What is negative space?
In photography, design, sculpture, music or any kind of art form, negative space is perhaps the single most important aspect that helps the subject in your work to stand out and capture the viewer’s attention.
In photography or visual art, any area that surrounds the main object of attraction is known as the negative space. We can also say, in a picture the background of the main element is the negative space.
Such as, in the picture above, the silhouette of the lamp and the bird form the element of attraction, and the sky and the tree are a part of the negative space.
The pigeon flying in the air makes the positive space of the picture and the blank background stands to be the negative space.
But, we cannot assume that the sky will always be in the negative space. Such as in the picture below, the rising sun in the sky is the main object. In such a picture, the silhouette of the mountains constitutes the negative space.
Now in the above pictures, the negative space shows all empty spaces- having no objects in them. But this is not necessary that always the negative space will be a black background, it can always have many objects in it and even many colours, but we would be taking it as negative and be attracted to the main object only when the main stands out of the background.
Such as, in the picture below, we can clearly make out that the picture talks about the lady and the child and not about the leaves. So the lady and the child form the positive space and the leaves behind form the negative space of the picture.
Why is negative space required in a picture?
As already read above, the negative space is the background of an object in a picture, which has no details, so makes it important to have it in a picture. Wise and thoughtful use of negative space can add stronger emotions to your picture and make your picture’s story more impactful- as all the focus goes on the main object. It also adds lightness to the picture and makes it feel airy.
Collectively, the negative space effects all that is required to be told or the feeling which is thought to be shown. It can either enhance the vision or if used incorrectly, can even spoil the thought and make the picture look all unbalanced.
Now just because negative space often has no details, it’s not so that it is considered to be an inactive element of composition and merely to emphasize other elements.
Like the other elements of a photograph, negative space too has a visual weight and you have to decide very carefully on how much emptiness to include and where. As, including or excluding the negative space can highly affect the weight of other elements in the image- making them look smaller or larger within the same frame.
Like in the images below, a difference in negative space changes the view by making the bird an object of main focus in 1 and making the bird mix up with the fence in 2.
From the above example, we also understand that the negative space can be used to balance out the composition.
For some pictures, where there is no negative space, the picture looks too flat with no point of interest. Many a time, such pictures too make an effective photograph and are able to deliver the thought. But through such a picture, the thought tried to deliver may reach in a varied manner, giving the viewer an open area to think about the picture.
In the above picture, as the oranges and the popcorn have covered the full frame, it shows no negative space. In such a picture, all the objects show equal importance and would capture an equal attention of the viewer.
How to include negative space in a picture?
- Negative space should cover more of the image than the main object, so as to make the main object stand out and to make us notice and inspect the main subject even more.
Even the contrast makes it better to differentiate between the positive and negative space, resulting the viewers to get attracted stronger and take a deeper look to the picture. In other words, the smaller will be the subject, the more will be its impact.
The airplane on the flat sky will capture eyes from far, for anyone to notice and go deep to find details of the plane.
Even when the sky shows beautiful colours which would attract the viewer, but as the airplanes form the positive space of the image, the planes will capture the viewer’s attention.
- We generally misunderstand that when using the negative space in a picture, the positive space should have only one main subject. But this isn’t true. You can have more objects in the positive space, it’s just that, that the negative space should be prominent enough to make the positive space well defined and free from any distractions.
In the above picture, both the kids consume equal importance in the positive space, but still, as the water shows no details, it balances well with the negative space.
- While clicking a picture, where we want effective inclusion of the negative space and have a very disturbing surrounding, we may need to work hard on the technical aspects of the camera too.
Such as in the below picture, the bird looks beautiful by itself, but due to it sitting on a tree branch, it becomes hard to capture only the bird- making the image lose it’s negative space and reducing the emphasis on the bird.
Whereas, if the focus of the camera was set on the bird, defocusing the surroundings, the same would have created that negative space and made the bird- the main attraction.
Just like in the picture below, the backgrounds are out of focus, making the bird the main object of attraction.
Similarly, the flower stands out in the picture as the background shows no fine detail.
The above can also be achieved in a more technical manner, by using a large aperture setting which would capture a shallow depth of field and diminish the distractions in the background.
Also, many a time, neither the background is blank nor the defocusing is possible. In such cases, the colours play in important role in making the main object to come into the positive space and create the negative space in the background.
In all, adding negative space to a picture simply frames a picture better to convey the feeling more effectively.
Like in the below picture, the small snail in hand shows the best of its size when captured including the negative space. The negative space helps the image to portray the details of the snail.
And other examples, or the classic negative space image,