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Tuesday, February 4, 2014

The Positives Of Negative Space

Consider the space surrounding your subject for more dynamic compositions

This Article Features Photo Zoom

While photographing this BMX competition, most of the area was covered with advertising, not to mention the thousands of spectators all around. I shot from many different locations until I found this spot with a simple building in the background, creating a relatively unobtrusive negative space.

As photographers, we often get so involved in selecting, positioning and composing for the subject that we can forget the unrelated factors that have just as much of an impact on the composition as the main subject itself. In many cases, the often forgotten element is the negative space.

Negative space is the area of a composition that doesn't contain the subject. You often see the definition of negative space given as "the space that surrounds the subject," but this isn't necessarily an accurate assessment. Usually, negative space surrounds the subject, but in some cases, the subject can surround the negative space, and in rarer cases, the negative space actually can become the subject.

This on-location portrait of musician Britt Daniel was taken at a huge festival with more than 150,000 people. In order to create negative space and minimize distraction from the chaotic surroundings, I shot from a lower angle to use the cloudy sky as the background.
So what makes negative space so important to an image? Well, negative space has a number of useful aspects when it comes to photographic composition. First of all, negative space can add a sense of balance to a composition by providing a counterweight to the subject. Negative space typically should have little intricate detail so that it not only provides balance to the image, but also can be effectively used to draw the viewer's attention to the main subject. By default, the subject becomes the most important part of the composition because therein lie the details that provide the point of interest in the composition. In product photography, a photographer often creates ample negative space within the composition to allow the designers a place to add copy without infringing on the actual subject matter.

Negative space creates a dynamic tension between the subject and the background by creating a point/counterpoint element that makes the image more dramatic, therefore attracting and holding the eye of the viewer.

Obviously, the positive space is the primary defining factor of the negative space, but the negative space is also defined by something that may not be quite so obvious to the casual observer: the edges or borders of the frame. In retrospect, this may seem evident, but when actively composing, it's easy to fixate on the subject and dismiss the edges of the frame as irrelevant. This is typical of the way a normal human brain functions and is why casual "snapshooters" often place the subject smack-dab in the middle of the photograph—they aren't conscious of the edges of the composition because the brain simply doesn't let them see it. As a photographer, you must train yourself to see and use the borders of your image to frame and contain the negative space, thus further defining it and giving it shape within the confines of the composition.

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