What is (and is not) "Negative Space"? (And how do you use it.)

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Donald B
Donald B Forum Pro • Posts: 13,333
Re: Samples:
1

MediaArchivist wrote:

Over in the challenges section of this site, there is a challenge specifically for negative space. The entries can give you an idea of how other people think of it, and use it.

https://www.dpreview.com/challenges/Challenge.aspx?ID=13810

most have no idea what negative space is in that challenge.

Don

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SonyOB Contributing Member • Posts: 722
Re: What is (and is not) "Negative Space"? (And how do you use it.)

Great samples, though not applicable to photography.
How our visual apparatus is fooled to create images from little or no clues.

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New Day Rising
New Day Rising Senior Member • Posts: 2,832
Re: For me...

kiwi2 wrote:

Barry Twycross wrote:

This question is not specifically about the challenge, but the concept in general.

What, to you, is negative space?

What, to you, is not negative space?

How do you effectively use it in a photo?

How do you feature it in a photo?

This is what I think of as negative space...

While there is nothing to see between the water and the fog in the air that has taken on the same colour, it adds to the presentation of the subject which is the trees covered in hoar frost.

I deliberately framed the trees wider to use the negative space.

That is a great example and a really lovely photo. I see plenty of photos I appreciate and admire. But it's only occasionally I will see a photo and think "I really wish I'd taken that". This is one of those.

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New Day Rising
New Day Rising Senior Member • Posts: 2,832
Re: Samples:
1

Donald B wrote:

MediaArchivist wrote:

Over in the challenges section of this site, there is a challenge specifically for negative space. The entries can give you an idea of how other people think of it, and use it.

https://www.dpreview.com/challenges/Challenge.aspx?ID=13810

most have no idea what negative space is in that challenge.

Don

I have to agree. Many are just using space around the main subject, but then filling it with stuff. I went through all of them and 20-25% are what I would call negative space.

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lilBuddha Veteran Member • Posts: 4,376
Re: Samples:

New Day Rising wrote:

Donald B wrote:

MediaArchivist wrote:

Over in the challenges section of this site, there is a challenge specifically for negative space. The entries can give you an idea of how other people think of it, and use it.

https://www.dpreview.com/challenges/Challenge.aspx?ID=13810

most have no idea what negative space is in that challenge.

Don

I have to agree. Many are just using space around the main subject, but then filling it with stuff. I went through all of them and 20-25% are what I would call negative space.

I just went through all of the submissions and if you think many or most don't use negative space, then I disagree with your definitions.

I think there are several that do not qualify at all and a couple that are subjective, but most use negative space.

kiwi2
kiwi2 Veteran Member • Posts: 4,618
Re: For me...

New Day Rising wrote:

kiwi2 wrote:

Barry Twycross wrote:

This question is not specifically about the challenge, but the concept in general.

What, to you, is negative space?

What, to you, is not negative space?

How do you effectively use it in a photo?

How do you feature it in a photo?

This is what I think of as negative space...

While there is nothing to see between the water and the fog in the air that has taken on the same colour, it adds to the presentation of the subject which is the trees covered in hoar frost.

I deliberately framed the trees wider to use the negative space.

That is a great example and a really lovely photo. I see plenty of photos I appreciate and admire. But it's only occasionally I will see a photo and think "I really wish I'd taken that". This is one of those.

Thanks.  Glad you got something from it.

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Goethe
Goethe Senior Member • Posts: 1,256
Re: What is (and is not) "Negative Space"? (And how do you use it.)
1

Barry Twycross wrote:

There's a challenge being judged now for "Negative Space". I'm not sure my concept of negative space is the same as many of the entrants.

This question is not specifically about the challenge, but the concept in general.

What, to you, is negative space?

What, to you, is not negative space?

How do you effectively use it in a photo?

How do you feature it in a photo?

Some negative space photos of mine over the years.

a journey into negative space on the temporarily flightless wings of dark birds

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stevo23 Forum Pro • Posts: 22,435
Re: What is (and is not) "Negative Space"? (And how do you use it.)

Goethe wrote:

Barry Twycross wrote:

There's a challenge being judged now for "Negative Space". I'm not sure my concept of negative space is the same as many of the entrants.

This question is not specifically about the challenge, but the concept in general.

What, to you, is negative space?

What, to you, is not negative space?

How do you effectively use it in a photo?

How do you feature it in a photo?

