Space, Negative and Positive
Widely taught in Art schools but sometimes unknown or ignored in photographic circles, negative and positive space is another powerful tool that can dramatically improve the composition in your photography. This element of composition is basically made up of three things.
1. Positive Space. This is the subject; it’s where the viewer’s eyes are drawn to, the focus of the photograph.
2. Negative Space. This is the space other than the subject many times surrounding the subject and bordered by the frame.
3. Frame. The frame borders around the photograph and surrounds the negative space. Of very high importance in painting but sometimes overlooked in photography.
Positive space is usually the main focus that the photographer concentrates on, ignoring the negative space. Instead of always zooming in and trying to constantly fill the frame change up a little and try leaving some negative space in your composition. Doing so can actually draw more attention to the subject which helps tell the story.
Negative space can be thought of as a road that leads the viewer’s eyes to the subject. Areas of void can add interest to the photograph however don’t allow it to dominate the photograph or overpower the subject. Using negative space that lacks in interest or detail will allow the focus of the photograph to be drawn to the subject.
A few effective ways to use the negative/positive space to improve your composition and tell your story are as follows.
You can use negative space to add content. It will give the viewer a sense of where the subject is or what’s happening.
Use the negative space to balance the positive space. Make the subject and the negative space equal or symmetrical giving you balance in your photograph.
Use the negative space to create a sense of scale. Used a lot in landscape photography you can tell the story of loneliness, seclusion, isolation or give a sense scale and space.
Use negative space to show what or where the subject is and draw attention to it. The use of negative space should be lacking in detail and clutter leaving the subject as the main attraction that catches the viewer’s eyes.
Over emphasize the negative space. Use the negative space to make it the focus of the photo producing its own visual desirability.
Use the space for the subject to lead into. This is especially effective for action or sports and wildlife. You can use this in portraits having the subject on one side of the frame looking towards the other side leaving negative space in front of them.
Using space and it’s three components positive, negative, and framing takes focus and practice since it doesn’t often come naturally, it can prove challenging. We’re hardwired to see objects a certain way and tend to capture them the same way like we’re stuck on auto pilot.
One thing to try is to lose focus on your subject for a little bit and instead focus on the space around that subject. Move that space around in the frame experimenting to find a composition that draws attention to the subject and help tell its story.