Friday Foto Talk: Negative Space   19 comments

The battle between the rising sun and thick fog at Reflection Lake on Mount Rainier turns in favor of the sun.

The battle between the rising sun and thick fog at Reflection Lake on Mount Rainier turns in favor of the sun.

I finally get to talk about one of my favorite terms in photography: negative space.  Negative space?  If you’re new to photography speak you could be wondering:  do I need to know the sort of mathematics that only a handful of people in the world understand?

No, negative space is not a feature of String Theory.  It’s positive space alright, it’s just blank positive space.  I thought about looking up the origins of the confusing term, but I feel a bit lazy right now.  My guess is that it was coined by advertisers & graphic designers who think of it as a place that will hold text and other stuff.  It’s sort of like a hole in the picture.

Throwing your background out of focus, as here with Belding's ground squirrels in eastern Oregon, will help create negative space.

Throwing your background out of focus, as here with Belding’s ground squirrels in eastern Oregon, will help create negative space.

Portland's so-called "big pink" skyscraper as photographed from Forest Park.  Perfect negative space in the top third.

Portland’s so-called “big pink” skyscraper as photographed from Forest Park. Perfect negative space in the top third.

 

Here are a few benefits of including negative (blank) space in your pictures:

      • Negative space simplifies your picture, thus satisfying the universal K.I.S.S. principle.  A simpler composition is often (not always) more effective.
      • It adds a calming influence.  That can be good if the rest of the shot has a peaceful mood, and it can also be an interesting contrast if the mood is the opposite.
      • If you want to sell your image as stock negative space is necessary.  Stock are pictures put to a variety of uses, particularly advertising.  Graphic designers will put their ad copy or other stuff in your negative space.  The injustice of it all!
      • If you ever get an image on the cover of a magazine, it will likely be a picture with negative space.  They will put stuff like other small images, the list of stories in the magazine, etc. in your negative space.
      • Negative space in some of your images can add needed variety to your portfolio

 

Gokyo Lake in Nepal.  I have another version where the lake waters have not been desaturated, as I did here to make it better negative space.

Gokyo Lake in Nepal. I have another version where the lake waters have not been desaturated, as I did here to make it better negative space.

Night falls at Angkor Wat, Cambodia.  This negative space is in the left upper corner and probably could stand to be lightened a bit.

Night falls at Angkor Wat, Cambodia. This negative space is in the left upper corner and probably could stand to be lightened a bit.

On the Olympic Coast in Washington recently, I could have zoomed in a bit more on this sea stack, but I liked it's lonely feel.  I was not conscious of the negative space at the time.

On the Olympic Coast in Washington recently, I could have zoomed in a bit more on this sea stack, but I liked it’s lonely feel. I was not conscious of the negative space at the time.

 

Negative space needs to have at least some of these characteristics to be effective:

      • Think smooth areas with not much detail, if any.  Expanses of boring sky or water are good.  See the example images.
      • It needs to cover a significant portion of your image, say 1/3 to 1/2.  It can be slightly less, but not much.  It can even cover up to 1/3 or more in some cases.
      • Negative space doesn’t always need to be situated in the top or bottom of your image.  It can be in the upper left or right quadrants, lower left, whatever.
      • Speaking of location, negative space in the middle rarely works.  It can; just don’t expect graphic designers to like it.  Who cares about them anyway?
      • If your negative space is very dark, it will not be as good for certain purposes (see above).  It’s still negative space, just not quite as useful as lighter areas.
      • If your negative space is very colorful, consider desaturating it a bit.  If it’s too vibrant it creates more interest.  You don’t want your negative space to be too interesting.
I was more attracted to the clouds in the sky than trying to include negative space here at Portland, Oregon's waterfront.

I was more attracted to the clouds in the sky than trying to include negative space here at Portland, Oregon’s waterfront.

 

 

A good example of borderline negative space, the clouds over the Nyika Plateau in Malawi are almost too interesting to make good negative space.

A good example of borderline negative space, the clouds over the Nyika Plateau in Malawi are almost too interesting to make good negative space.

This negative space above a kissing couple in a Portland park is almost too dark to be effective, but it works.

This negative space above a kissing couple in a Portland park is almost too dark to be effective, but it works.

If you shoot for stock, negative space should be in most of your images.  If you don’t, include it anyway, for some of the above reasons.  By the way, you can always shoot a subject both with and without negative space.  Many stock shooters do this.  Happy shooting!

If you’re interested in any of these images, just click on them.  You will then be shown purchase options for the high-resolution versions.  These here are very small and not suitable for much outside of the blog.  They’re copyrighted and not available for free download without my permission anyway.  Please contact me if you have any questions.  Thanks for your interest & have a great weekend!

Clear blue sky at sunset in Oregon's Columbia River Gorge makes for nice negative space.

Clear blue sky at sunset in Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge makes for nice negative space.

 

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19 responses to “Friday Foto Talk: Negative Space

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  1. Just beautiful!

  2. Some really lovely images here. I love landscape photography. So good to see a master at work. Thank you.

    Isabella Rose Photography
  3. I love your examples, the first image is my favorite of this series.

  4. I’m impressed 🙂

  5. Thanks, learning a lot from you today!

  6. All great pictures! Good post 🙂

  7. Very interesting and great examples.

  8. Good topic. Thanks for covering it. Great examples.

  9. I’m very positive about your negative spaces. I think I like the first two the best. What are your favourites in this group?

    • Thanks Lyle. I at first didn’t think that top one was worth much. But now I like it. Not a great example for this topic though. I think I like the Nyika one best because that place is just so darn awesome and roan antelope are the most stately animals.

  10. Superb examples.

  11. Thank you very much. I look forward to your Friday “lessons”. 🙂

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