accents, and even independently form several components in the composition of the frame. So, what is negative space in photography? 

It is also sometimes referred to as white space. This concept is equally useful for photography because you can get an outstanding picture out of a likely average photo. Since it is generally accepted that the negative is the area of interest that surrounds the object in your image, it turns out that the definition is rather abstract.

If we are talking about negative space photography examples, it would be a minimalistic shot with a butterfly against a blue sky. In such pictures, there is a lot of empty space around your subject, and the main attention is attracted only to the butterfly and the plant. The Leaning Tower of Pisa against the night sky would also be a great example of photos with negative space.

Unfortunately, not many photographers grasp this side and can put it into practice. Let's take a closer look at this point and see how to successfully use your knowledge of this object to take your photos to a higher level and achieve interesting results. This is a great way to learn something new.

Where to find the negative and how to use it?

We can draw a parallel with the negative space photography definition: 

  • This is an introvert, modestly trying to hide from attention and blend into the backdrop and it does not demand attention.

  • It can be a snowdrift through which a wisp of greenery breaks, the sky, a monotonous wall behind a person, or sand around a rock.

  • It can go unnoticed but still play a crucial supporting role, isolating the subject and drawing attention to it, setting the mood, and providing areas for your ideas to be creative.

If you've looked at examples of negative space in photography before, you've probably caught the point. However, this does not mean that the area must be empty. It does not! The sky in which the eagle flies can be cloudy. The wall can be colored or textured. Lens bokeh can create a delicate, soft, and colorful space in the backdrop of a close-up photo of a plant.

A few ways to apply it wisely

Now we will tell you how you can implement the best ideas in pictures with negative space:

  • The most simple way is to draw attention to the object. If an eagle is depicted against a clear sky, the eye is automatically drawn to it. The white wall behind the walking man allows you to focus on him. The shallow depth of field makes the flower in the foreground more vivid.

  • Often negative space photos add a sense of calm, order, and silence by removing all distracting elements. However, using bright colors can evoke feelings of energy and cheerfulness. An object with too much buffer around will look lonely and isolated, but when there is too little space, it can cause a feeling of claustrophobia. An almost monotonous wall makes a minimalist composition much more appealing.

  • Creating an empty area through the choice of angle can help simplify a composition. Imagine standing in the middle of a field of lush wildflowers. It's a solid mess of contrasting colors. How do you get a good shot in such conditions with a sense of scale? If one flower fills the frame and you effectively shade the backdrop, the picture is dramatically transformed.

All of the above tips about photo negative space destroy the misconception that such pictures are hard to make interesting.

What do you need to pay attention to?

Our eyes are great at following a given direction. For example, if the model in the photo is looking or moving somewhere, there must be enough space for the viewer to imagine that movement or gaze toward the subject.

If there is not enough space in negative and positive photography, the opposite can also happen - there is too much of it or it is misplaced. As long as you're not trying to make the object look small, lonely, and unimportant, you need to limit the amount of emptiness.

There is a hard rule of thumb that says there should be more negatives than positives. How much? About twice. Once this threshold is exceeded, the object begins to look unimportant. However, if you stick to the rule, you will get a pleasing-to-the-eye result.

There is another tip we can give you about negative and positive pictures. For example, by focusing all your attention on the object, it's easy to forget about the backdrop and the negative space it contains. When your focus is on capturing a moving subject, don't forget to pay attention to the backdrop, so that you don't have to hide the power lines in the photo editor for a long time afterward.

Dealing with the positive side: why it matters?

When you searched for information about positive and negative photography, you might have noticed that the latter aspect is covered much more. Nevertheless, it is extremely important to first define the subject and, when composing and framing, always keep its image in mind. 

A beginner photographer should strive to build simple compositions in positive and negative pictures and, if possible, exclude peripheral details that would distract the viewer's attention and conflict with the main object.

Before you press the shutter button, look closely at the subject, and position the viewfinder vertically and then horizontally. Many photographers are in the habit of framing horizontally when taking positive space photography, and they often forget that there is also a vertical camera position. If you don't believe me, look at your work. Surely when you look at your pictures you can not only notice but also appreciate tendencies and specific traits that are unique to you, your unique mark.

Final thoughts: searching for balance

That's not to say that positive images photography is better than negative, it's just different. It's hard to create an attractive shot with just one thing, but when they come together, it creates a stunning effect. Without having a harmonious combination of positive and negative space, you end up with either a cluttered and incomprehensible or an empty and lonely photo.

Look carefully at what you want to photograph and try to shape the shot so that the positive and negative areas are balanced concerning one another. Be generous with the amount of empty area that should be left around the object. Don't think you need to squeeze visual information into every inch of the frame.

Of course, even images with a properly constructed composition have to be edited or slightly retouched. Most professional photographers develop their style of post-processing and it's great. You have to spend a lot of time and even attend courses to learn all the tools of Photoshop. Also, sometimes the simplest elements of retouching take at least an hour. 

Discover the smart photo editor Luminar Neo with a simple interface and AI-based tools and you can enjoy post-processing again. Even if you are used to working exclusively with Photoshop, with Luminar Neo you will breathe new life into your photos.


Experience the power of Luminar Neo

Try free Try free

Check out Luminar Neo now

Try free

Use Aurora HDR for free for 14 days.

Sent successfully!

Please check your inbox.
We've sent you a copy via email.

Sorry

Looks like you're subscribed already

Sorry

This is sad. Looks like you’ve earlier unsubscribed from Skylum emails. Please resubscribe here.

Thank you for downloading
Aurora HDR

Preparing your download...

Did your download not start?
Dont worry, just click here to try again.

Oops! Something went wrong. Don't worry, just click here to try again.

Step 1

Step 1 Find & Open
Aurora HDR Installer

Step 2

Step 2 Follow the instructions
to install Aurora HDR

Step 3

Step 3 Enjoy new photo
editing experience

Get started for free

Try out Luminar Neo for free for 7 days. No credit card needed.

Sent successfully!

Please check your email

Make sure it's a valid email address

👆 This app is available for desktop only. We will send you a link when you’re back on your computer.