Some negative space photos of mine over the years.

a journey into negative space on the temporarily flightless wings of dark birds

The question to ask is not "how do you use negative space" but "how does the negative space in a given photo contribute to the goal?" I feel that if a person things, "I need to learn how to use negative space", they are likely not focusing on the primary aspects of composition and will be unlikely to use negative space well.

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Goethe
Goethe Senior Member • Posts: 1,256
Re: What is (and is not) "Negative Space"? (And how do you use it.)

stevo23 wrote:

Goethe wrote:

Barry Twycross wrote:

There's a challenge being judged now for "Negative Space". I'm not sure my concept of negative space is the same as many of the entrants.

This question is not specifically about the challenge, but the concept in general.

What, to you, is negative space?

What, to you, is not negative space?

How do you effectively use it in a photo?

How do you feature it in a photo?

Some negative space photos of mine over the years.

a journey into negative space on the temporarily flightless wings of dark birds

The question to ask is not "how do you use negative space" but "how does the negative space in a given photo contribute to the goal?"

But if the goal of the photo is negative space then thinking how to use it, how to create it, is integral.

I feel that if a person things, "I need to learn how to use negative space", they are likely not focusing on the primary aspects of composition and will be unlikely to use negative space well.

Negative space is not entirely about composition per se. Composition is always sort of a finalization tool in an image, and negative photography is no exception. Negative space is more of a primary consideration in which you are looking for shapes rather then textures. Blankness, nothingness, voids...these must be visualized and recognized in the landscape before composition even comes into play.

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stevo23 Forum Pro • Posts: 22,435
Re: What is (and is not) "Negative Space"? (And how do you use it.)

Goethe wrote:

stevo23 wrote:

Goethe wrote:

Barry Twycross wrote:

There's a challenge being judged now for "Negative Space". I'm not sure my concept of negative space is the same as many of the entrants.

This question is not specifically about the challenge, but the concept in general.

What, to you, is negative space?

What, to you, is not negative space?

How do you effectively use it in a photo?

How do you feature it in a photo?

Some negative space photos of mine over the years.

a journey into negative space on the temporarily flightless wings of dark birds

The question to ask is not "how do you use negative space" but "how does the negative space in a given photo contribute to the goal?"

But if the goal of the photo is negative space then thinking how to use it, how to create it, is integral.

Not sure I ever have negative space as a goal, so not sure how that works.

I feel that if a person things, "I need to learn how to use negative space", they are likely not focusing on the primary aspects of composition and will be unlikely to use negative space well.

Negative space is not entirely about composition per se. Composition is always sort of a finalization tool in an image, and negative photography is no exception. Negative space is more of a primary consideration in which you are looking for shapes rather then textures.

Then I wonder if you're not talking about figure to ground relationship?

Blankness, nothingness, voids...these must be visualized and recognized in the landscape before composition even comes into play.

I don't know if I would agree with that unless you mean thinking in broader, low detail terms (ie, blurring the scene to see certain relationships without being distracted by detail).

I'm attracted to a subject and think about how I want to portray it and then the elements I want to use. Or sometimes, the scene is there and I back into those thoughts as a check.

Not a criticism of your photos BTW - some nice work there. But when I see the negative space in them, I'm thinking of several things like GAC or FGR or even infinity. But I'm not sure I would have thought "I need to make this about negative space" had I been taking the shots.

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Goethe
Goethe Senior Member • Posts: 1,256
Re: What is (and is not) "Negative Space"? (And how do you use it.)

stevo23 wrote:

Goethe wrote:

stevo23 wrote:

The question to ask is not "how do you use negative space" but "how does the negative space in a given photo contribute to the goal?"

But if the goal of the photo is negative space then thinking how to use it, how to create it, is integral.

Not sure I ever have negative space as a goal, so not sure how that works.

And yet you are arguing how it works.

I feel that if a person things, "I need to learn how to use negative space", they are likely not focusing on the primary aspects of composition and will be unlikely to use negative space well.

Negative space is not entirely about composition per se. Composition is always sort of a finalization tool in an image, and negative photography is no exception. Negative space is more of a primary consideration in which you are looking for shapes rather then textures.

Then I wonder if you're not talking about figure to ground relationship?

