Negative Space: good or bad?

Negative Space: good or bad?

14 posts
5 July 2013
Spooky
Photographer
Spooky
I am a big fan of negative space in an image but at the last RPS panel meeting I attended I was chastised for my use of it in a couple of images. Now, I am not necessarily looking for a crit on the images, or a crit of the RPS, but rather any thoughts on negative space as a concept / theory.

I have also been exploring the concept with my A Level Photography students and would like to give them some different points of view, from different photographers, to discuss.

Any thoughts etc that you might have would be gratefully received.


Cheers

Spooks

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Posted 5 July 2013
Edited by Love 6 July 2013
magpie1
Photographer
magpie1
This topic has occurred before, the term 'negative space' is almost always used incorrectly or sloppily, usually equating 'a lot of space around/ left' to being "negative space". Hopefully your research on your A level course will show this. Negative space really means that the space outside or opposite to the subject has a form in itself. Examples of negative space usually give simplified graphic demonstrations approaching optical allusions " is it 1chalice or 2 faces" or a young woman with a choker or an old hag?
Nothing at all wrong with your image, purists ( eg RPS judges! ) could pick at subject facing out of frame, but in terms of negative space they are being sloppy in terminology.

Posted 5 July 2013
Midnite
Photographer
Midnite
Hi Spooks,

I suppose it depends alot on the image, negative space and intended use.
For this image i dont find it a real problem, the image works well with the negative space.

The use of negative space in an image with a back ground, say a field of flower and a model looking into the negative space gives it the sense of a story.

With this image i could see how some might like the negative space removed as there isnt any interest in it but on another day this could be part of and advert for underwear or tattoos and the model is looking at the suppliers logo.

If this idea is your style then its your image to shoot and display how you feel it should be

Posted 5 July 2013
When I've heard the term "negative space" used before, it does mean areas of an image which are filled by background or a monochrome colour, or just generally space where nothing in particular is happening; space around and between the subject. Although negative space can definitely take on interesting shapes and be the "real" subject, I didn't think that was necessary to be called negative space? Anyway. I don't think negative space is inherently good or bad, as with pretty much any broad aesthetic concept. Some negative space assists most compositions by balancing the image, isolating the subject and focusing attention on it; no negative space can create feelings of claustrophobia and make the image seem cramped. (Which, of course, could be the point.) But too much or poorly-used negative space can make the composition seem unfinished - think about a pencil sketch isolated in the middle of a page - or just sloppy. Well, that's what I think anyway. It's definitely a powerful tool. Using it well is a great skill. Personally I tend to like minimalist images with a lot of negative space and one bold subject right at the end, like this one: (Matthias Haltenhof) This image gives me such a feeling of peace and calm. But then again my favourite painter is probably Jackson Pollock and his work has no negative space whatsoever! (Or maybe it's all negative space. OO, ART QUESTIONS.)
Posted 5 July 2013
I don't know how other people would define photography itself, but I guess I see it as attempt to master composition and light. I see the use or avoidance of negative space as being a by product of these two things. For example, Tansy says that the image above gives her a 'feeling of peace and calm'. I agree that the image achieves this, but for me there is something sparse and desolate about it too. Either way, the composition of vast sky with the row of just a few trees, the vague suggestion of what might be a building in the background, and the pretty much equal ammount of space on either side of th trees: for me, this image has that perfect lighting and composition to evoke some kind of response from the viewer, and part of the composition is the clever use of negative space.

Perhaps a good method of teaching people about negative space would be to show them a series of images and ask questions about the good (or bad) use of negative space, and what they feel it adds (or takes) from this image. If you showed the above image, ask them to imagine the row of trees with only a tiny section of pale sky above, rather than the vast expanse of sky that grows darker and darker above the trees. I think many would argue that it would be a weaker and less evocative image.

I think that a good rule for creating an image it is think about whether a part of it needs to be there. It might not necessarily look bas, but equally it might not do anything for the image either.
Posted 6 July 2013
Edited by RubyRosetta 6 July 2013
Crippen
Photographer
Crippen
Mr. Spooky, I think you might need to calibrate your computer. On mine, I can clearly see what looks like a bad bit of cloning, on the second image. To the right of the model.


Trying to help, rather than criticise.
Dave

Posted 6 July 2013
photostore
Photographer
photostore
Crippen

Mr. Spooky, I think you might need to calibrate your computer. On mine, I can clearly see what looks like a bad bit of cloning, on the second image. To the right of the model. Trying to help, rather than criticise. Dave


It certainly looks like that at first glance, but i'm pretty sure its the face of a cliff ?
Posted 6 July 2013
Crippen
Photographer
Crippen
You might be right, Andy. I obviously wasn't properly awake when I first looked at it.

Opps!

Dave

Posted 6 July 2013
Spooky
Photographer
Spooky
Hi Folks

Many thanks for your input; lot of really good thoughts here which I will read and diget further when I am at my desktop rather than on my phone.

Dave, I know what you mean but it is a cliff. There was no cloning done on this image

Spooks

Posted 6 July 2013
ChrisPotter
Photographer
ChrisPotter
I love 'negative space' if used properly. But balance is required. I find in the first image, that there is too little space above the model's head, which cancels out any effect created by the negative space to the right of her. The second image is basically perfect.

If am always skeptical of 'purists' who have problems because an image doesn't conform to a rule. I feel that they have become craftsmen - and not artists.

Posted 6 July 2013
bryonyphotography
Photographer
bryonyphotog..
I think that there is a big difference between negative space and dead space.
Negative space should add something to the image, dead space just happens to be there.
Saying this, I often have to leave 'dead' space in my work, because I know at some point writing will be placed there, so even that has its uses. It just depends on the context.


Posted 7 July 2013
markscholey
Photographer
markscholey
As has had been said before 'negative space' technically refers to space that creates a form and is often seen in logo design, such as the arrow in the Fed Ex logo.  White space/clear space is probably a more correct term (certainly from design jargon) for the use of space around a subject allowing it to breathe.

I'm a designer and I love space around subjects, especially portraits. I often find some photographers obsess on tight compositions, such as portraits having to be (and for some can only be) tight headshots, which is sad. I think it stems from the past when you had to to maximise your use of a frame with 35mm, as compared with say medium format or large format film, where you will often see much more thoughtful and articulate use of space as part of a composition.

Almost always give me space, give a subject room to breathe and express, even when there is nothing in that space:

What you leave out is as important as what you include, just remember to pay as much attention to the space you create it desrves being considered and thought about as much as the rest of your composition.
Posted 11 July 2013
gerryquiff
Photographer
gerryquiff
markscholey

As has had been said before 'negative space' technically refers to space that creates a form and is often seen in logo design, such as the arrow in the Fed Ex logo.  White space/clear space is probably a more correct term (certainly from design jargon) for the use of space around a subject allowing it to breathe.




Thanks for letting the cat out of the bag concerning the Fed Ex 'arrow'.........not sure if it's known outwith the logistics and design industries. 

I'm a fan of empty space



Posted 12 July 2013
Spike
Photographer
Spike
Maybe it should be thought of as "positive" space if it ads to the image.
Reading the thread reminded me of this add which worked wonders for TR7 sales at the time

Posted 14 July 2013
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