Challenge #7: Positive use of negative space   

In this Challenge, you are invited to create images that feature ‘negative space’ as a key component of the picture. Negative space is the area surrounding the main subject in a photograph that is left unoccupied and it provides a powerful compositional tool that helps define the ‘positive space’ or main focus of the image. When used together creatively, negative and positive space can work to elevate the impact of a photograph.

Please submit up to five images, shot during the Challenge period rather than from your archives. The Challenge lends itself well to outdoor shooting so you should be able to take advantage of the summer weather, but you can also do it indoors should that be necessary or suit you better. The main subject(s) can be anything you choose, the choice is yours. We look forward to receiving a wide variety of striking and original images.


Composition is key to creating a strong and effective image, and the space around your main subject matter can make or break your image. Filling up the entire frame with objects, lines, people and shapes can over-complicate things, and it can be refreshing to strip a scene down to its absolute bare essentials. This allows the focus of an image to be on a single strong subject, allowing it room to ‘breathe’.

Negative space is one of the most powerful ways to enhance the impact of the composition and it can work especially well if it takes up a relatively large proportion of the frame. The contrast in size catches the viewer’s attention and lead their eyes towards the smaller area of positive space taken up by the main subject, making them even more curious about the subject and encouraging them to inspect it more intently. In a way, the smaller the subject in the positive space is, the more noticeable it will become.

Negative space can also provide a contrast between light and dark, or colors and shapes.

One new maple

Your image need not have only one main subject. You can have two or even more, although using negative space can get more challenging once the main subjects take up more and more of the frame. Neither does the negative space have to be plain – it can simply be out of focus.

Sweet Poppy Bokeh!

One interesting consequence of negative space is that commonly it creates calming images, portraying a feeling or emotion such as loneliness, solitude, peace, relaxation or serenity since the size difference between the main subject and the surrounding area can make the main subject feel isolated. This can enable the creation of emotive images with dramatic impact.


The placement of the negative space relative to the main subject(s) can also affect the mood of the image. Negative space can be used, for example, to introduce movement into or out of the frame by placing the subject near the edge of the frame. Which edge you use can also have an impact on how the picture might be interpreted, with a subject entering the frame giving a very different feel compared with one where they are about to exit.

Black on gold


Incorporating negative space into images can be rewarding but at the same time quite challenging. Sometimes situations will present themselves where it is clear what to include in the image, whereas at other times you will have to be more creative to find the proper framing for a subject to achieve this type of image.

  • Consider your choice of background and ensure that it enhances your main subject while providing the desired contrast.
  • Make sure that there are no distracting elements in the background as this can remove the simplicity from the shot.
  • A general rule of thumb is to make sure that the negative space takes up more of the space in the frame than the subject you are focusing on.
  • When you shoot with negative space in mind, your composition should be based primarily on the negative space and not the subject. You should place your subject according to where you want your negative space to be.
  • Think about how you use the negative space. For example: Is your subject looking into the negative space, or is the negative space behind them? This might depend on whether you want the subject to look open and at ease or more claustrophobic and unsettled.
  • If your background involves multiple objects, make sure that they blend in with the background and are in the periphery of the view so as to not detract from the main subject of the picture.
  • If you are shooting close-ups, a wide aperture (low f-number) can often make strong images easier to accomplish by blurring the background.
  • Experiment with the space around your subject and play with the composition. As long as you can create a balance between the positive and negative space you have every chance of creating an interesting ‘take’ on the subject and and an effective and thought-provoking picture.

Submitting your images – please read and check before submitting

Please submit up to five ‘negative space’ images no later than midnight on Sunday 19 July to, ideally by WeTransfer.

Please stick to the guidelines for submission as set out for ‘Challenges’ under Submitting Images on the website. In particular, to help the web team, please check that your images conform with the following tick list:

  • Images are JPEG files.
  • Image dimensions are a maximum of 1600 pixels wide or 1200 pixels high.
  • Image sizes are less than 500kb. If not please save your images at a lower resolution until they are.
  • The ‘title metadata field’ includes your ‘image title’ and‘your name’ in the following way (with a comma and NO underscores or hyphens as separators between words): A favourite York street, Joe Bloggs.
  • There is NO other metadata in the caption or description. (Note to Olympus users, you will have to delete ‘Olympus digital camera’ from the caption field.)
  • Your images are saved with file names as in the following exampleA favourite York street, Joe Bloggs ie exactly as in the ‘title metadata field’ (see above).

If you are not sure how to submit your images, please ask so that we can help you. We will acknowledge receipt of your images, so please get in touch if you don’t hear from us.

If you’re not a Club member, you are more than welcome to join in this Challenge. Please feel free to send us up to five images and we’ll post our favourites in the Gallery.


With thanks to many on-line sources for ideas and inspiration for this Challenge, especially

Pictures are taken, with thanks, from Creative Commons, authors and licences as follows: (1) One New Maple, BelizeHank, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0; (2) Bird, derpoly, CC BY-SA 2.0; (3) Uluru, tomux, CC BY-NC 2.0; (4) Sweet Poppy Bokeh! cogdogblog, CC BY 2.0; (5) Candle, Walrus36, CC BY 2.0; (6) Black on Gold, geoffbarrattgeoff, CC BY-NC 2.0.