Positive and Negative Space in Photography

And how to use it for more dynamic compositions.

What is positive space? Positive space is any part of the photo that jumps out from its surroundings. That includes your subject, for example, along with other noteworthy areas of detail.

What is negative space? Negative space is just the opposite — parts of an image that don’t attract as much attention, surrounding the positive space and giving it a buffer.

Positive and negative space is not about black or white. It’s about what stands out and what doesn’t. Like words on a page that “pop” out to get your attention positive space pops out to get you to notice it. There can be more complicated photo compositions where it’s hard to see the positive and negative space. Or there can be a lot of positive or negative space.

The emotional side of positive and negative space. Positive and negative space creates an emotional message so if you have more of one than the other you need to know what message you’re sending.

Photos with high amounts of positive space are:


Photos with high amounts of negative space are:


This photo has a lot of positive space. The leaves are the positive space and because there are so many of them this photo is busy, active, and intense.
That isn’t a bad thing if that is the message you are planning to send. It’s important to know what messages your photos are sending and make sure that goes with what you intend.
The beautifully simple blue sky is the negative space here and while it’s not most of the shot it is slightly more than the positive space. This negative space conveys calmness and peacefulness which is the exact message I was trying to send.

Positive and negative space are two of the most crucial tools at your disposal as a photographer. They impact the emotional feel of a photo, which is more important than anything else.

Some photos have more negative space, making them comparatively empty. Others are filled with positive space, resulting in a crowded composition. (Certain images, of course, strike a balance, and they don’t fall clearly in either direction.)

Also, it’s important to remember that neither positive nor negative space is better in photography. Without a doubt, you can take successful photos either way. The key: Both simply carry different emotions. That’s what makes them so important in photography.

There is a lot of positive space here and almost no negative or background space. The image is busy and interesting. It’s just another factor that makes landscape photography so challenging.
There is more negative space, the green background, here than positive space, the flower. The reason the green background is a negative space is that it is blurry. If I had the background in sharp focus then the details of the green plants would’ve made it a positive space and it would have competed with attention from the flower.
The result is a photo that is calming and peaceful.

Try taking some photographs with all negative or all positive space. Then some photos with a balance of each. After that take photos of things you enjoy but be mindful of the positive and negative space. Don’t forget your rule of thirds make sure to place your focal point which is your positive space on a rule of thirds line. See you next time.