Negative space is the area around the key element(s) of an image. When used effectively it can complement and draw attention to the subject of the composition, which is often referred to a “Positive Space”.
Negative space has applications throughout many genre of art, painting, sculpture, even music, and of course photography. It is the process of highlighting the subject of a piece by surrounding it with areas that are of less visual interest.
Sometimes, this includes areas that are essentially blank, but it may also be regions that show softer focus or lower contrast, anything with less visual interest that might draw the eye from the primary subject of the piece.
All too often I tend to pack my images, corner to corner, with as much detail as possible. I paid good money for all those pixels, why not jam them with as much information as possible? But it is a healthy exercise to look for compositions in which negative space can strengthen the message of the image.
|Pavlov Island, Alaska|
My most frequent use of negative space is when I add nose or motion room.
Nose room is the amount of open space left in the direction of a subject’s gaze, or direction of motion. Flowers, trees and other inanimate elements may still have a sense of direction that can also be enhanced with negative space.
|Corn Gazing Left|
|Flower Gazing Left|
|Rule of Thirds|
Negative space may also strengthen a subject and draw the eye by surrounding it with areas of lower interest or it can allow the positive space to be moved away from the “dead” center of the frame to a visually stronger location, such as at the intersection of the lines of the rule of thirds.
|Not Purely Negative Space, but It all works to draw the eye and tell the story|
|Frigate Silhouette, Galapagos Islands|
There are many uses for negative space, and the best way to understand the power of nothingness is to study a few examples and then look for opportunities in your own shooting. The important thing is to understand that your frame does not need to be filled with detail, corner to corner. Visual impact can be enhanced by simplifying with a little negative space.