The Use of Negative Space – Making Great Images

So what is “Negative Space” – it is that area or space between objects or around an object but it is not a part of the object.  It could be considered that which defines the outline or the border of the object.  Yet it may or may not be the subject of your images.

As a photographer it is the main subject that we typically concentrate on. The concentration toward the dominant subject results in the forgetting of the negative space.  Negative space is a compositional element that is equally important.

Photographing the same subject with and without negative space create two completely different visual messages.  It is crucial to understand that the negative space and its absence of content does not negate interest but in fact creates a stronger emphasis.  The two creations will result in two very different emotional responses from the viewer.

Red Wing Blackbird – Canon 7D, 500 mm f4, iso 200, f5.6, 1/800 sec

In my opinion the negative space often brings more clarity to the primary subject.  The use of negative space is strongly represented in Japanese art.  The word “Ma” in Japanese has various meaning but it can be translated to mean the space between two structural parts.  A translation as provided by Columbia University states The Japanese spatial concept is experienced progressively through intervals of spatial designation.  In Japanese, ma the word for space suggests interval.  It is best described as a consciousness of place, not in the sense of an enclosed three-dimensional entity, but rather the simultaneous awareness of form and non-form deriving from an intensification of vision.

“Ma” is not something that is created by compositional elements; it is the thing that takes place in the imagination of the human who experiences these elements.  Therefore ma can be defined as experiential place understood with emphasis on interval.

A good photograph with positive subjects and negative space defining the subject thereby is a balanced composition.

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