a photo study: negative space

Photography, in a nut shell, is lines, shapes, colors, and feelings

In photography negative space is perhaps the most important element as it embraces the subject within your image — the element of interest — helping it stand out and inviting the viewer’s attention.  It is the aspect within a photograph that generally doesn’t attract much attention.  It is sometimes referred to as white space and has the potential to change what appears to be an average subject into an outstanding image.

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The simplest example of positive and negative are the words in this blog.  These words draw your attention while the background doesn’t.  The words are positive space, and the white background is negative space

Some images have high amounts of positive space creating what some identify as busy, cluttered, crowded creative works. These types of images generally reflect the busy nature of the scene being photographed.

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The elements of positive and negative space are two elements of photography that are important because of the emotions they evoke. Images created with high amounts of positive space have the potential to evoke feelings of power, strength, action, chaos,  busyness, or…as in the image above…anticipation.

Negative space, in contrast, awakens feelings of peace, calm, quiet, loneliness, isolation. It is less about the subject within a photograph and more about awakening a feeling in the viewer.

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Negative space can create a sense of lightness, airiness…it can strengthen the positive emotions in a photography, emphasize the feelings of your subject, conveying whatever story you as a photographer wishes to evoke in your viewer.

duckswebNegative space provides “breathing room” giving the viewer’s eyes a place to rest and preventing an image from appearing too cluttered…creating a more engaging composition.

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Negative space generally mutes detail or color; yet, in some cases well-defined buildings and people can act as negative space as it conveys a story or evokes feelings.

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It is easy to focus our attention on the subject, on what we see as most important element of the photograph. Adding to or taking away negative space affects the subject within an image as they effectively become smaller or larger within the frame of your image.

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At first, it seems that to set out to find empty space may be a difficult undertaking; yet, searching for elements that don’t stand out becomes more natural over time…try including the sky in your composition…it is expansive, everywhere, and often filled with negative space.

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Our mind formulates ideas about how objects in our world look and that is the reason an art instructor may invite her class to draw an object upside down. This engages the eye to see as opposed to allowing the mind to impose a preconceived idea into a drawing.

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Unfortunately these preconceptions distort the way we see a scene, and this can lead to photographs that we see as good, but not so in reality. My readings noted that a way to step out of the boundary of our minds is to ignore the objects in the scene altogether and instead concentrate on the gaps between and around them. This also aids in giving more attention to composition and seeing sizes and shapes in a more accurate manner.

Negative space, in the world of photography, may be more important especially if the photographer tends towards creating images that are simple; yet effective. Michael Kenna, Bruce Percy, and Masao Yamamoto are three artists known for their minimalistic images.



Examples of images that “focuses” on specific compositional tools are an invaluable learning tool. I hope you enjoy seeing these amazing images offered through Ted Forbes.

In closing, I’m deeply grateful for the exchange of ideas and images that I have experienced thus far in this photo study project and am looking forward to reading your thoughts and seeing your images.

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10 Replies to “a photo study: negative space”

    1. Thank you. It is encouraging to read that the sharing my learning process is of value to others. Just hope my ignorance doesn’t muddy the process.

  1. Thank you so much for this post and links to the videos. The use of positive and negative space is very well explained. I checked the videos and love those black and white images by Michael Kenna and Masao Yamamoto, the coloured but minimal photographs by Bruce Percy. Oh Brenda, I need to learn a lot. May be should assign task to myself.

    1. I’m glad that my efforts to clarity positive/negative space for myself has been beneficial to you. I’m looking forward to seeing the outcome of your “assigned task.”

  2. Great use of negative space in your images and thank you for sharing those videos. I’m finding your blog very inspiring.

    1. Nadia, it is great meeting another who is invested in expanding her understanding of photography. I was only able to visit your blog for a few minutes, but during that time I was gifted with some beautiful work.

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