Minimalism: Using Negative Space In Your Photographs

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 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 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 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!

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

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!

Some Older Comments

  • blueb3ll April 27, 2013 05:49 pm

    Seagull on the ferry

  • kangjie June 25, 2011 10:29 pm

    so here is my photo

  • Jamie March 23, 2011 12:08 am

    [eimg link='' title='same rock and lake' url='']

    The whole article makes you look at the potential picture in a different way. More is Less

  • wild iris March 22, 2011 05:58 am

    I kept thinking I would use these tips in a photo shoot soon, but when I did, it happened quite subconsciously - I would never have appreciated the beauty of minimalism had I not read this article. Thank you!
    I used minimalism in some of the photos in this post, taken for the "1000 Cranes for Japan" Project on Flickr:

  • Udaya March 21, 2011 05:55 pm

    really amazing photos. Hope to see some other breathe taking pictures next time.
    As being a new in this photography, I would like to share some of my moments too next time.

  • Rhett McCarthy March 17, 2011 08:37 am

    MIKE! shouldn't have cut out the top of that tree.. Good image otherwise.
    Just seeing a vital part of the shot missing hurts my heart! :/
    Happy shooting to all... Please check out my Page!

  • Xinha March 16, 2011 09:22 am

    Love this topic! :)

  • Paul March 16, 2011 07:46 am

    I'm finding this article has stuck with me more than most and I'm actually looking and finding examples of negative spoace photography more and more. A couple of shots have even been post edited to emphasise thios element. Thanks again.

  • Sharen Gustafson March 16, 2011 05:16 am

    I absolutely love this newsletter. I look forward to it every week! Learning all the technical stuff about photography has been tough for me, but you have help make things so clear. I shot my minimalistic shot while taking my daughter into her dental appointment (I've got a camera with meat all times. haha). I've been wanting to get a picture of a jet with it's stream. The only thing I added to this picture were the words and of course, the heart shapes to look like they were coming out of the stream. Thank you again, for all of your help!![eimg url='' title='183945_189443591086361_151054124925308_497307_5506771_n.jpg']

  • BoonHoi March 14, 2011 09:01 pm

    took these last year..

  • Dulcey Lima March 14, 2011 03:12 am

    [eimg link='' title='IMG_5107' url='']

  • Jamie March 14, 2011 12:32 am

    [eimg link='' title='sea gull looking' url='']

    I enjoy seeing all the great pics and reading about the different techniques. Please comment- any critism is valued.

  • Samudra March 13, 2011 03:28 pm

    [eimg link='' title='Uh oh!' url='']

  • Johnny Mi?acký March 13, 2011 02:02 am

    My friend pointed me to this article after viewing some of my minimalist pictures. I'd like to share them with you too. This is my set Minimalist on Flickr
    Feel free to leave a comment.
    Have a great day, my friends.

  • Tom Stocks March 13, 2011 12:26 am

    Great post - some amazing shots here! I've just got into photography and really want to get better (and know more) so this is a great blog for me!

    I attach a couple of my recent photos and would really welcome any comments! I've tried to use minimal deatil here and also washed some shots out a bit with overexposure - good idea or not?

    Also what's the best way to start selling photos? any recommendations for websites etc?

    Cheers! Tom[eimg url='' title='9ohRu1'][eimg url='' title='9ohQFq'][eimg url='' title='9ohNzN']

  • Amitav Roy March 12, 2011 08:54 pm

    I found your article very informative and has forced me to think that way. Yes, I liked the examples that you have provided in your article and the first two in particular has forced me to think of experimenting with the same next time I am out with my camera. If I get some one ones, will sure post it on my website ;)

    Nice article.

  • Victor Reynolds March 12, 2011 05:01 pm

    Great article. I find that negative space can make for a powerful image. This is an old image, but still speaks to the subject.[eimg url='' title='P8211531.JPG']

  • Mac March 12, 2011 01:56 pm

    As a novice photographer I find these tip wonderful they give me insight I find lacking in class... Plus the ideas are invaluable... I will try this negative space idea and post my results... Tho I doubt they will be any where as good as work already posted mac

  • reno March 12, 2011 10:20 am

    this is great! thanks

  • Chris March 12, 2011 08:45 am

    Lone bridge

  • charles March 12, 2011 08:30 am

    I have another example, but this is what is online. . .

