Understanding Negative Space
A few months ago while on a visit to Kenya, I visited a local studio to have my beautiful wildlife photos printed. As I waited for the prints to be ready, the photographer in that small, highly decorated photo studio in Marimanti town seized the moment to show off some of the photos he has taken. The first photo he showed me caught my attention. It was a studio taken photo of two kids aged around eight years but on the first look I thought it they were a couple in their middle twenties! What brought this sought of misjudgement is the way the photo was framed. The subject filled the frame so tightly that it left no space for the viewer to ‘breath’, making young kids appear like young adults.
The picture from above introduction could have been a lot better if it was balanced with negative space well utilized. Negative space defines and emphasises the main subject of a photo, drawing your eye to it. It provides “breathing room”, giving your eyes somewhere to rest and preventing your image from appearing too cluttered with “stuff”. All of this adds up to a more engaging composition. We help you gain a better understanding of the concept for more engaging photographs.
Photo by Abhighosh / Fotosocial
Definition and overview
By definition, negative space can be described as the space surrounding your subject, otherwise called white space. A subject, no matter how big or small in relation to the image frame, can be enhanced or degraded by the amount of negative space around it. Before you start passing judgement, please note that there is nothing negative about negative space, in fact, there are so many positives about negative space.
The negative space adds beauty to an image by making it easier for the viewer to comprehend the subject matter. The negative space leads the viewer to the subject. Studies and interest in negative space gained moment following the publication of Rubin’s Vase, also know an Rubin’s face which was developed by Danish psychologist Edgar Rubin around 1915. Since then, negative space as a concept has been widely used in design, drawing and photography.
Negative space has a close relationship with composition and framing. Though not overtly pronounced, Rule of Thirds comes to one’s mind when we thing of negative space. However, negative space need not occupy two thirds of the frame. It can occupy almost the entire frame leaving only a small percentage of it for the subject if that was the intention. What matters most is how you intend to use the negative space to your advantage.
Negative space can be well understood if we mask an image in black or white. By inverting the two planes making the subject get a white mask and the negative space black, our perception changes. In the Rubin’s Vase for example, when the image is presented in colour what people often see is a vase, but when masked in black and white, you see faces of two men looking at each other. This tells us that negative space helps us to perceive the image as it should be.
Uses of negative space
There are many ways and areas where negative space is used. However, in photography, negative space is often used to enhance composition. Too much of it and the subject may lose prominence and too less of it will make your subject too imposing for the liking of your viewers. In other words, the space around your subject adds value to your image by letting viewers enjoy the image without feeling as though the frame is too cluttered or too empty.
Negative space has widely been used in advertising with great impact. By balancing the positive and the negative space, there is room left for adding text without distracting the message intended or covering the subject. When one ventures to take photos of mountains, including the sky becomes paramount though this is done subconsciously. Not many times one goes out to photography the sky though many outdoor photographs feature the sky more as subjects!
Negative space is not difficult to understand as long as you know the rules of composition. However, understanding it better will lead to more experiments on how you can use negative space to create better and more creative images. The way you utilize your positive space can also add humour to your image or play with people’s emotions in ways than you may not even have thought. There are negative spaces around us truncated by potential subjects; look of ways of balancing to two to come up with creative images.
By definition, negative space can be described as the space surrounding your subject, otherwise called white space.
Negative space defines and emphasises the main subject of a photo, drawing your eye to it.
Negative space has a close relationship with composition and framing. However, negative space need not occupy two thirds of the frame.
There are many ways and areas where negative space is used. However, in photography, negative space is often used to enhance composition.
10 Photographic Assignments to Hone Your Skills
Statistics show that not many photographers actually went to photography schools. In India for example, only a few colleges offer a degree in photography and many of those who do offer photography as part of another major degree. With all that as our background we conclude that many photographers became what they are out of learning from others, being passionate about their work and of course experience.
Photography is a lifelong process and learning can never be saturated. Once you learn the first step, you need to keep on moving until you became a pro and beyond. Internet and books present us with loads of theoretical knowledge on various aspects of photography. But theory won’t make you a pro unless you have hands on experience of the skills you intend to sharpen. One of the best ways to do so is to give yourself assignments or projects that will challenge you to be better than you have been. Here are ten photographic assignments to hone your photographic skills.
1. A one aperture weekend
It’s not that easy to shoot in one aperture especially if you intend to try shooting a wide range of subjects. However, the harder it gets the more you learn. Trying working with just one aperture settings for the entire weekend and trying as many subjects as possible will give you a better understanding on depth of field and how that relates to shutter speed and ISO.
