Negative space (sometimes referred to as white space) is the space in your image that does not contain your main subject (the positive space). It might be clear space with no detail or almost none, perhaps predominantly black or white, or it might be a blurred background that contrasts with your (in focus) subject. Negative space is perhaps the single most important aspect that helps the subject in your work – the element of interest – stand out and attract the viewer’s attention.
When used properly, it will provide natural balance against the positive space in a scene, drawing our eye to the main subject and providing breathing space, something we don’t have if the image is too cluttered. The thing is, we don’t ‘see’ negative space naturally, we are too intent on concentrating on our subject. But it tends to help if you keep the composition as simple as possible. So how to achieve this?
In these first two examples, I have positioned my subjects in front of plain backgrounds – the negative space here is ’empty’, there is no detail to distract from the main subject.
Another way to create negative space is to use a wide aperture, thus throwing your background out of focus.
School yourself to see negative space…patches of open sky, large areas of shadow, the blur of a wide aperture, the compression of objects in your frame created by using a long lens. But bear in mind that negative space does have it’s own visual ‘weight’….try to balance the elements, and beware of too much emptiness…you want to draw attention to your subject, not lose it completely!
Hopefully, these examples will spur you on to create your own efforts. Above all, have some fun!