  • Richard Wagenaar March 12, 2011 06:29 am

  • Richard Wagenaar March 12, 2011 06:27 am

    This picture I made on Iceland in 2009. I kind a liked the idea of this picture being so empty. Giving the puffins all the attention..[eimg url='' title='Foto-HTDVYA4Z-D.jpg']

  • Melissa Clark March 12, 2011 12:54 am

    I really loved this! As an amateur photographer just really beginning to get into this, I don't always know all the "right things to do", or even all the terms. I recently had a photographer friend tell me NOT to use negative space in my photos. I was so puzzled! I truly loved my photos the way they were! I toyed with cropping or not to?!? Ultimately, I figured it was my work, my eye for detail, and I knew what I set out to accomplish when I took that shot! Now reading this, I know there is nothing wrong with using negative space in your photographs!
    Those photos are very nice as well, many thanks for sharing!!!
    Below is the link to the photo I was told I needed to crop and take away all the distraction. This is a photo from a family shoot I did. Hope you don't mind me sharing! :-)
    [eimg url='!/photo.php?fbid=203666476311081&set=a.203640146313714.54248.192592924085103&theater' title='photo.php?fbid=203666476311081&set=a.203640146313714.54248.192592924085103&theater']

  • Dulcey Lima March 11, 2011 03:24 pm

    thanks for this informative and simple description of the use of negative space in photography. It has given me a new way to look at my pictures. Check out my website for some of my own efforts.

  • Dulcey Lima March 11, 2011 03:02 pm

    Thanks for this simple and informative article about the use of negative space. It gave me a fresh perspective on a way to evaluate my own pictures.

  • Pete Stretch March 11, 2011 12:09 pm

    I really enjoyed the article and the pictures. Here's one of mine in Costa Rica.

  • ratkellar March 11, 2011 10:27 am

    Having lived in Japan and spent time in the Orient, what is NOT in the picture is an ancient motif. We had Snowpocalypse in Chicago last month, and every picture could be made minmalist with 22 inches of snow. I ussually prefer busy shots, but the blankness is also a great composition tool creating contrast and framing, especially when I got dark branches framing a child or dog or icicles with an otherwise full white background & foreground. Autofocus did not work well sometimes, though.
    I loved thet hawk shot, but I don't think it would have been less dramatic with a full blue sky background. (Always a backseat shooter, I guess -- A messy cloud background would have been less interesting.)

  • Emily March 11, 2011 08:49 am

    Here's the link to a blog post I did with some minimalist pictures:

  • Chet Carter March 11, 2011 06:41 am

    [eimg link='' title='Dark Palm' url='']

  • ObetMac March 11, 2011 06:12 am

    My minimalistic work as a beginner in digital photography

  • Peter Richardson March 11, 2011 04:48 am

  • Samudra March 11, 2011 04:18 am

    This is a shot where I wanted to use the negative space. Although a perfect shot would have been with a *LITTLE* bit of sky in the top-right corner, I was quite happy with the results here :)

  • Patrick Barber March 11, 2011 04:03 am

    As a graphic designer I think a lot about effective uses of negative space (or "white space," as we call it) and I appreciate your concise review of its value in photography. Here's one of mine from a few years back.

    [eimg link='' title='Distressed type' url='']

  • Andre March 11, 2011 03:47 am

    Third try: I took this one bout 5 years ago with an HP Photosmart 945 (hope the link works...).

  • Keith Dixon March 11, 2011 03:32 am

    Fantastic, I love negative space. Great article.


  • Charlotte March 11, 2011 03:03 am

    [eimg url='' title='DSC_1808.jpg']

  • Jamie March 11, 2011 03:00 am

    [eimg link='' title='Sandcastles ??' url='']

  • Sudha March 11, 2011 02:59 am

    You described it right - refreshing. I've always felt that little is not really too little.

  • Charlotte March 11, 2011 02:58 am

    Taking photographs of birds in my backyard often results in negative space images. This isn't my best one, but I like it.
    From 2011-03-05

  • Theo March 11, 2011 02:55 am

    A misty scene easies the job. Here is my shot from a wonderful misty morning in Netherlands

  • Rodrigo Berbert March 11, 2011 02:48 am

    Here is one my favorite... anyway.. i`m still starting... hehe
    [eimg link='' title='_DSC6225' url='']

  • JesseAdams March 11, 2011 02:40 am

    Here is a shot I just took a couple days ago.

  • Yogendra March 7, 2011 08:39 pm

  • Bryce Evans March 5, 2011 03:35 am

    Here is one of my favourite photos from my portfolio. Great article!

  • Erik Kerstenbeck March 4, 2011 01:12 pm


    I like to use a black backdrop during my Studio Sessions and a Softbox with a grid to direct the light to my shot. This simple composition of a Hockey Stick and Puck seem to be floating in space...minimal? I think so.