2. A one shutter speed weekend
This assignment may be as challenging as the aperture one. It’s not that easy to shoot at one shutter speed since subjects will keep changing and so is the light. Moving objects will need a different speed than stationary ones. However, since this is a challenge, you should not be tempted to make adjustments! Using shutter priority will make the assignment more interesting.
3. Picking something
This assignment helps you learn many skills some of which you did not even sign up to. What you should do is to pick an object or a subject and spend the entire weekend photographing that subject. For example, you can pick motor bike as your subject. Go around the city or village photographing any motor bike you see but make the photos look interesting by applying various skills in each shot.
4. Manual focusing weekend
Often times, an amateur lets the camera do focusing for him or her; after all, the camera rarely goes wrong! What you should note is that the auto has got its limitations and using manual gives you freedom to explore more. Try focusing manually for the entire weekend and see how much you end up understanding your camera and your lenses.
5. The alphabet snap
In this assignment, your objective is to take at least 27 photographs of objects or subjects representing the 27 letters of the alphabet. Be creative here; don’t just open the door and click a photo of any boy you find passing and label ‘B for Boy’! Take a photo in a way that will make people be like, is that a B?
6. The old camera trick
Now it’s the time that you resurrect that old camera you kept away after you got your first DSLR. Your old camera was probably a film camera or even a small compact digital camera. Take this old camera for a spin this weekend and try to take professionally looking photos with it. You will realize how tough it can get but at the same time how much you can learn.
Photo by Patrick Kornak / Fotosocial
7. Follow a rule
One of the most commonly talked of and used rule in photography is the rule of thirds. Try working with this rule or any other rule and stick to it for the entire weekend. This assignment will not only open your eyes to the details of that rule but you will also learn more skills in the process.
8. Do it the black and white way
With the ‘onslaught’ of many photography software around us today, it is easy to convert a coloured photography to black and white or grey scale as it is commonly called. However, you may notice that not all photos look good in black and while and therefore you need to select subjects that fit this type of photography. Spend the entire weekend photographing in black and white and see how you can deal with lighting and other challenges.
9. Exploring a technique
You can hone your skills over the weekend by exploring just one technique for the entire weekend. You can try panning, high speed photography, motion blur photography etc.
10. Recreating the master pieces
We don’t encourage ‘plagiarism’ or stealing someone’s work but you can hone your skills but taking someone’s work and trying to recreate it. You may not be able to create exactly the same kind of shots but you will learn a great deal doing that.
One of the best ways to hone your photographic skills is to give yourself assignments or projects that will challenge you to be better than you have been.
Try focusing manually for the entire weekend and see how much you end up understanding your camera and your lenses.
One of the most commonly talked of and used rule in photography is the rule of thirds. Try working with this rule or any other rule and stick to it for the entire weekend.
Spend the entire weekend photographing in black and white and see how you can deal with lighting and other challenges.
Photography Interview With Steve McMurry
Immortalized by his iconic photograph of an Afghan refugee girl in 1984 which has become the world’s most recognizable photograph, leading documentary photographer Steve McCurry has covered many areas of international and civil conflict, including 30 years of conflict in Afghanistan. He focuses on the human consequences of war, not only showing what war impresses on the landscape, but rather what it shows on the human face. The results are thought provoking photos that move and inspire viewers. He is also an articulate social commentator on the cultures and subjects he photographs.
Could you describe your shooting philosophy?
I like to celebrate people, places and culture through my photography. I also like to tell stories about my subjects through my photographs – especially those I have shot in areas of conflict; and I think this is an important aspect of photojournalism – to show people what is happening.
You are also renowned as a conflict zone photographer. What inspired you to be one?
I think covering areas of conflict is important. The human drama in such areas cannot be underestimated and I think being a war photographer who conveys these emotions through photos is a noble profession. And it may sound morbid or crazy, but as a photographer, I get an exciting adrenaline rush while shooting as I dodge bullets and shells.
What are the important traits and skills of a successful photographer like yourself?Steave
Like in any vocation, I think you need tenacity, perseverance and commitment to your work to be a successful photographer. Creatively, I imagine and visualize photo possibilities wherever I am. I think it is an important skill to be able to isolate and recognize a picture out of a scene. For example, for the portraits I shoot – I recognize something fascinating about the way my subjects look, be it their eyes, their way they are dressed and feel some connection that grabs my attention. I think I have a good ability to identify an interesting face among even a crowd of thousands, which I think is important to my work. The challenge is to convince them within 15 seconds to be my subject. Respect is essential to establishing that trust.
I find them (the underdeveloped regions of Asia) far more visually rich than western countries.
