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.
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
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.
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!
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