I Need My Space!

Do you love a decluttered room? All of that beautiful empty open space. It helps me breathe! I love leaving the same space in my photos.

Negative space draws the viewer’s eye right to your subject leaving them with little question about the story being conveyed. It can isolate an important detail and create a feeling of curiosity about the surroundings.


Negative space is also referred to as white space. It is the same technique used on a layout, applied to our photos. Leave space with nothing. No clutter, no body parts, no stuff, simply nothing. It pleases the eye and the brain!

We are going to call upon the techniques used in July’s Photography Class and last month’s class on white balance to explore the composition technique of negative space.

I think of two types of negative space:

1. Negative space through absence

2. Negative space through blur


Negative space through absence is created just as it sounds; nothing else is in the frame. You can get this look by:

§ Placing your subject against a solid colored wall

§ Shooting with the sky as your backdrop

§ Placing your subject on a backdrop or solid colored table

In this photo, I placed the cookies on a white sheet of paper draped over my washing machine. My laundry room has a north-facing window that gets great light most of the day. I used a roll of cheap paper made for covering tables. There are more expensive options but I like the multiple uses I can get from it! My friends now it as my “studio”

I used the paper technique in my tomato photo from last month’s post and for many of my food shots.


Creating negative space through blur is a little more tricky, but completely doable. The blur I’m referring to is created through a shallow depth of field, that creamy out of focus look.

To achieve a shallow depth of field, play with four things:

1. Select your widest aperture (smallest f/ number) – shooting in either Manual or Aperture Priority works best. If you are shooting on auto, switch to the Flower (Macro) mode, you won’t have as much control, but you can still get great results.

2. Leave a lot of space between your subject and the background. The greater the space, the more out of focus your background will be.

3. Shoot at your longest focal length. On the side of your lens you have probably noticed numbers like 70-200. Select the biggest number.

4. Now, get as close as you can while keeping your subject in focus.

If you want more help with using your camera in Aperture Priority or Manual modes, check out my e-book Get Me off of Auto.

Now that you understand the methods to create negative space, we can explore some composition strategies.

Composition STRATEGIES

The composition of a photograph relies upon three things:

1. The Frame – the frame refers to the crop you choose for your photo.

2. Negative Space – the negative space is the white space around your subject.

3. Positive Space – the space filled by your subject.

We work with these three elements to create a visually appealing photo.

Your negative space is actually not negative at all. The space left without detail of your subject creates shapes. If we look at a photo in this way, you can see how the negative space creates visual appeal.

When we look at the positive space you can see how the positive space creates movement through the frame.

Rule of Thirds

You are probably familiar with the Rule of Thirds. You probably use it often without even thinking about it. The Rule of Thirds provides proportion in our image, emphasizing important details and creating a viewer’s emotional reaction.


When you look through the viewfinder, imagine your image divided in thirds both horizontally and vertically. Use any of the thirds to create visual appeal. With a vertical photo we can think in the same way. An L shaped connection between the three intersection (or inverted L shape) can be effective too. However, if you place two equal sized items on both third lines you may create confusion.

When shooting a horizon place it on either the top third or bottom third line for balance. When the horizon is placed in the middle of the photo it can feel, unbalanced, not as visually appealing. Place the horizon on one of the horizontal thirds and you’ve increased your visual impact. Your photo is more comfortable to look at.


Movement Into the Frame

When working with negative space consider the direction your subject is looking. A subject looking into the frame is typically more pleasing and natural feeling. If your subject is moving, give them space to move into the frame. It will feel less cut off and tell your story more effectively. This same principle is why portrait orientation photos often feel harsher than landscape. Landscape simply provides more space for movement!

Ignore The Rules

Yes, rules have their benefits in photography, but sometimes they just need to be broken!

If something appeals to you visually, capture it. Don’t become such a slave to THE RULES that you don’t take creative risks to see what results you might get. Digital exposures are cheap!

Assignment – Blurred On The Thirds

Find a willing (or inanimate) subject.

Set your camera to AV/A (aperture priority) mode. *

Set your aperture to your widest aperture (smallest number).

If you don’t have a lens with a wide aperture, make sure there is distance between your subject and the background, use your longest focal length, and get as close as you can while still achieving focus.

Look through your viewfinder.

Place your subject on an intersection of the thirds. (For extra credit, try a recompose method from last class!)

Press the shutter button.

A note for point and shoot users: The optics of point and shoot cameras make it difficult to achieve a blurred background, but not impossible.

*If you are comfortable with manual you can of course use that instead!

You can find Katrina at Capture Your 365