A week ago we featured a tutorial explaining why minimalism is the key to clutter-free outdoor photos, and that lesson touched on the concept of negative space as one way to get the job done. Today we’re taking a deeper dive into that specific technique as a means of capturing unique images that really grab attention.
Instructor Mike Smith is a skilled British landscape photographer who is very generous about sharing the secrets to his success. In this six-minute episode he demonstrates why less is often more when it comes to making great outdoor images that stand out from the crowd.
In basic terms this technique involves surrounding a main subject with a large area that lacks texture or distracting color changes. Smith says that by doing this you’ll be able to create photos that convey a sense of loneliness and a mood of isolation. And, of course, the main subject of the image will really stand out.
This is all about simplification and eliminating unnecessary elements from the frame. Smith equates this type of photography to the peace and solitude you feel in a quiet room after spending time in a frantic, bustling city. You’re able to concentrate and focus on what’s important.
It can be difficult to find scenes with abundant negative space while shooting in the field. Smith says a great place to start is on the beach with open water in the background, especially when there’s a featureless sky. Long exposures help by smoothing out the water, and a long lens makes it easy to get in tight on a key subject while cutting out nearby distractions.
Smith demonstrates why texture, even in distant clouds, can spoil this effect, and why he tries to surround his subjects with plain colors that don’t clash. He provides the example of a boat surrounded by an otherwise empty and lonely sea. There’s nowhere for the eye to go except to the boat.
As you’ll see, this powerful technique transcends landscape photography and works well for other genres too. Here Smith pulls up his image of a sky skyscraper shot against a plain blue sky. He shot the same image as a few clouds blew across the frame, and this one isn’t nearly as effective in focusing attention on the building.
There are several other examples of how to put this method to use, and there’s nothing difficult involved. All it takes is thoughtful mindset, and the understanding that sometimes less is more and negative can be positive.
There’s much more to learn on Smith’s instructional YouTube channel, so don’t forget to take a look when you have time.
We also recommend watching the tutorial mentioned above, explaining why minimalism is the key to clutter-free landscape and wildlife photos.