Definition: Negative space (composition)

Definition: Negative space (composition)  | Glossary entry

Negative space (composition)

‘Negative space’ in an image is the nothing that surrounds the subject(s) of the picture or the space between subjects. While negative space is actually a concept of nothing the background is still visible and also has an impact. As a result it is often the background that creates at least part of the power of the image.

While negative space is an implied element (because it is containing “nothing”), it’s still a compositional element of the image overall. As a result it has a strong effect on the eye of the viewer.

Negative space is often most effective as a major component of the overall composition. When negative space is used to occupy most of the picture the subject may become insignificant in size but the importance or placement of the subject creates a balance within the picture. The concept of balance is important because the negative space should not overpower the subject or the impact will be lost. Both the subject and negative space should clearly act as ‘focus’ and ‘background’ to allow the ‘nothing’ (negative space) to emphasise the subject (positive space). If the nothing is so strong or so large that the subjects are overwhelmed or lost the negative space will take over as the subject and the point of your picture will be lost.

Cows Grazing - The sky as negative space makes a statement about vastness.

• Cows Grazing •
The sky as negative space makes a statement about vastness.
Yet, the cows and hill top hold their own because of the sharpness and blackness forming the strength of the silhouette against the sky.
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Cows Grazing By Netkonnexion on Flickr External link - opens new tab/page