Negative space is one of the worst kept secrets of fine art photographers. It’s been used for many years by painters, sculptors, architects, and of course photographers. Negative space simply refers to “white” or empty space that surrounds your main subject (your subject is sometimes referred to as positive space). Negative space is extremely effective at emphasizing subjects and drawing viewers eyes where the artist wants them to go. When used properly, negative space creates a balance between it and the subject.
Negative space neither has to be white or empty. It sometimes consists of repeating patterns or bold colors. The most important aspect of negative space is that it not be distracting. For instance, the image below is a sunset image taken on Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park. I composed it using the sky as my negative space (notice it is not white or empty) to create a scene where the silhouette’d people (my main subject) popped out of the image.
Negative space does not have to be extreme, images like the reflection image below are subtle examples of using negative space to emphasize the subject. What works well here is that the sky’s color is reflected in the water creating a continuation of that color which makes the negative space look as if it continues below the subject as well.
As you noticed in the top two images, I actually used fog as my negative space which is quite literally white space (or grayish-blue if you’re being picky). Fog is one of my favorite conditions to shoot in for the sole reason it presents the world in an entirely new way by erasing all of the distracting elements that often pop up in the background of scenes.
Finally, I’ll leave you with this, often when we speak of negative space photographers have a tendency to also apply minimalism to their composition. What I mean is, we assume that because we are implementing negative space that the space has to take up the lions share of the frame. The image above uses two types of empty space without relying on minimalism. The building could be considered negative space because of its fairly uniform color and patterns while the sky is the other negative space.
As with anything photography, there are no hard and fast rules so simply give it a try and have fun. Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments section below and be sure to check out @PhotolisticLife on Instagram to follow current projects and see images before they’re published on the site.