Week 3 - Use negative space to create artistic photos

Perfection is not when there is no more to add, but no more to take away.

~ Antoine De Saint-Exupery, pioneer of international postal flight and author of Le Petit Prince (The Little Prince)

The New York City skyline framed with negative space
The New York City skyline looks incredibly large and imposing unless you contrast it   with -- nothing. Who expects the Big Apple skyscrapers to be dwarfed? But that's exactly what happens when you use a technique called negative space.

This week we will master the art of using nothing, or negative space, as a compositional tool.

It can help to think of your photograph as art that consists of three elements -- a frame, positive space (your subjects), and negative space (the blank or empty part of the image).

Often photographers find the need to fill every available space of the image. The result? We have a frame crammed with stuff. Here's the problem with that situation. Too many elements in a frame can overwhelm the viewer, while negative space can provide some relief.

We explored this concept with the hero image, but now we take it to a different level.

Using negative space can help draw the eye to the subject. It can add interest because the contrast creates a strong emphasis. Also, empty space can also be used to help balance the elements in the frame.

In the New York City skyline, negative space helps to create a faraway look and feel most viewers might not associate with that iconic view.

Negative space is used to draw the eye to the subject. Model credit: Tricia Homer

In the portrait of Tricia, negative space helps draw the eye back to her face. Without the extreme shallow depth of field, the trees in the background would have been distracting.

Negative space is used to focus our viewer exclusively on the subject.


The Challenge

Take a photo using negative space to help define or contrast your subject.
Your photo will work best when you simplify. Use one strong subject - remember the hero? The rest of the photo should be empty or free of distraction. The contrast will also make your images stand out.


Share your images with us

Once you have a great hero photo, post it in the comments here or tag it #composition21 when you post it on Twitter or Flickr.


Join the Composition Challenge

Sign up to join the 21-Week Composition Challenge. Every week, I'll deliver a photo challenge by email for you to shoot and share. Learn more about it.