    The Slapshot:

    Regards, Erik

  • Jean-Pierre March 4, 2011 12:58 pm

    Hopefully this isn't a double post. Thanks for looking; please feel free to comment.

  • Adrian March 4, 2011 12:31 pm

    My minimalist rustman.

  • Jean-Pierre March 4, 2011 11:05 am

    With everything, there's a time and a place for this. here's a couple of mine:

    [eimg url='' title='wbirdairflat+%2528watermark%2529.jpg']

    [eimg url='' title='waterduckflat+%2528watermark%2529.jpg']

  • Mei Teng March 4, 2011 01:18 am

    Sometimes, less is indeed more. Love the first image.

  • Naomi H March 3, 2011 09:53 pm

    Love the photo and story of the great granddaughter and father. And I like how you wrote a commentary for each photo, helping me to see things.

    I'm into blown out skies right now

    A small statue set to the rising sun

  • Richard Harlos March 3, 2011 06:08 pm

    My minimalist Ant missing leg

  • Bruce March 3, 2011 03:59 pm

    Thanks for the article. I just took this shot today, and then read your article. Very minimalistic.

    [eimg link='' title='Standing in the spot light (alternate)' url='']

  • fortunato_uno March 3, 2011 02:20 pm

    Hey james, I've got one.!/media/794472-dpp-1014-little-guy
    this flower is only about 1/2 inch tall. the size allowed me to creat neg-space. the colors add the appeal of that space.

  • Jamie A. MacDonald March 3, 2011 12:22 pm

    Agreed...Negative space is fun to work with!

    [eimg link='' title='Cosmo Basking' url='']

  • Jamie A. MacDonald March 3, 2011 12:06 pm

    I have a few of these. ;)

    [eimg link='' title='Cosmo Basking' url='']

  • James Brandon March 3, 2011 03:38 am

    Very cool everyone. I love going through all these images, very inspiring stuff! Keep it coming and thanks for the responses!

  • 3rd March 3, 2011 03:34 am

    took this while in the middle of nowhere.

  • noreen March 3, 2011 03:12 am

    right on the topic..this is the monthly challenge for our meetup group for the month of march...

    here's a version of mine!

  • Dim Kand March 3, 2011 12:37 am

  • Ekaterina V. Naumenko March 2, 2011 11:43 pm

  • bycostello March 2, 2011 10:08 pm

    it's often what is not there si more important than what is actually there...

  • armis March 2, 2011 10:06 pm

    Here are a few contributions:

  • Tomasz Worek March 2, 2011 07:49 pm

    My version of negative space:

  • Hans March 2, 2011 07:04 pm

    I love lots of negative space. Here is my contribution. I took this shot with a very low angle. 28 mm. (DX).
    Good bye winter?

  • Rohit Acharya March 2, 2011 05:43 pm

    Use of lines and white space.

  • Rohit Acharya March 2, 2011 05:41 pm

    My take on use of lines and white space :)

    [eimg link='' title='Sun Lit' url='']

  • TropicalTies March 2, 2011 03:59 pm

    Great article. I used negative space here to try and create a feeling of isolation

  • Eric Lam March 2, 2011 03:44 pm

    my 2 attempts

  • Keith Watson March 2, 2011 11:15 am

    This is a shot I took out front with negative space.
    [url=][eimg link='' title='Yellow Lilly' url=''][/url]
    [url=]Yellow Lilly[/url] by [url=]Keith Watson aka Keith Watson[/url], on Flickr

  • Lisa March 2, 2011 11:14 am

    [eimg link='' title='Lifelines.' url='']

  • Lisa March 2, 2011 11:13 am

    Negative space makes powerful images![ Will have to try and pay more attention!

  • Jason St. Petersburg Photographer March 2, 2011 08:28 am

    I am a big fan of using negative space and minimalist composition/subject matter. I was at the right spot at the right time to photograph this dolphin alone breaking the surface in Tampa Bay:

    I am about to start posting a series of minimalist shots processed with a bleach bypass filter.

  • Catherine March 2, 2011 08:01 am

    A minimal photo at the beach....

