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Minimalism: Using Negative Space In Your Photographs

Sometimes it’s nice and refreshing to just strip a photo or scene down to it’s absolute bare essentials. Often times, I get too caught up in trying to fill every part of the frame with something interesting. The problem is, sometimes when we try to fill up the entire frame with objects, lines, people, shapes, etc, we actually overcomplicate things and leave the viewer wanting a place to rest their eyes.

The trick/secret is this: Negative space can be just as interesting in a photograph as anything else, if done right.

I encourage you to consider this the next time you go out shooting. Incorporating negative space into your images can be very rewarding, and at the same time quite challenging. Sometimes situations will present themselves where it’s clear. Other times you will have to get creative with a subject to find the proper framing to create this type of image. Here are a few examples of negative space and minimalism to get your creative juices flowing…

Image: Image by Brian Matiash

Image by Brian Matiash

In the above image, Brian Matiash actually set out to create a series of minimalistic, black and white images around Staten Island. This is just one image from that series. This is also a great example of successfully breaking the “rule” of photography about not placing your horizons in the center. Sometimes the composition of the image and the leading lines within the frame demand it. I believe that if Brian had composed the scene with less sky and more water, the reflections of the old pier would be complete in the scene, and he would lose that anchor to the bottom of the frame. On the flip side, if he had composed with more sky and less water, the image would lose interest by cutting out key parts of the reflection.

Image: Image by Mike Olbinski

Image by Mike Olbinski

I love this image by Mike Olbinski. It’s from a photo shoot he did for a family back in December (here’s a link to the post). The post Mike wrote speaks to the importance of getting family portraits done and getting them done now. Just months after this photo shoot was completed, the great grandfather in this image passed away. While the loss of a loved one is always a time of mourning, it’s really great to know the little girl in this image will now forever have this beautiful image of her and her great grandfather. The simplicity and minimalism in the image is incredible. The light on the subjects is just enough to provide definition to the girl and the palm trees in the background frame the shot beautifully. Great image Mike.

Image: Image by James Brandon (that's me!)

Image by James Brandon (that's me!)

Finally, here’s an image from my own portfolio. In my blog post on this image, I discussed how I have this sort of list in the back of my head of shots that I want to get. This image was one of those list items. I didn’t go out to get this shot, but when I saw this hawk flying over head, I instantly knew it could be one of the shots on my list! I converted the image to black and white, and cranked up the exposure to completely blow out the sky. Yes, I intentionally created blown highlights. Oh no!


I hope this quick post will inspire you to go out and incorporate negative space into some of your work, if you haven’t already. It really is nice to go out sometimes with the intention of creating a certain type of image and finding creative ways to execute on that idea.

If you have examples of minimalism in your work, we want to see it! Post the images, or links to the images, in the comments below. If you have anything to add, be sure to let us know as well.

As always, be sure to follow me on Twitter (@jamesdbrandon), and be sure to @reply me and introduce yourself!

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James Brandon
James Brandon

is a landscape photographer and educator residing in Dallas, Texas. Join 20,000+ photographers and get access to his free video tutorial library at his website. James also has an online store full of video courses, ebooks, presets and more. Use the coupon code “DPS25” for an exclusive discount!

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