How To Get Splendid Compositions With Negative Space

The concept of negative space in photography has been used for hundreds of years in the world of composition in arts (painting, architecture, design and sculpture) and of course, in photography.

Usually, we talk about where to place the main subject and other elements of the scene: lines, colors, etc. But there is also another important element that seems not to be present but it is negative space.


The negative space in photography is everything that surrounds our main subject without providing ‘relevant’ details, it is the area that accompanies, embraces your image, but is not the protagonist in itself because it lacks weight, is flat, or contains very little information (smooth textures, flat colors, white or black background …)

Although it can be defined as “empty”, visually it has a presence, it is not a blank space in the photo with nothing exist. It can be a sky, with its colors and clouds, or even a space full of people out of focus. The important thing is that in this space there are no distracting elements, but rather that they accompany and underline the function of the subject.

But even if the negative space does not contain “relevant information”, it is also an element of the composition that you should know how to use.

There is also another element that is often talked about, the frame: it is the part that limits our photography, the end of it or the edges of it.

Negative space is also something used in graphic design and painting, such as the blank space in this picture, intentionally empty of elements, as an important resource in the composition and the final result of a work.


Give prominence to what you really want to highlight, to the main element of your image, because the lack of information in negative space in photography makes your eye instinctively go to what contains weighty information (what we also call positive space).

In the previous photo you can see this effect clearly. The flower is the main subject; what we have previously called ‘Positive space’, while negative space would be the blue of the sky that surrounds it. As you can see, blue accompanies the flower, embraces it, enhances it, but does not take away its prominence.

Once the negative space has been presented, we are going to see how we can use it to achieve fantastic and inspiring compositions with it.


When you place your main element surrounded by a vast negative space, you get somewhat abstract images, which tend to inspire calm, peace or solitude, always depending on the motive and the tone of it. Well used, providing a lot of negative space around the subject can convey an infinite number of feelings, it makes us look at an image and stop before it, and stop looking to feel it.

Doesn’t the following image produce something like this? The fisherman in the middle of the water and the fog, without a horizon, without any element to divert our attention from him. Doesn’t it make you want to know what he feels, what happens? (By the way, surely the fog that surrounds the fisherman has also caught your attention, isn’t it inspiring?

negative space in photography
A lot of negative space around gives us more minimalist images

Negative space in front of the main subject (or positive space)

Placing the negative space in front of the main subject usually causes the feeling that the action happens in progression to him, that the photograph breathes and projects its message forward. It is perhaps the most natural way for the eye to frame negative space because it is the one that best adapts to the sequence of gaze-thought that we exert when looking at an image.

negative space in photography
Negative space in front of the center of interest

Negative space behind the main subject.

This way of locating negative space is more shocking for our perception of what happens in the image, because the image breathes, it has air (from behind), but our protagonist seems to collide with the frame of the photograph, which can convey a certain overwhelm or the sensation of a somewhat dramatic image, since we usually project our gaze in progression to the center of interest and hope to see space where the action is directed.

With that said, we get back to business …

negative space in photography
The negative space is behind the protagonists

Negative space above the center of interest.

If you place the negative space above the protagonist of your photograph, the feeling you get is that the action happens upwards, which we normally associate with the sky, flying, or freedom.

Negative space below center of interest

If, on the other hand, the negative space is located below the image, it may seem that it floats, since below it it does not seem to have anything to support it. Look at what an interesting effect Eduardo Martínez, a participant in the challenge on this topic, got by applying this technique of negative space under the boat.

negative space in photography
Eduardo Martínez (no title)

Once you have decided how you want or what you want to inspire with your photography, you should not forget to combine it with the basic composition rules, as Iaio explains well in this magnificent article on framing and composition. If the image is well composed, and the negative background complements it, you will surely get spectacular images.

And what about filling the frame?

At first, something that is often recommended, and not bad practice, is to fill the frame completely with the main subject.

Thus, it is more difficult to fall into the error of putting too many elements in the scene that compete in prominence with the main subject.

This would be an example of a photograph filling the frame, the main subject is totally clear:

Look at the girl’s face, she is not very happy, she is pensive and maybe something sad? Now we will see how adding negative space affects you.

As a concept and in the beginning it is fine, to make the center of interest clear, but that recommendation greatly reduces the compositional possibilities and the use of negative space.

Therefore, filling the frame is one more option, but you should try other options and naturally use negative space to convey other things: loneliness, isolation, lightness, movement, anguish, fragility, freedom, …

See how adding negative space to the girl’s shot affects now:

Before the image was not very cheerful, despite including a sweet girl, surely with her beloved dress.

But now, by adding negative space, the girl acquires more loneliness, perhaps even more sadness… and her gaze takes us out of the frame. Another broken rule! … But isn’t it good to support a somewhat uncomfortable image of a child’s joy?

Do not sell the motorcycle with rules and regulations to comply with! Try and explore with the creative use of negative space


Now that you are clear about what negative space in photography is and how you can place it within the frame of your photograph, you may wonder how you can ‘fill in’ that space and if you are doing it correctly.

For this, there are some more aspects to take into account, because the “How do I place it?” And the “How do I fill that space?”

Colors in negative space:

If you are photographing in color, it is very important to think about what color you are going to make that complements the protagonist of your image. For example, if you are photographing a flower of a certain shade of yellow and you fill the negative space with the same type of yellow, the flower in this case (positive space) will not stand out above the rest of the image, so it will lose the effect sought with this technique.

So before you shoot, think about how you are going to make your protagonist stand out. You can do it through complementary colors, or with other very interesting techniques such as high and low key photographs, which are closely associated with this negative space technique. You can read about high and low key photography in this fantastic article by Mario here.

Complementary colors

Play with depth of field:

If you don’t have a satisfying background to fill in your negative space at the moment, you can do something as simple and effective as playing with depth of field. As you probably already know, the larger the aperture, the less depth of field (more area out of focus in the image). This will get your subject in focus, and the rest of the image out of focus. If it is minimally homogeneous and there are no elements that stand out too much, you can get a very interesting negative effect too.

What did you think of this technique?

It is very easy and effective, so do not stop practicing it, because when you least realize it you will have it so integrated that you will no longer need to even think about it, the photographs will come out alone and they will surely be magnificent. That is the key to photography, it is not studying large monographs or attending expensive courses, or having the best camera on the market. It is trying and trying and trying again, it is learning to look and think before shooting, it is learning to visualize the photo we want before pressing the button, and by doing it hundreds of times, you will completely forget the rules of composition and of all those things that a priori seem so complicated. You will forget everything because it will already be part of you. And you know what? that moment is magnificent but it is only achieved by practicing.