As I’ve said in other posts, the goal is to make photographs that are full frames. It’d be easy to assume that if you cram a bunch of elements into a photograph, then you’ll make a frame that is full. That’s like saying a closet full of stuff is organized and misses the point.
Remember the Volkswagen Beetle ad from the 1960’s, where the car took a small part of the ad and there was very little text? Most of the page was empty. Call it creative white space - or whatever other cliche. That ad was a complete frame, even though most of the space was not full. Careful placement of the minimal elements created a balance, a rhythm that guided you into the space along a very specific, non-linear three-dimensional path.
The point, whether in an ad or a photograph, is that negative spaces are as important as positive ones in creating full frames – which is another way of expressing the notion of three-dimensional photographs.
I was reminded again of the value of negative spaces this past weekend while editing with Matt Slaby. We were looking at his pictures of the western U.S. Many of them are vast, expansive views of this amazing part of the country. And many of them were extreme examples of negative space holding the photographs together, in the same way the VW ad works. One in particular was of a couple walking across a snowy expanse. The pair were small in the frame, off center. A feeling of immense effort to cross the expanse comes from the photo because of the way it is composed. Negative space is the key.
That’s one way negative space comes to play. Another is to think of the space that isn’t filled with activity as a shape. Is that shape interesting? Does it pinch or release your eye as it travels through the frame? Does the color of the negative space play against the color of an active space in a way that creates tension or does the relationship sooth the scene?
That’s the initial salvo in thinking about how to compose your photographs by carefully crafting the part of the frame that’s not being used.