Thursday, June 30, 2011

Negative Space

The View from Glen Eagle, 2008

(Click on picture for larger image)

Having never had more than a single art appreciation course in high school another in college, the latter of which I remember absolutely nothing about, I've had to learn about art pretty much on my own. It probably would have been easier to learn about art more formally and methodically. But I'm living proof that an autodidact can learn enough to get by from reading and looking at visual imagery whenever the opportunity presents itself.

One of the tricks of art that I’m pretty sure I never learned about in class was how to use negative space. Technically speaking, negative space is said to be any space around the primary subject. But in photography, at least, I think most of us think of negative space as a method for filling most of the frame with a single element—usually a single color—in order to highlight the primary subject that occupies the remaining area.

The View from Glen Eagle, above, shows an example of this. It was taken on the outskirts of Missoula, Montana, late on an August afternoon. It had been a beautiful day earlier in the day and would be beautiful again later. But at this moment a violent thunderstorm was about to pass. I probably shouldn’t have been standing out in the open atop a bare hill when I took this. But who thinks about lightning when you have a good picture in your frame?

The negative space is the black portion along the bottom of the frame. It’s rolling enough to not be boring or predictable to the eye. It allows the reeds to be highlighted against the light blue sky and the light blue sky to be highlighted against the darker storm clouds. I wish there’d been either more reeds or a little more cloud action in the middle of the frame. But one can summon only so much weather or arrange so many reeds on short notice.


  1. Thanks for another much appreciated lesson, Chris. I had a single year of Art in high school for the easy credit and none in college. As far as photography goes everything I've learned has been online, mostly from other photographers.

  2. What a beautiful, dramatic image! That's really wonderful, Chris!