Tips + Techniques

8 Creative Ideas for Using Negative Space in Portraits

May 18, 2023

By SLRLounge

Negative space in portrait photography refers to the use of empty areas in the frame to enhance the subject and create a visually striking image. By incorporating empty areas effectively, photographers can bring a sense of minimalism, balance, and emphasis to their portraits. In this article, we will explore eight creative ideas for using negative space in portrait photography to capture stunning and captivating images. From black and white editing to incorporating architectural elements, these ideas will help you elevate your portrait photography to new heights.

The images in this article are provided by the photographers at Wedding Maps and used with permission.

Idea 1: Combine Negative Space with Black & White Editing

One powerful technique is to pair negative space with black and white editing. By removing color distractions, you can emphasize the contrast between the subject and the empty space, creating a visually striking image with a strong sense of minimalism. This approach draws attention to the subject’s emotions, expressions, and features, resulting in a captivating portrait that speaks volumes.

© Nat Orce (Website | Wedding Maps Profile)

Idea 2: Find Dark Backgrounds To Conceal Distracting Elements

Choosing a dark background can help create negative space that conceals any distracting elements in the frame. By placing the subject against a dark or shadowy backdrop, you can isolate them and draw attention solely to their presence. This technique adds a touch of mystery and focuses the viewer’s gaze on the subject’s form and expression, resulting in an intimate and compelling portrait.

© Courtland Photography (Website | Wedding Maps Profile)

Idea 3: Find Clear Skies for Negative Space Portraits

One of the simplest ways to incorporate negative space is by utilizing clear skies as the backdrop. By positioning the subject against an expansive sky, you can create a sense of vastness and tranquility. The wide-open space around the subject allows them to stand out prominently, emphasizing their presence and creating a serene and ethereal atmosphere within the image.

© Kristin Cheatwood (Website | Wedding Maps Profile)

Idea 4: Find and Bring Out Vibrant Skies For Dynamic Images

To add a sense of drama and energy to your negative space portraits, seek out vibrant skies. This can include dramatic cloud formations or even stormy weather. By juxtaposing the subject against a dynamic sky, you create a powerful contrast that enhances the visual impact of the portrait. The interplay between the subject and the vibrant sky can result in breathtaking images such as the example below.

© Jessie and Dallin  (Website | Wedding Maps Profile)

Idea 5: Find Architectural Elements for Your Negative Space Photos

Incorporating architectural elements can add a unique dimension to your negative space portraits. Look for interesting structures, such as doorways, arches, windows, bridges, and large buildings that can frame the subject within the empty space. This technique not only adds visual interest but also provides a sense of context and storytelling to the portrait. The combination of human presence and architectural elements creates a captivating interplay that draws the viewer’s attention.

© Afonso Godhino (Website | Wedding Maps Profile)

Idea 6: Capture Vibrant Sunsets with Negative Space

Sunsets offer a magical backdrop for negative space portraits. As the golden hour casts warm and soft light, it creates a stunning canvas for capturing beautiful and emotive images. Positioning the subject against the radiant colors of the setting sun can result in breathtaking silhouettes or softly illuminated portraits. This combination of natural beauty and empty space creates a romantic and captivating atmosphere.

© 4 Eyes Photography (Website | Wedding Maps Profile)

Idea 7: (Safely) Place Your Subjects on Edges

For a more adventurous approach, consider placing your subjects on the edges of the frame. By allowing a significant portion of the image to be filled with empty space, you can create a sense of tension and anticipation. This technique adds an element of visual interest and encourages the viewer to engage with the portrait on a deeper level. However, ensure that the placement of the subject maintains a balance within the composition and that they are safely positioned without any risks or hazards.

© Sean Thurston (Website | Wedding Maps Profile)

Idea 8: Combine Negative Space Compositions with Silhouette

Silhouettes can be a powerful way to incorporate negative space into your portraits. Position your subject against a bright light source, such as the setting sun or a well-lit window, so that their form is outlined in shadow against the luminous background. This technique adds a sense of mystery, anonymity, and artistic flair to your images. The contrast between the subject’s dark silhouette and the surrounding empty space creates a visually striking and evocative composition.

© Dan Dalstra (Website | Wedding Maps Profile)

More Negative Space Examples and Conclusion

As you explore the possibilities of negative space in portrait photography, don’t be afraid to experiment and push your creative boundaries. The examples provided in this article are just the beginning of what you can achieve. Keep in mind that negative space should complement your subject and evoke emotions, whether it’s through minimalism, storytelling, or visual impact. By mastering the art of incorporating negative space into your portraits, you can create captivating images that convey depth, emotion, and a unique artistic vision.

© Lets Make a Memory (Website | Wedding Maps Profile)

In conclusion, understanding how to effectively use negative space in portrait photography is a valuable skill that can elevate the impact of your images. The ideas presented in this article serve as inspiration to help you explore different ways to incorporate negative space into your compositions. By combining techniques such as black and white editing, utilizing dark backgrounds, capturing clear or vibrant skies, integrating architectural elements, capturing sunsets, placing subjects on edges, and experimenting with silhouettes, you can create breathtaking portraits that convey a sense of beauty, emotion, and artistic expression. Embrace the power of negative space and let it transform your portrait photography into captivating works of art.