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Negative Space in Nature Photography


EOS 77D, EF500mm f/4L IS II USM, f/4, ISO 400, 1/800s, 500mm
By yash_earth

Framing in photography is important because it helps the photographer direct the audience toward what the focus should be. By using various techniques such as leading lines and the rule of thirds, you can lead a viewer’s eyes to where you place the main subject, which can help to tell the story you want to depict.  

A technique not often mentioned is the use of negative space, which is to deliberately fill the frame with ample empty space, isolating the subject. Clever use of negative space can help to shape the narrative, heighten the drama within the shot and enhance the emotions conveyed.  

In this article, we will explore how the use of negative space makes for better wildlife photography. Of course, you can also apply these techniques to other photography genres to varying effects. 


EOS R, RF300mm f/2.8L IS USM, f/2.8, ISO 400, 1/2000s, 300mm
By @rajeeb_bharali

Emphasis on size

How can you show the size of the creature that you are photographing? With nature being a home for the extremes, there are animals big and small. By using negative space to your advantage, you can showcase the animal in its natural habitat, and give its scale within its surroundings. While the surrounding space may not show much, it helps to draw the audience’s focus to the animal, and from there be able to create a sense of how large or small the creature is in its environment.


By @rajeeb_bharali

Focus on colour 

Nature can be colourful, and if you’re not careful with your framing, you may end up with a palette of hues and tones in your shot. This can distract your audience from what you’re trying to show. In these situations, you can use the empty space around the subject to draw the viewer’s attention towards the subject’s colours.


EOS R, RF300mm f/2.8L IS USM, f/2.8, ISO 100, 1/2500s, 300mm
By @rajeeb_bharali

Movement in motion

The wide expanse of space around a moving subject can help to show the subject’s movement. While a close-up shot of a bird in mid-flight may show its details, the clever use of space around it can help to create a look of unrestrained motion, adding that feeling of wilderness to the shot.


EOS R, RF500mm f/2.8L IS USM, f/4, ISO 200, 1/800s, 500mm
By @rajeeb_bharali

Dramatic contrast

Other than the use of colours, contrast can also help to draw the viewer’s eyes to the main subject. While this is dependent on the environment, a keen eye can spot such opportunities to use the space around the subject to create a dramatic shot. In this instance, contrast doesn’t always have to be between light and dark tones. Contrasting the colour against a natural backdrop of greenery can be magenta, red, purple or even dark blue shades. These colours can be found on some creatures, such as birds and insects. 


EOS 7D Mark II, EF500mm f/4L IS II USM, f/4, ISO 640, 1/2500s, 500mm
By @yash_earth

Focusing on the environment

While the use of negative space usually helps the photographer to isolate the wildlife in focus, these spaces can help to add the narrative as well by carefully framing the subject in its environment. Such images are powerful because they show the subject’s natural landscape and add an additional dimension by giving the audience a chance to see how the animal is interacting with its home.


While it may seem easy to just use empty space to isolate the main subject, it takes practice to use such techniques for the right shot to be effective. One question you should always ask yourself is: “How will the use of negative space help in the narrative of my shot?”. While used carefully, the space around the subject may seem empty within the frame, but it helps to capture the essence of the main subject and draw even more attention to it. As mentioned above, this technique can be used in various genres of photography, so give it a try and see how it makes your photos more interesting!


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