What is negative space? And why on earth would I want it?


If you’re playing along with the June photo a day challenge you may have noticed that one of the prompts is negative space. If you’re not playing along, you might like to read on anyway… as negative space is a cool trick to have up your sleeve when taking photos anyway.

A few people have asked me what negative space is, and I found myself in a funny conversation on Facebook where two people thought it was similar to the naughty corner, and that they’d just send their kids there and take a photo. I had a giggle. Of course, as with any of the prompts, you can interpret it as you please and a naughty corner would be quite apt. Below is the negative space that I had in mind when creating the list though:

Negative space is the space around and between the subject(s) of an image. The use of negative space is a key element of artistic composition.

So take a look at the top photo. See how the top two-thirds of the photo are filled with negative space {pretty much nothingness} and the bottom third has the subject matter? The subject matter is firstly the person with the umbrella and then the waves? The negative space draws your eyes quickly down to the man first, doesn’t it? That’s the beauty of negative space. It doesn’t distract you, instead cleverly highlighting what you want to show off in your photo.

Confused? Let me show you a few more examples from photos shared on Instagram for photo a day.

negative space

Photos by: @paulamikegracie,@mattallison, @kluvswhr + @violettetannenbaum

Each photo has used negative space to show off their subject a little better. The frog photo is on the extreme side, instead of filling the whole frame {photo} with the frog, she’s taken a step back and filled most of the photo with negative space so that our eyes go straight to the frog. Clever, right? You can also check out some more examples here.

So, why would you want to try it?

This technique won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s always fun or at least interesting to try new things. When using your iPhone or phone camera to shoot photos we often have such a small space to work with, so sometimes filling a photo with lots of things can be distracting and take away from the subject matter {on the other hand sometimes it can really work too!} so it’s good to have a play around.

Are you a fan of negative space? Or is it something new for you to play around with?

Top photo credit: VinothChandar via photopin cc

38 thoughts on “What is negative space? And why on earth would I want it?”

  1. I love negative space though I do sometimes wonder if I’m being a bit “try-hard” when I do something like that. I’m going to do it anyway! 🙂 x

  2. I’m still rather new to photography and instagram but very much looking forward to playing along this month. Thanks for explaining negative space.

  3. I didn’t even realise that I’ve been doing “negative space” techinique in some of my photos.

  4. Big fan of negative space and glad to see it made the list. Can’t wait to see everyone’s creativity with it.

  5. I’ve discovered this effect with this project!! And I love id!! Didn’t know that there is a name for that!!

  6. Look forward to giving it a go although I’m about to go look at some of my pics on the computer to see if I’ve already done some without realising 🙂

  7. LOVE negative space in photography – one of my all time fave techniques and I can’t wait to see the pics that come from it!! Awesome prompt 🙂

  8. Thanks Chantelle. I’ve never thought of negative space but also realise now that I have been using it in my photography for quite a long time.

  9. Love the look of negative space, especially in the ocean picture at the top. Even though it’s always been an artistic technique, it’s certainly become more and more prominent in photography in the last few years – my photographer brother calls it a hipster technique, especially when it’s used for portraiture.

  10. I am mostly guilty of filling my photos with close up images and usually avoid negative space……I’m willing to give this a try this month……thank you

  11. Definitely something new… I tend to go with “fill the frame with your subject” kinda shots. But excited to try this a bit more. Thanks! 😉

  12. I’m a big fan of negative space – it’s a really powerful way to compose a photos. some beautiful images there, Chantelle. Kx

  13. Thanks Chantelle, I only looked at this prompt last night and was trying to work out what to do with it:) Now I have a bit of time to put something into place:)

  14. Great tip! In traditional Japanese music, they say the silent space between the notes are just as important as the notes themselves. And in life what isn’t said can be just as important as what isn’t said, right?

  15. Love that you used a photo “technique” in this months’ list. It’s fun to shoot a certain way instead of a certain thing. Would love to see more like this to stretch my photo-taking tricks!

  16. OOoooooh! Is thAt what you mean!?! Wow. I’ve learned something new today! Thank you for that! Almost sent in the dyperbasket on a pic….

  17. I really like the dramatic effect of and I’ve been using it for a while, but didn’t know it’s called negative space. Thanks for sharing!..:) I’ve been trying to finish a whole photo a day challenge this year, but something always happens and I loose track of it… I hope by the end of the year I’ll start and finish one month…:) anyway, it’s always fun to see everyone’s ideas…:)

  18. I love using negative space. I didn’t even realize I was doing it actually but a lost of my photo a days over the last years have negative space in them.

  19. Negative space is so great and you’re so right, it pops your photo into the art category without having too try hard. I love it. Great post. We have a birthday girl in the house today. Daisy turns two so I will have to choose something cool to negative space the crap out of. I’m thinking her cake. X

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