Photography Element of Composition: Negative Space

Images are composed of negative and positive space.

It’s easiest to explain negative space by starting with a definition of positive space. Positive space is the area occupied by your subject or other elements in the image. It is an attention hog, it draws the eye.

Negative space is the empty space that surrounds positive space. Negative space serves to highlight positive space. It gives the eye a place to rest in the image

The subject of a photograph almost always uses positive space. The background and area surrounding the subject can use negative or positive space.

In the image below, the bird and its reflection are the positive space, and the water surrounding the bird is the negative space.

In the image below, the background uses a lot of positive space. It tells a story, it spells things out for the viewer — where the subject is, what she is doing.

Images that are mostly positive space have a lot of energy and movement, they feel very dynamic. There is a lot to take in. The image below also has a lot of positive space.

Images with a lot of negative space feel very still and peaceful. They tend to be minimalist and are very calming and soothing to the eye. They slow the viewer down, allowing the viewer to really take in and contemplate the subject.


Other examples of negative space might be a wall, a body of water, a barren landscape, or any background that doesn’t have many distinguishing features and doesn’t actively add to an image.

#MindfulPhotoChallenge: Negative Space

The challenge today is to capture an image that is mostly negative space. Here are some ways to do that:

  1. Photograph a simple object against a floor, wall, table, or any other simple background.
  2. Find a subject, and walk around it using different points of view (birds eye and worms eye, etc…) to try to isolate your subject (or part of your subject) against negative space.
  3. Use your camera lens to blur the background when you focus on your subject. On an iPhone, portrait mode does this.
  4. Take a few images and crop them afterwards to create a composition that is mostly negative space.

Share your images on Instagram with #mindfulphotochallenge and/or #RefocusPhotoChallenge, and tag me @ goodhartphotography.

If you enjoyed this article, you might like:

  • My full color 30-Day Photography Challenge Workbook here on Amazon.
  • My Photography Articles Listed and Sorted by Type here
  • My Mindful Photography Workshop here
  • My “A Gossamer Thread” Newsletter about photography/creativity, productivity, and joy here

Photo credits: Baptiste, Iuliu-illes, Kristin-wilson, Lenstravelier, sergey-sokolov, and sunisa-misa.