No, although a lot of what I posted featured silhouettes. In a negative space photo the image is about, well, 'negative space'. It is a concentrated and purposeful lack of positive structure placed around the positive element of the image. You really have to go into the image creation process thinking about this type of result. I mean, sometimes it can happen serendipitously due to the random factor built into the universe. But if you are trying to create such an image you have to look at it differently then how you would create other types of image from the very beginning.

Blankness, nothingness, voids...these must be visualized and recognized in the landscape before composition even comes into play.

I don't know if I would agree with that unless you mean thinking in broader, low detail terms (ie, blurring the scene to see certain relationships without being distracted by detail).

I'm attracted to a subject and think about how I want to portray it and then the elements I want to use. Or sometimes, the scene is there and I back into those thoughts as a check.

Right, but you just said above that you're 'not sure you ever have negative space as a goal..."

A negative space image is just as much about the space around your primary subject as the subject itself. Your mind needs to be thinking about nothingness and how to portray that. Incidentally you have that main subject (possibly) that you then work into the scene.

Also, the 'nothingness' I speak about can have texture and color, to some degree. But that is a whole other issue.

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stevo23 Forum Pro • Posts: 22,435
Re: What is (and is not) "Negative Space"? (And how do you use it.)

Goethe wrote:

stevo23 wrote:

Goethe wrote:

stevo23 wrote:

The question to ask is not "how do you use negative space" but "how does the negative space in a given photo contribute to the goal?"

But if the goal of the photo is negative space then thinking how to use it, how to create it, is integral.

Not sure I ever have negative space as a goal, so not sure how that works.

And yet you are arguing how it works.

So it would seem. IE, I wouldn't start with negative space as a goal.

I feel that if a person things, "I need to learn how to use negative space", they are likely not focusing on the primary aspects of composition and will be unlikely to use negative space well.

Negative space is not entirely about composition per se. Composition is always sort of a finalization tool in an image, and negative photography is no exception. Negative space is more of a primary consideration in which you are looking for shapes rather then textures.

Then I wonder if you're not talking about figure to ground relationship?

No, although a lot of what I posted featured silhouettes. In a negative space photo the image is about, well, 'negative space'. It is a concentrated and purposeful lack of positive structure placed around the positive element of the image. You really have to go into the image creation process thinking about this type of result. I mean, sometimes it can happen serendipitously due to the random factor built into the universe. But if you are trying to create such an image you have to look at it differently then how you would create other types of image from the very beginning.

Blankness, nothingness, voids...these must be visualized and recognized in the landscape before composition even comes into play.

I don't know if I would agree with that unless you mean thinking in broader, low detail terms (ie, blurring the scene to see certain relationships without being distracted by detail).

I'm attracted to a subject and think about how I want to portray it and then the elements I want to use. Or sometimes, the scene is there and I back into those thoughts as a check.

Right, but you just said above that you're 'not sure you ever have negative space as a goal..."

A negative space image is just as much about the space around your primary subject as the subject itself. Your mind needs to be thinking about nothingness and how to portray that. Incidentally you have that main subject (possibly) that you then work into the scene.

Also, the 'nothingness' I speak about can have texture and color, to some degree. But that is a whole other issue.

So you're making nothingness the subject then. That seems different from negative space which some see as an element of composition. Not trying to be argumentative, just not sure I get what's being proposed here.

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lilBuddha Veteran Member • Posts: 4,376
Re: What is (and is not) "Negative Space"? (And how do you use it.)

stevo23 wrote:

Goethe wrote:

stevo23 wrote:

Goethe wrote:

stevo23 wrote:

The question to ask is not "how do you use negative space" but "how does the negative space in a given photo contribute to the goal?"

But if the goal of the photo is negative space then thinking how to use it, how to create it, is integral.

Not sure I ever have negative space as a goal, so not sure how that works.

And yet you are arguing how it works.

So it would seem. IE, I wouldn't start with negative space as a goal.

I feel that if a person things, "I need to learn how to use negative space", they are likely not focusing on the primary aspects of composition and will be unlikely to use negative space well.

Negative space is not entirely about composition per se. Composition is always sort of a finalization tool in an image, and negative photography is no exception. Negative space is more of a primary consideration in which you are looking for shapes rather then textures.

Then I wonder if you're not talking about figure to ground relationship?

No, although a lot of what I posted featured silhouettes. In a negative space photo the image is about, well, 'negative space'. It is a concentrated and purposeful lack of positive structure placed around the positive element of the image. You really have to go into the image creation process thinking about this type of result. I mean, sometimes it can happen serendipitously due to the random factor built into the universe. But if you are trying to create such an image you have to look at it differently then how you would create other types of image from the very beginning.

