The Positive Traits of Negative Space

Negative Space Surrounding a Stargazer Lily Bud  ©  F.M. Kearney
Negative Space Surrounding a Stargazer Lily Bud © F.M. Kearney

By F. M. Kearney

Simply put, “negative space” is the space around the subject in your photograph. Conversely, “positive space” is the area occupied by the subject itself. This is the most basic definition, but in theory, it’s a bit more complicated than that. Negative space should generally occupy the majority of the frame, but it should not be misconstrued with needless space (sometimes referred to as “empty space”) that was inadvertently added due to poor composition. It should be evident to the viewer that the extra space was deliberately included for artistic purposes – usually to denote feelings of loneliness, solitude, or even importance. It may sound odd that a subject’s importance would be emphasized if it’s not the predominant element in the frame, but when all other distractions are removed, the viewer will spend more time studying it. In essence, the smaller the subject is, the more noticeable it will become.

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