How to use negative space to your advantage

There are just some people who really nail the use of negative space in an image. For a beginner, it's not always easy to understand when and how it should be used, but mastering it can be an extremely powerful tool and take your images to another level. Here we explore how to use photographic and design principles to use negative space to your advantage, and celebrate some of our favourite Instagram accounts that get this right every time!

Rule of Thirds

If you follow the basic photographic rule of thirds to compose your imagery, this is an easy way to understand where negative space should sit in your image to create a balance or contrast. By mentally cutting your image into a 3 x 3 grid, place your items or focal point into an intersection of this grid, and leave the rest blank. This will give your hero piece space to breathe and ultimately make it shine. By also using contrasting colours, you can create a very striking image.

Photo: @kristie_maree_

Photo: @kristie_maree_

Photo: @_fridays_child_

Photo: @_fridays_child_

The Golden Ratio

The Golden Ratio is the Rule of Thirds more sophisticated older sister! Also sometimes known as the Fibonacci Spiral, it origins are scientific in nature and the result of a very complicated maths equation that I can't even begin to understand or explain! Nevertheless, it is known in art & design circles as the ultimate tool to creating perfect composition. It looks a little something like this:

If you are feeling adventurous and want to use the Golden Ratio as your guide to composing with negative space, play around with placing your items of interest in and around the spiral while leaving the rest open. It may take some time to understand how this form of composition works but once you get it your images will pop!

Photo: @alovelyspace

Photo: @alovelyspace

Photo: @underthekowhai

Photo: @underthekowhai

Design Elements

The seven elements of design (Space, Line, Direction, Size, Colour, Texture & Value) can all be influenced and enhanced by negative space. By leaving negative space around your item, it acts as a visual pointer, ultimately leading the eye further toward your focal point. Leaving open space around your items can create line and direction, which will in turn influence how the viewer feels about your image - vertical lines give a sense of formality and grandeur, horizontal lines are more calming and tranquil, while vertical lines suggest movement. The amount of negative space you leave between these lines will exaggerate or minimise these feelings. Using negative space in complementary or contrasting colours or textures can add an almost sensory experience to your image.

Photo: @revisededitionstyle

Photo: @revisededitionstyle

Photo: @clickthisphoto

Photo: @clickthisphoto

Photo: @katherinedorrington

Photo: @katherinedorrington

Negative Space & Design Principles

In complement to the seven elements of design, are its principles. If you think of the elements as the foundation or building blocks of good design, the principles are how these are implemented. Balance, harmony, contrast, repetition and dominance can all be influenced by the use of negative space. It can be used to balance out your image, to unite it using harmonious colours or textures, repetition of negative space can create symmetry, formality or framing, and the space itself can even be the dominant feature!

Photo: @marisa.young

Photo: @marisa.young

There really is so much fun to be had playing around with negative space in an image, and the key is to experiment with it within your own style and see how it might work for you. As a reference, the Creatively Squared team collated some of our very own favourite accounts whose use of negative space is truly lustworthy! Browse these feeds, and then start playing around with your own - but be warned, it might get addictive!

Great use of negative space in general / interior imagery:

@antochin
@meaghan_plowman
@lyndagardener
@countyroadliving
@whiteandwander

And the flatlay / creative tribe:

@humphreyandgrace
@crystaljohnsonid
@alovelyspace
@_fridays_child_
@katherinedorrington
@kristie_maree_
@phoebesoup

Happy styling!

Further reading:
Design Hacks for Better Instagram Pictures - Bitly
What Is Negative Space & Why Would I Want It - Fat Mum Slim
How to Use Negative Space to Take More Powerful Photos With Your iPhone - iMore
20 Composition Techniques That Will Improve Your Photos - Peta Pixel