  • Tapan Shah March 2, 2011 06:35 am

    Great article,

    [eimg url='' title='bald-eagle-1-800x533.jpg']

    [eimg url='' title='bald-eagle-2-800x533.jpg']

  • michael March 2, 2011 06:11 am

    Minimalism is the most

  • Josh March 2, 2011 05:43 am

    A friend suggested I crop this to focus attention on the rocks, but with the extra negative space of the ocean, I preferred how my eyes automatically scanned the photo in a whirlpool motion.[eimg link='' title='5489093547_6671d5f5ce' url='']

  • matabum, MaP blog March 2, 2011 05:31 am

    negative space is one of my most favourite compositions... especially when shooting portraits and concerts.
    here is expample when i've mixed both- it' a portrait from concert:)

  • Mairi Macaulay March 2, 2011 05:03 am

    I love minimalist photography and need to do more of it! Here is one of my attempts:

  • Yeelen March 2, 2011 04:53 am

    This shot was once described to me by a friend as 'minimalistic but good' :)

  • Valerie Jardin March 2, 2011 04:21 am

    Nice images Brian and Mike too ;-)

  • Valerie Jardin March 2, 2011 04:19 am

    Nice images James. I love this type of photography. I recently shot the following picture in a snowy and foggy landscape and I love it because it is so simple. I hope you don't mind me sharing:

  • Ambition March 2, 2011 04:18 am

    Great article! I love the photo of the little girl with her Great-Grandfather. Touching!!

  • Claudia March 2, 2011 03:54 am

    Thanks for te article, and here is my attempt:
    [eimg link='' title='Medio a medio' url='']

  • Frej March 2, 2011 03:50 am

    Interesting article, very nice. I find it kinda hard sometimes to find these situation or moments, but sometimes it happens.
    These examples are from a zoo/aquarium:

  • Vijay March 2, 2011 03:44 am

    Yes, this aspect is usually overlooked...

    here's are my attempts using negative space -
    [eimg url='' title='1897']
    [eimg url='' title='1783']

  • ScottC March 2, 2011 03:32 am

    Great article and accompanying photos! Here's one with a dark barkground.

  • Randy Bayne March 2, 2011 03:18 am

    Great post. Nice examples, kudos to the photographers.

  • Erik Kerstenbeck March 2, 2011 03:03 am


    Great article and some images from great photographers (You really need to check their work on their websites for inspiration and guidance!).

    I would like to add that this technique can also be applied to Studio Photography. Here almost all of the image is black except for the lower third where we have the model on her back and looking at the camera.

    The Look:

    Regards, Erik
    Kerstenbeck Photographic Art

  • Dave Wilson March 2, 2011 02:56 am

    I'm really impressed that someone like Mike can pull off one of the most sensitive and touching photos I've seen in years! :-)

    (That was a compliment, Mike, honest)

  • Maik-T. Šebenik March 2, 2011 02:55 am

    Nice article with wonderful examples.

    Here is some of my minimalistic work:
    The famous "sagrada familia" church in Barcelona - I like the contrast between the steeples + cranes against the clear blue sky:

    USS Arizona memorial in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii - I call ist the "pinhole" shot:

    I don't know if it's actually "negative space", but check out the photo of palms at Kawaikui Beach, Hawaii:

  • carolyn March 2, 2011 02:53 am

    Great article. Love Brian's picture.

    Here is my attempt:!/photo.php?fbid=185926361425194&set=a.174879819196515.40455.170070809677416&theater

  • Mark March 2, 2011 02:43 am

    Minimalism photo I took last weekend of a lager. Sings in a voice of amber -

  • A.Barlow March 2, 2011 02:42 am

    Great article James. I think having negative space is a must. It gives the eye time to relax and also encourages focal points to rest on.

  • Mike Olbinski March 2, 2011 02:40 am

    Thank you James for including that photo of's a beautiful one and very meaningful. A kind old man who had some final images taken of him before he left this world. So crazy sad, but it was amazing to have these for the family to see forever.

  • Patsy Petersen March 2, 2011 02:18 am

    Great information!!
    [eimg link='' title='Just gliding over the Gulf of Mexico!' url='']

  • Chris Nitz March 2, 2011 02:14 am

    I really enjoyed this post. I will have to start planning out a few minimalism shots for something new and challenging. Thanks for the inspiration.

  • Brian Matiash March 2, 2011 02:12 am

    Solid post on a topic of photography that gets overlooked somewhat often. Great job putting it together and a hearty thanks for including one of my images as part of it. Excellent choice with Crankypants' shot, too. Very moving.

  • Jim Denham March 2, 2011 01:58 am

    Great post and examples James! Well done!

  • wallei bautista trinidad March 2, 2011 01:42 am

    Though the poem I wrote is in my language, I would like to present the photo I took and when I would translate it into English, the title would be "SPACE" .

  • Ilan March 2, 2011 12:54 am

    Correct use of minimalism in a photo is something that I really inspired to learn.
    This is something I did at home - - which obviously very easy to do, but the example above, with the girl and the old guy.... Just wow.
    Thanks for this article!