To fill the frame or not to fill it? That is the question we hope to answer as we look at how photographers can use negative space to their advantage.
Beginner photographers are often told to ‘fill the frame’ to avoid subjects appearing too small in their compositions. It’s good advice, too. As the great reportage photographer Robert Capa once said, “If your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough.” But, as with all rules in photography, this advice can be ignored for creative effect when the time is right.
Purposely leaving room around your subject, where nothing is happening, is a powerful way to give your photography a more edgy look and feel. Artists call this extra room ‘negative space.’
© Seth K Hughes
Photographs that use negative space are often beautiful, because of the simplicity. Negative space can give an impression of calm and serenity, and the viewer may be able to tell there is more to the image than first meets the eye. Negative space can also help give balance to a composition, where two objects are complementing each other. Or indeed help create tension if the composition is deliberately unbalanced.
But what exactly is negative space? This is a hard question to answer since negative space is defined more by what is absent than what is present. It can be completely blank – though it doesn’t have to be. Negative space might also be blurred, or lacking in color, or just a different texture. Things can even be happening in the negative space area, as long as they are not main subjects of the picture.
© Jonathan Irish
Composing with negative space requires you to stop for a moment and take a step back – look at the subject and the area surrounding it. Can you frame the subject so that negative space plays a part in the composition, too? Look for points of view that isolate the subject and give the contrast you need with the background and surroundings. Focus on the spaces between objects and try to balance them more effectively – the rule of thirds or golden ratio can help you find a natural place to situate a subject so the composition feels balanced and has breathing room.
© Alison Conklin
Negative space is a concept that’s been used in art, architecture, and graphic design for hundreds of years, so don’t worry if it takes you a bit of time to master. A great practice exercise is to revisit some images you shot previously and crop them in your favorite image-editing software so that they make more use of negative space. Look for how you could have composed differently when you shot the pictures and make a mental note of this for next time.
Your Next Steps
- CHALLENGE Go out with your camera and look for compositions that make use of negative space. Can you use it to be playful, or to give a sense of mystery to your subject? Post your best pictures to social media with the hashtag #MyFujifilmLegacy. You can also submit your work here for a chance to be featured on our social media channels