Blankness, nothingness, voids...these must be visualized and recognized in the landscape before composition even comes into play.

I don't know if I would agree with that unless you mean thinking in broader, low detail terms (ie, blurring the scene to see certain relationships without being distracted by detail).

I'm attracted to a subject and think about how I want to portray it and then the elements I want to use. Or sometimes, the scene is there and I back into those thoughts as a check.

Right, but you just said above that you're 'not sure you ever have negative space as a goal..."

A negative space image is just as much about the space around your primary subject as the subject itself. Your mind needs to be thinking about nothingness and how to portray that. Incidentally you have that main subject (possibly) that you then work into the scene.

Also, the 'nothingness' I speak about can have texture and color, to some degree. But that is a whole other issue.

So you're making nothingness the subject then. That seems different from negative space which some see as an element of composition. Not trying to be argumentative, just not sure I get what's being proposed here.

Negative space is never the subject. It can be just as important as the subject, though.

For me, the image that I see is the important thing, negative space or not. However, thinking in terms of making a an image using negative space helps one become aware of the uses of negative space. It can be a creative exercise to expand how one sees potential images.

khunpapa
khunpapa Senior Member • Posts: 2,638
Re: What is (and is not) "Negative Space"? (And how do you use it.)

It's the space between me and my wife. It's essential for us to continue being individual each but unseparable pair.

Forphoto,it'stheseasthespacebetweenthewords. Withoutitthepictureissocrowdedandmaybeconfusing. Thepostivespaceissomethinglikethecomma. Itexistenceclearlyseparatestwo,ormore,objectswithputdoubt.

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Just Tim 4
Just Tim 4 Contributing Member • Posts: 692
Re: What is (and is not) "Negative Space"? (And how do you use it.)
3

Interesting conversation...

But I feel that in a lot of forum talk we seek mainly to classify and label, convert concepts to absolutes and move them away from more abstract notions. We also seem to create understandings based on the meanings of the words we use to label...

I think as photographers we tend to deal with absolutes and a *visual reality*, we see objects and things as being real because we photograph real objects against a background. We don't tend to view things from a painter's perspective such as how do I create the impression of a shape against a background and how will it be perceived?

Positive/negative space is simply an understanding of the representation of shape on a 2D surface. If I make a black mark on a white sheet then I create a shape and your interpretation is always that the shape is the positive object and the rest is the negative space:

If I reverse it the globe is still the shape and the black becomes the negative space because that is how we generally perceive it to be:

So I can create a black globe on a white background or I can use a black background to create a white globe. The point is that in understanding the shape you must understand that you need both, the background defines the shape in the same way as the shape defines the background. They are essentially two shapes but you only perceive one. The shape you perceive is generally known as positive space and the background you dismiss as being *not the shape* is known as the negative space. I can draw either to create a shape and I can use the shape of the background that defines the subject as a compositional element as it is a shape in it's own right. You just don't perceive it as such because of the assumptions you make when you view the image.

I can also create a relationship between the figure and the ground that affects the way you interpret the image and the spacial relationships between them:

SonyOB Contributing Member • Posts: 722
Re: What is (and is not) "Negative Space"? (And how do you use it.)
1

Love you, man,

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stevo23 Forum Pro • Posts: 22,435
Re: What is (and is not) "Negative Space"? (And how do you use it.)

Just Tim 4 wrote:

Interesting conversation...

But I feel that in a lot of forum talk we seek mainly to classify and label, convert concepts to absolutes and move them away from more abstract notions. We also seem to create understandings based on the meanings of the words we use to label...

I think as photographers we tend to deal with absolutes and a *visual reality*, we see objects and things as being real because we photograph real objects against a background. We don't tend to view things from a painter's perspective such as how do I create the impression of a shape against a background and how will it be perceived?

Positive/negative space is simply an understanding of the representation of shape on a 2D surface. If I make a black mark on a white sheet then I create a shape and your interpretation is always that the shape is the positive object and the rest is the negative space:

If I reverse it the globe is still the shape and the black becomes the negative space because that is how we generally perceive it to be:

So I can create a black globe on a white background or I can use a black background to create a white globe. The point is that in understanding the shape you must understand that you need both, the background defines the shape in the same way as the shape defines the background. They are essentially two shapes but you only perceive one. The shape you perceive is generally known as positive space and the background you dismiss as being *not the shape* is known as the negative space. I can draw either to create a shape and I can use the shape of the background that defines the subject as a compositional element as it is a shape in it's own right. You just don't perceive it as such because of the assumptions you make when you view the image.

