Negative space (sometimes also called White Space) is defined as the empty space around the subject of your image. Negative space is usually either a neutral or contrasting background that draws your eye to the main subject you are photographing.
This neutral space can be creamy bokeh (which as we know is used a lot in portrait photography to let your subject stand out against the background) or open sky, grass, walls etc – anything that does not compete with the main subject for attention by being too “cluttered”. Having negative space allows the viewer’s eyes a chance to rest and sharply define and emphasise your main subject by drawing your eyes directly to it.
Now that we know what negative space is, how do we use this when taking photographs?
Firstly, whether to have negative space or how much to use is a matter of personal taste and style. Some photos work amazingly well with lots of negative space, such as beach portraits, others are better with just a little “breathing space”. If you follow the rule of thirds you will probably have your subject on one side of the frame balanced by negative space on the other. In some cases however, breaking the rule of thirds works just as well and you can have negative space on either side of your focal point – or have your subject take up just a tiny bit of the frame, filling the rest with contrasting negative space.
Here’s some examples of how negative space can enhance your portraits…
The above image shows a great example of contrasting negative space, it follows the rule of thirds by placing the child’s face in the second two thirds of the frame and allowing the other third to be taken up with the contrasting space. As you can see the viewer is immediately directed to the child’s eyes as this is the brightest part of the image…don’t forget those catchlights to give the photo “LIFE”.
The background here has melted away into a creamy bokeh giving a neutral background – She is positioned on one side using the rule of thirds. Having the face framed with Beanies, hats and hoods works perfectly for this type of portraiture.
Beach and wedding portraits rare perfect examples of how to use negative space to create beautiful photographs. The photo above breaks the rule of thirds with the negative space taking up most of the image but the viewers eyes are still drawn to the main subject with the use of lines and contrast.
When shooting, try to think as much about what you are leaving out of the picture as what you are focusing on. Experiment with negative space in your photographs, cropping differently to see how the inclusion or lack of negative space impacts how the final photograph turns out.
NEXT WEEK: Creating room for your subject to move, why some of your photos seem static.