Use of negative space in Fine Art Nude Figure Study

Use of Negative Space in Photography

What is negative space?

Negative space refers to the area between or around objects in a photo. It is mainly important if you wish to get a clear visualization of shapes and sizes more effectively hence producing more composed images.

To be more precise, negative space is the area, which surrounds the main object in your photo. On the other hand, the positive space is the main object in your photo. Taking a photo in which the main objects are power lines, the negative space is the sky while the positive space is the power lines.

The negative space is important in a photo since not only defines the main object but also emphasizes it thereby drawing it to the eye. It provides the ‘breathing space’ hence giving your eyes somewhere to rest – this prevents the photo from appearing congested.

How to use the negative space  

Negative space can give your photograph an entirely opposite atmosphere than another photo of the same object. The simple explanation for this is that our brains will always have lots of ideas of how objects appear to our eyes especially in terms of size, shape, color, texture, etc. The bad news is that these ideas alter how we view a scene. Therefore, photos can look better in our minds while in reality they are not that appealing.

By using the negative space in photography we can overcome these problems. How? By ignoring the objects at the scene and focusing on the gaps between and around them. This will enable you to pay more attention to your composition hence seeing the shapes and sizes more clearly.

When you are shooting, you should always adjust your composition until the positive and negative spaces in the frame feel balanced. Don’t be mean on the amount of empty space you will be leaving out. It is not always a good idea to cram in something, which you feel is important to every inch of the photo frame.

You can always use software like Photoshop or Light-room to experiment on different types of crops. You will be amazed how small changes may give a significant change on the appearance of an image.

In addition, the negative space also leaves a very nice area, which can be filled with texts without interfering with the main object.

Importance of Negative Space 

The negative space can change the mood of an image. The mood refers to the emotion and the negative space is what creates them. The negative space can:

·      Act as a context

·      Create a sense of lightness

·      Can create airiness

·      Strengthen the positive emotions in a photograph.

·      Bring out the feelings of your main object – can be romantic or just happy.

·      Also add sad feelings like loneliness or despair.

Therefore, whichever message you wish to send out to your viewers, be it feelings or emotions, whichever story you wish to share, the negative space will play a huge role in this. When used correctly it can emphasize these aspects otherwise, everything can turn around.

In basic drawing classes students are usually told that there are three basic elements of a composition: The Frame, the positive space and negative space.

Of the three elements, the positive space is the easiest to understand since it the space occupied by your object. Contrary to that, the negative space is the one which is not occupied by the main object. I wish it were that easy to understand. The negative space is usually defined by the edges of the positive space and the frame. In other cases, the negative space may be completely bound by the positive space.

As a reminder, composition will always be best if there is a balance between the negative and positive. The frame is the main factor which controls the balance between the positive and negative space. When drawing, the frame is usually represented by the edge of the paper while in a camera it is the edge of the viewfinder. Therefore, the viewfinder is what gives the definition to our composition. Composition is therefore a skilled use of positive and negative spaces interacting with the edges of your work. It has effects which are noticeable by the viewer’s eye. You should know that the main objective of a good composition is to control your viewer’s eye. You want him or her to notice the things which are not straightforward.

Most photographers tend to put more focus on the positive space while the negative space comes just like an afterthought. From what we have discussed above, you will not neglect the negative space while shooting.

Benefits of using negative space in photos

1.     The negative space helps in molding and emphasizing the positive space. Here, you should also know that there are two kinds of negative space – the macro and micro negative spaces. The macro negative space defines the space between major elements while the latter defines space between smaller elements.

2.     It guides the viewer’s eye to where you want it to be. This way you can communicate your message effectively.

3.     It brings out the mood of the photo.

4.     In design, if there is insufficient negative space the photo might appear overcrowded and at times very complex.

How can we create a better negative space?

First, you can always make a better art with the negative space. For instance, the sky can provide a good composition when shooting from the bottom of buildings.

Secondly, you make the negative space the subject and this way you will not distract the main subject.

Third, you can use the positive space to define the negative space. Take a look at the Rubin’s vase to get a clear understanding on this.

Fourth, you can always use negative space to create logo designs.


It is always easy for us to focus on the main subject of the photograph. However, the negative space is a very powerful tool in each photo as it is the one which will bring out the core message of mood of the image.


Think of items of interest you can include in your framing of a photo other than the subject that will add to your composition or lead your viewer through the photo. As you practice this make sure that you don’t allow the items in the negative space to become to cluttered, too many objects in your photo will just confuse your audience and muddy your photo composition.  


In the example below I have used the shadow cast by Shannon’s figure to add interest to the negative space. Shannon is indeed the subject of the photo however the silhouette on the wall features her prominent curves and grabs the viewer’s eye. Shannon added emphasis to the shadow by pointing to it as well as looking over her shoulder. The viewer’s eye is lead straight to the negative part of the image.  

Just a quick final item to talk about, I have added a set from our “My Nude Year” project to my store and it is available for download. Your kind purchase makes it possible for me to continue bringing you content on a regular basis. If you enjoy my blog please considered purchasing the set.

Thank you,

JW Purdy