Is Negative Space Wasted Space?

In your photography bubble, have you ever heard the terms, wasted or negative space? Then wondered... Is negative space wasted space? Or, is wasted space negative space? To then just think to yourself, is space not just space?

The short answer is no. In photography, where you leave this "space" can either make or break your end result.

As a photographic facilitator on a safari, I constantly remind my guests of their camera settings in order to achieve great results. In saying this, I also constantly remind them about the very basics of photography. Composition and framing.

A visual representation will help you understand what I mean by this.

Is Negative Space Wasted Space - Wild Eye - Michael Laubscher

Do you notice how your eyes enjoy looking at the image on the left more so than the image on the right?

This is because the story in the image on the left is complete. You can see more of what the animal is staring into; negative space, and so there is a better 'flow' to the photograph.

Whereas the opposite is happening in the image on the right. It's the exact same image but there is something off putting. The animal is staring into a wall. There is a lot of wasted space behind the animal which is adding no value to the photograph hence the reason for the term, wasted space.

Just comes to show. If you skip the very basics of photography but have put all your time into mastering the technical aspects, you can still very easily destroy a photograph.

Ask yourself this question again; is negative space wasted space? I hope you could now answer that with more confidence.

To put this into simple words,

  • Negative space is the space that you as photographer should leave in front your subject for it to look/move into.
  • Wasted space is therefore adding too much into the frame. Either behind and/or above your subject.

If you're out shooting and you are not sure if this is wasted or negative space you are seeing, ask yourself a simple question. Is the space I see adding value to the photograph? If your answer is no, you have wasted space. If your answer is yes, you have negative space.

Also bear in mind to not overcompensate to achieve negative space. What I mean by this is that you should leave a slight gap between your subject and the edge of the frame. See the images below for a better understanding;

Is Negative Space Wasted Space - Wild Eye - Michael Laubscher

No explanation needed right? Always keep your eye on edges of your frame.

I know this is not always possible in the heat of the moment. But next time you are out photographing, try your best to do as much as you possibly can while out in the field. This will not only minimize your work while post processing but as great as the post processing cropping tools are, please do keep in mind that cropping an image does result in it loosing quality.

With that all said and done; let me rewind right to the beginning.

Is negative space wasted space? No, and you can now see, it's a massive value add.

I hope this blog has helped and inspired you. If you are still unsure of certain things, please feel free to reach out to me and I will happily assist you.

Until then;

Happy snapping.


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