How do you manage to shoot your human subjects in such natural poses?
I always tell people that my subjects don’t notice me around because I am so short (chuckles)! Seriously, when I first started shooting in the region in 1978, it was frustratingly difficult as a foreigner, and the people I met constantly treated me as an object of curiosity and crowded around me. After a while I developed a certain method of working where I either got my shot quickly before I am noticed; or I hung around my subjects so long until they get bored or accustomed to me and continue about their usual routines.
When you travel for photo assignments, what photos are you looking to capture? Is there a plan?
I seldom have a plan, and I feel that the times that have been the most fun and productive have been those where I literally just get up and wander around looking for situations and subjects to shoot. Its amazing how things just magically happen and pictures ‘reveal themselves’.
You are most well known for your photos of Asia. What attracted you to the region?steve
There’s something about the underdeveloped regions of Asia that speaks to me, and I find them far more visually rich than western countries. I feel more kinship with the rural people of this region who I also found easier to photograph and were more interesting visually. Another aspect of these places is that life for their inhabitants occurs on the street – they play, work, eat and live their lives in the open. You will not get such wonderful scenes of life like these in countries where the climate is colder and where people tend to live their lives indoors; or in developed cities where everything is organized and ordered.
Of all the countries you have been to, which one left the deepest impression and why?
Photographically, India fascinates me the most. You cannot find another country with such a rich and varied geography and culture amid the chaos and confusion. For example, Bombay and Calcutta are such crazy cities but wonderful photographic subjects. I have been to India about 85 times but never get tired of it.
Moving on to your workflow, could you tell us what equipment you use and how they have changed over the steveyears?
Today I use a Nikon D700 DSLR and a Hasselblad medium format camera. In the old days, I mainly used prime lenses like a 28mm, a 35mm and a 50mm, but these days, I am happy with the results of my Nikkor 28-70 zoom lens that I find gives me sharp results.
For printing, I started out in the days when I would have to take my photos by subway or car to a lab to prints done. This was a tedious process involving the printing of proofs, then retouching them before final prints could be done; and during busy periods we would work from 10 am to 5 am the next morning. This is why dealing remotely with labs was always a problem when it came to getting accurate prints. Today, doing our own processing and printing on-site with my Epson printers is more efficient, much more fun, and offers greater control over the process. I can’t imagine going back to the days of dealing with a photo lab.
Could you share with us your working relationship with Epson as an “Epson Pro”?
I have a long and wonderful relationship with Epson. My studio in New York uses four large format Epson printers for all my exhibition prints and two smaller units for proof prints. For me, I must have prints of the very best quality to express my work. That is something I cannot compromise on. And my colleagues at National Geographic and I have tested and compared the output of other printers but feel that Epson’s prints are of the best quality.
I like to tell stories about my subjects through my photographs – especially those I have shot in areas of conflict.
Moving from film to digital in your line of work… Did it help or hinder?
Moving to digital has helped dramatically. In the days when I used film, I could go though between 800 to 1000 rolls of film on a single shoot of which only 20 to 25 really exceptional photos would be chosen for use. The change from film to digital technology in cameras has been breathtaking. I spent about 30 years shooting film and I have moved to digital for 4 years so far. With digital cameras you have a great leap in capability. For example you can change the ISO sensitivity settings on a camera and go into a dark environment with what used to be impossibly low light for film and still shoot photos at fast shutter speeds of publishable grade. In the days of film, I was limited to ISO 400 to 800, but with my digital camera, I can easily boost its ISO to ISO 1000 or more and shoot in situations in very little light and capture action with fast shutter speeds. One thing I miss about film is the fact that you have a tangible piece of negative or photo to view. Films and negatives are also easier to retrieve from archives.
SteveCan you describe your life as a photographer? How are you different now compared to the start of your career?
For me, being a photographer has been an enormous amount of fun. I have had the wonderful opportunity of visiting the amazing places I have shot in. I can’t imagine a better way to spend your time and life than exploring this amazing planet. I have always been very competitive and hardworking and I am completely obsessed with my work and love what I do.
I think I am now able to ‘see’ my photos better and have a better sense of lighting now compared to when I first started 30 years ago. If I felt that I was not improving constantly, that would be a sad situation. At this point in my career I am happy to be finally able to pick and choose my assignments and I feel that all the hard work and hardships I had to go through when I first started has paid off.
Pictures and Digital Marketing
It doesn’t matter if you’re part of a design team communicating with a different department, a social media manager for your business, or anything in between. Pictures help convey tone and intent in ads, which are frequently lost in translation when communicating online.