a man running into negative space

The Ultimate Guide to Using Negative Space in Compositions

Do you want to produce amazing compositions? Negative space is an essential part of photographic composition. And you can use it to create stunning photos.

In this article, you’ll discover everything you need to know about negative space. And you’ll learn how to use it to take consistently gorgeous photos.

Let’s get started.

What is Negative Space?

Negative space (AKA white space) is the empty space around your subject.

chair and negative space above
An otherwise plain image comes to life with negative space on the wall.
(Photo by Marra Sherrier)

Typically, empty space is very simple: either solid colors or blurred backgrounds. It’s the kind of emptiness you find in white skies and empty stretches of sand.

Let’s look at how you can use it in your photos to level up your photography.

How to Use Negative Space in Photography?

Negative space will help you capture stunning images. But how can we use it in Photography?

There are three main ways you can use negative space to create better photo compositions:

  1. Emphasize the subject
  2. Express movement
  3. Accentuate scale

I explore these in more detail below.

shadow and darkness
Negative space and light.
(Photo by Rene Böhmer)

1. Use Negative Space to Emphasize Your Subject

The main reason I use negative space in photography is to emphasize the subject.

By creating extra space around your subject, you draw the eye directly to the subject itself.

Often, you can use a clear sky or a clean wall to create that empty space. However, when your background is busy, blurring your background with a soft bokeh effect is ideal.

Now, to keep the composition from feeling stagnant, it’s a good idea to incorporate leading lines or place your subject off-center. Check out some samples of this tactic below.

insect on a leaf
The simple and softly blurred background draws your eye to the grasshopper.
(Photo by Vincent van Zalinge)

Notice how the empty space around the main subject causes your eye to move straight to the subject:

flowers before a negative space white wall
The wall creates a soft, clean backdrop so that your eye goes straight to the flowers.
(Photo by NordWood Themes)

This technique is extremely effective.

So if you find a striking subject, surround it with empty space.

You’ll capture a more powerful photo overall.

palm tree at sunset
This composition makes the palm tree feel small in such a grand sky, which still drawing your eye to that palm tree itself.
(Photo by Frederik Löwer)

2. Use Negative Space to Express Movement

Negative space is fantastic for creating a sense of motion in a scene.

There are two ways to do this:

  • Pan and create motion blur in the background.
  • Accentuate a subject caught mid-movement.

To create space with blurred movement, you’ll want to pan the camera to follow your moving subject.

You’ll get a beautifully blurred background–one full of empty space.

horse riding
This photo was taken by panning along with the cowboy, blurring the busy backdrop so that it doesn’t distract and keeps the eye on the rider.
(Photo by Melissa Newkirk)

Next, to accentuate a subject in mid-movement:

Take note of the direction in which your subject is moving.

And then put a lot of space in front of your subject–so that they seem to be moving into the emptiness.

This will give your shot a sense of motion.

man running with briefcase into negative space
Soft pattern and negative space on the bottom and right side all keep the focus on the subject and accentuate the forward movement.
(Photo by Andy Beales)

3. Accentuate Scale Using Negative Space

Negative space is also ideal for accentuating scale.

person runs up rock
Negative space above the hiker accentuates the small figure in a vast open space.
(Photo by Jeremy Lapak)

Consider those moments when you go for a hike along a grand open space. Or the way people look so tiny in a city when viewed from above. Doesn’t the empty space make the place feel huge?

Here’s what I suggest:

Find a huge stretch of space. And include this in your photo.

But make sure you put your main subject off-center–so that space seems even more vast.

For instance, look at the negative space created by the dunes below. The photographer put the subject toward the bottom of the frame–so the space becomes especially powerful.

person walks on sand dunes with negative space above
Showing more open desert and placing subject at the bottom of the frame make the figure seem tiny in comparison to such a vast landscape.
(Photo by Finding Dan)

Now that you’ve learned these tips for stunning photos, you’re a better photographer.


But the fact is, the journey doesn’t stop there. There are more tips, tricks, and secrets--all of which will help you take gorgeous photos.

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About the author

Natalia Robert

Architectural photographer and founder of The Grove, Natalia now calls Southern California home. A BArch, extensive travels since childhood, and a wide variety of work experience have shaped Natalia's love for design and exploration. In 2019, Natalia founded The Grove to provide tools and resources for budding interior photographers. Natalia's photos have been seen on Elle Decor, San Diego Magazine, San Diego Home/Garden Lifestyle, and The Voyager.

When she's not shooting, speaking, or writing, Natalia can be found relaxing with her fur baby Daisy, taking day trips to anywhere within a few hours' drive, or spending time with friends and family.

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