Negative space is a way of composing a photo so that the subject is the only thing within the frame and the space around it is completely empty. It’s almost the opposite concept of filling the frame, however it serves the same purpose of emphasising the subject by using minimalism.
Negative space can help to give a sense of scale, contrast, texture and emotion. Using elements such as colour and depth of field can help to separate the “focal plane” (positive space) from the area around it, so that the eye recognises the main subject for what it is and ignores everything else in the frame.
Good backgrounds for taking photos of subjects that provide negative space are a clear sky, a plain white wall, a long field of grass or a wide stretch of water. Against these backgrounds, any type of subject will stand out. The photos below are great examples of how negative space has been used to highlight three very different types of subjects – nature, food and a person.
Black and white photography lends itself very well to this type of composition because there are only two tones and not much to compete for attention. In colour photography, using two coloured tones can work just as well.
It is very helpful to look up and down constantly when trying to capture negative space in photos. The things that can be captured within an expanse of space are numerous – varying from a bright star in a very dark horizon to a single leaf on a concrete walkway. The most important thing is that the negative space should enhance the subject rather than overpowering it.