Negative Space


I am a firm believer in the importance of Negative Space. I think it is just as important as the subject of a photograph. How you use negative space helps to define your image – it effects impact and mood, and can make or break an image. So, don’t neglect to think about it when you are planning your image.

Take a look at the comparison below. I took the image on the left with a wide aperture, and used a much narrower one for the image on the right. The subject looks nice either way… but the background is another story. The negative space is a bit of a mess in that second shot – there’s a lot of clutter that pulls your eye away from the point of interest. The image on the left, on the other hand, is much more appealing. The smooth background lets the flower stand out, and I’ve included just enough detail to give you a sense of place.

Tom McCall Wilderness Area, Columbia River Gorge - Oregon, USA.

Sometimes, I use negative space to give you more information about the subject. But if I’m doing that, I want to be sure I’m using the background in a subtle way that doesn’t take away from the subject itself. This shot of yellow trillium is an example. You can see the mottled pattern on the leaf behind the flower. I wanted to show those pretty details, without adding too much information. So, I got in nice and close. I let the edges of the leaves fall outside the borders of the image, to help simplify the scene even mor – and I chose a narrow depth of field that lets you see just a little bit of the patterning, but not in sharp detail.

Trillium - Varina Patel

When you are planning your composition, think about which detail is most important – this is your subject. Then, consider the surrounding details that should be included but are less critical – these become part of your negative space. And consider the information that is unimportant – and look for ways to eliminate it from your photograph.

Great Egret - Varina Patel

Negative space can help you set the mood, too. Look at the photo above. The bird is silhouetted against a brilliant background of reflected golden light. The mood here is vibrant and full of life. The scene feels warm and the image has a very real impact on the viewer. The photo of Jack-in-the-Pulpit below conveys a very different feeling. The scene feels fresh and peaceful – and the impact of the image is much more subtle. Both backgrounds are relatively devoid of details – so the mood comes mainly from the differing color schemes and the play between the color of the subject and the negative space surrounding it.


When you are shooting, do you think about negative space? If you have tips to share with our readers, please feel free to comment below. We always appreciate your input!

About Author Varina Patel

There is nothing more remarkable to me than the power of nature. It is both cataclysmic and subtle. Slow and continuous erosion by water and wind can create landscapes every bit as astonishing as those shaped by catastrophic events – and minuscule details can be as breathtaking as grand vistas that stretch from one horizon to the other. Nature is incredibly diverse. Burning desert sands and mossy riverbanks… Brilliant sunbeams and fading alpenglow… Silent snowfall and raging summer storms… Each offers a unique opportunity. I am irresistibly drawn to the challenge of finding my next photograph, and mastering the skills required to capture it effectively.