Composition, Lesson 3: Using Space

Composition isn't just about the subject, but also how the subject relates to the background and to the frames of the picture. In most cases the subject can be considered the positive space of the photograph, and everything else can be considered the negative space. That is to say, the negative space is contained by the frame and the edges of the positive space.

Dominate Positive Space - minimal negative space
Positive Space

The positive space and the negative space are contained by the frame, or edges, of the picture. The photographer's task is then to develop a spatial relationship between the positive and negative space within the frame in such a way as to convey a message. That could mean framing the subject such that it dominates the total frame–lots of positive space, minimal negative space. In this composition, there is no doubt about the subject and these photos tend to be very strong.

The photographer could also chose to strike a balance between the positive and negative space. If not done effectively, however, this can produce a rather boring composition.

Striking a Balance


It is, however, possible to produce images in which there is a great deal of negative space. This would be done to emphasize the relationship between the subject and the background.

Letting the Negative Space Dominate
Negative Space


You may also chose to have the subject intersect the edges of the photo to produce a more dynamic image. This can be very effective when done correctly.

Intersecting the Frame
Intersecting the Frame

Ultimately, the photographer's goal is to control the viewer's eye and by skillfully using positive and negative space and how they intersect with the frame or edges of the image, the photographer can measurably control the viewers' eye to ensure they don't become bored and to control what the viewers discover within the photograph.

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