As a photographer, you have to learn the value of space. Correctly manipulating it will provide a gorgeous image, no matter what the subject is or how much is going on in the photograph. Using space is one of the first things photographers are taught, and you have probably mastered it.
But what about negative space? This is a concept that is often more difficult to pin down. You have to figure out how to view a photo so that it shows a lot with very little. In fact, that empty space in the photo will often tell more than the actual subject, providing context and more that could not be directly established.
You can even use it to convey an emotion or style. The examples below will show you how negative space can really make a photograph pop and give you something you never expected.
This photo by UncleFuz on Flickr is a great example of how you can use an empty background to provide a foundation for a humorous image. The creamy color of that space even gives a nice effect to two subjects, working well to highlight their presence at the bottom of the picture.
This is a great example of how using negative space doesn’t mean your photo will be bare of content. The complex visual provided by the marbles and other little objects in the cupped hands gives you plenty to look at. The shade and lighting are both gorgeous, and some of the items even reflect it. Plus, you have the dramatic look of the lines of the hands in the face of the black-and-white theme. The empty background just makes it all more intense.
Angad Singh captured what reminds me a bit of a well-done photograph used for Ikea or other retailers. That isn’t a bad thing – this would make an amazing commercial photo that could be used on any website or in a catalog. It takes talent to use so much blank space along with a white subject. The light really stands out, and the whole thing looks clean and crisp.
Not all negative space has to be completely blank. This is the perfect example of using an environment devoid of matter to focus the image on a main subject farther away. The empty tunnel is intense and almost creepy, with an urban noir kind of look. It sets a mood without distracting from the point or context of the photo.
Photographer Vikram used location to capture empty space without actually creating it. The blue of the ocean is a stunning tableau, but acts as a blank canvas, with the corner offering a story with a single image. Check out how still the water is – it almost looks like you could walk across it.
There is an often accepted viewpoint that when you are photographing children, you don’t need a background or anything else. They provide a fascinating, pure and beautiful image alone. This one adds a small prop, but otherwise lets us get the story from the baby. The empty space seems almost necessary – adding anything would have only detracted from the overall photo.
The sky makes the ultimate empty space, because it is nothing substantial while providing natural and true beauty that only the world around us can truly provide. Because of the angle, we get a nice mix of colors, with a great silhouette.
This is one of the cooler examples I have seen. The negative space is made up of the subject’s hair, showing that it doesn’t have to be completely empty to give us the same effect. It is eye catching but incredibly simple, which is just what you want to see.
What I like about this one is it commands a certain amount of focus. The close-up of the feather is so minimalist that you actually have to stare a few seconds to even connect the title to what it really is. That is quite a feat, given how distinct the overall subject is. This is a fantastic abstract photo that is almost fully negative space, a rare thing to see in the genre.
In this photo, we get to see how negative space can actually create an emotion. While all we see is a man walking against the background, the emptiness all around him is almost barren. He seems so alone, so lonely, and there is something deeply depressing about the photo (at least in my opinion). Others might see something different, which is wonderful – you can interpret it your own way, thanks to the open nature of the image.
Flickr Groups for Negative Space Photography
If you want to learn more, see more or just share your own, there are several groups you can check out. These are some of the best on Flickr, where already thousands of people have started sharing their work: