How To Use Negative Space in Food Photography
Elevate your food photography with negative space. Learn how to create balance, depth & impact. Techniques & examples included!
*This post is sponsored. All opinions are my own.*
Negative space can sound pretty pessimistic, right? Fear not. Using negative space in your work can be very positive. See, what I did just there 🙂
In order to achieve balance in your photos, you must know how to include and place negative space inside a frame. Because, like all good things, it can help a composition, but it can also ruin it.
I’ve partnered with V-Flat World to use their beautiful food photography backdrops called duo boards in some photos showcasing how I use negative space in my work. If you have never tried these, they come with a very handy pair of duo legs that you can use to hold up the board in the back. Such a nice solution!
In this article, you’ll find out:
- What negative space really is
- Why you need to start using it in your photos
- Some simple ways to include negative space in your food photos
What is negative space?
That’s the empty space around your subject, while positive space is the space filled with elements. In short, negative space is the boring part of the photo where nothing really happens. I say boring, but it’s far from boring in reality.
Your job as a food photographer is to balance negative and positive space to create enticing compositions.
We also know the term passive space in art, and that’s the space where you might have some things, but they are very neutral and almost blend with the background, so they don’t carry as much visual weight, and just like the negative space create a space for the eyes to rest.
Why is negative space important in a photo?
It adds a sense of size and scale to an image, a sense of space and gives your subject room to breathe. It will lead the viewer to the main subject.
It creates areas in the photo that recede (that’s the negative space) and areas that advance (that’s the positive space). So what this creates is dimension and layers in your photos.
Too much negative space can overwhelm and distract from the subject just as much as something very bold and bright could. On the other hand, if there’s not enough empty space, the frame might be too saturated, and adding negative space would make it look more balanced.
When done correctly, a significant amount of negative space can actually be great and make the subject even more noticeable. This way, it can give a photo a dramatic feel and look. Heck, it can almost make it look quiet and peaceful.
Simple ways to use negative space in food photography
When it comes to negative space, it can act as a frame for your subject, and using it like that will make your subject stand out.
You can approach that by placing your subject centrally and leaving room around it to make it pop and create a centerpiece for your photo. But be careful not to make it look disconnected from the rest of the image.
In the photo below, I placed my subject in the middle of the image to create a frame with negative space. But you can notice that I added some smaller elements around to make the connection with the frame edges.
Knowing that negative space holds a massive weight in a photo is essential. Much more than you might think.
This is especially important when you try to troubleshoot a photo where your subject needs to stand out. It can be a balance problem; one way to balance an image like that is by adding some empty space.
Negative space can be used to create movement in an image by leading the viewer’s eye through the composition. It can add dynamic visual interest to an image.
To do that we can use the empty space around the subject to create a sense of direction and movement that leads the viewer’s eye through the composition.
One way to create movement with empty space is to use diagonal lines or shapes. In order to know how to use this technique, you need to look at the negative space as positive, as if it were filled with elements. This way, you’ll notice the shapes it creates.
Negative space can be used to create a sense of calm or tranquility in a photo, by leaving plenty of empty space around the subject. On the other hand, it can also be used to create a sense of tension or drama by filling the frame with elements and leaving very little empty space.
MINIMAL VS. BUSY SCENES
You might be thinking: Negative space only works in minimal scenes, with only a main subject and all that negative space. But that’s definitely not the case.
Let’s look at these two photos and see where I’ve placed the subjects in relation to negative space.
In the left photo – a minimal scene – deciding where to place negative space is just a matter of left, right, up, and down. Mostly.
When it comes to busier scenes, or whenever you add additional elements to the frame, you must also look at the space between the elements and how negative space creates a connection or separation between them. Finding the right balance is achieved by proper composition, which I teach in detail in Food To Frame.
When we create images with lots of elements, we can easily create a very distracting scene, and it’s hard to know where the main subject is. It can make our eyes wander and never stop on a specific element in the frame. This is when we went too far and needed to remove some elements and introduce some empty space.
Leaving empty space is super important whenever text needs to be added on top, for example, magazines, packaging, brochures, and such.
I prepared a magazine cover mockup to give you an idea of how creating photos with the intention of placing text over can be different. For example, look at the image without text and the photo with text. The one without text might feel slightly unbalanced, but placing text over fixes that. Whereas if the picture was crowded, it would make the text hard to fit.
Negative space is here to add some lightness to the frame. It makes the photo breathe. However, adding negative space is not a rule, and many beautiful images have almost no empty space. It all comes down to what feeling you’d like to portray.