I can also create a relationship between the figure and the ground that affects the way you interpret the image and the spacial relationships between them:

So then there isn't really "negative space" as an actual or useful concept, just figure to ground or greatest contrast.

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Just Tim 4
Just Tim 4 Contributing Member • Posts: 692
Re: What is (and is not) "Negative Space"? (And how do you use it.)
2

stevo23 wrote:

So then there isn't really "negative space" as an actual or useful concept, just figure to ground or greatest contrast.

This is the part I don't understand, (or is it because I fail to communicate the idea properly?), that on forums we don't question our base assumptions or the way in which we see. We generally assume that because we see something in an image that it is an intrinsic property of an image and is therefore contained within an image and can be categorised and labelled. We also view the opinions of others and instinctively try to fit them within our own base assumptions. We try to fit new ideas into our current understanding rather then see that the concepts are actually about changing and questioning that viewpoint and understanding.

It doesn't seem to occur to some that the concept of negative space is perceptual and that it may in fact be the act of looking and seeking to apply an order to gain an understanding of what we see that creates it.

It also has nothing to do with contrast as I can just as easily use an outline drawing.

That you can't see past the object and it's reality is your shortcoming, and a common one. You see and recognise the object without questioning why you see and recognise the reality of the object in a 2D representation.

I understand that when I draw a shape I am actually creating two shapes, a positive and a negative form, even though the viewer generally only sees the one. That the relationship between the positive and negative forms reveals the shape and can be a powerful tool. I find it an incredibly useful concept in understanding the true nature of 2D representation and how people see and interpret images.

SonyOB Contributing Member • Posts: 722
Re: What is (and is not) "Negative Space"? (And how do you use it.)

Am I reading you correctly when I understand that the intrinsic property of an image is not directly available to us but we are in fact dealing with a construct of our visual apparatus which has all kinds of biases related to our animal nature, our culture and our mental state and which is in fact just a virtual phenomenon created by the neural networks that also create the image of ourselves looking at the image?

This is something I could relate to as to me it explains the pleasure I get from looking at impressionist and non-figurative art. I enjoy the 'aha'-experience when the image makes some deep sense in my mind even though I might not be able to express it in any relevant way. 'The Pleasure of Finding Out' as Feynman would say it.

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stevo23 Forum Pro • Posts: 22,435
Re: What is (and is not) "Negative Space"? (And how do you use it.)

Just Tim 4 wrote:

stevo23 wrote:

So then there isn't really "negative space" as an actual or useful concept, just figure to ground or greatest contrast.

This is the part I don't understand, (or is it because I fail to communicate the idea properly?), that on forums we don't question our base assumptions or the way in which we see. We generally assume that because we see something in an image that it is an intrinsic property of an image and is therefore contained within an image and can be categorised and labelled. We also view the opinions of others and instinctively try to fit them within our own base assumptions. We try to fit new ideas into our current understanding rather then see that the concepts are actually about changing and questioning that viewpoint and understanding.

It doesn't seem to occur to some that the concept of negative space is perceptual and that it may in fact be the act of looking and seeking to apply an order to gain an understanding of what we see that creates it.

It also has nothing to do with contrast as I can just as easily use an outline drawing.

That you can't see past the object and it's reality is your shortcoming, and a common one. You see and recognise the object without questioning why you see and recognise the reality of the object in a 2D representation.

I understand that when I draw a shape I am actually creating two shapes, a positive and a negative form, even though the viewer generally only sees the one. That the relationship between the positive and negative forms reveals the shape and can be a powerful tool. I find it an incredibly useful concept in understanding the true nature of 2D representation and how people see and interpret images.

Not sure I get what you're saying in all this. Nice photos here - negative space? They seem to stray from that idea a good bit. Now you're showing a lot of other techniques.

What I'm advocating here is that negative space isn't a "thing". Rather, design techniques are and they are sometimes interpreted as "he's using negative space to do xyz" when in reality, something else is going on. And then students think that negative space is a thing and they create a lot of schlock because they don't get what's really happening from a symmetry/design/story standpoint.

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