Saturday Evening Post #92: About 95% Negative Space

“You’ll find,” he said, if I recall correctly, “that Negative Space carries a lot of visual weight. The subject therefore has to be very strong to balance out that 95% Negative Space.” A mentor was extolling the use of the broad, seemingly lacking in detail, surrounds of the main subject.

He went on, again as best I can recall, “Negative space helps the photo stay calm, and isolates the subject, and at the same time removes any interfering elements that distract from the view seeing what you are seeing.”

Great advice to a budding studio product photographer. After all a client doesn’t want a lot of competing visual elements, they want to see the product.  And in particular, the product’s name, brand and model number (if applicable). If Mr Colgate couldn’t see the word “Colgate” in large letters on the subject, he would wonder how anyone would recognise his product, no matter how ‘creatively’ the subject was shown.

The same might be said of a certain cheese brand that is about to change its name. No matter that it was the brain child of a certain William Edward who’s family name now carries unfortunate connotations.
Ford Motor Company want to see their famed logo, and it is said the Coca Cola logo was one of the most recognised logos in the world.  Now it seems the jury is out on the most recognised, but Google might be close to the top. At least when I googled, that is the result I got. 🙂

From a studio product point of view, getting the subject well lit, boldly presented and refreshingly isolated was always the big challenge. A small fill light  here, a white card to be reflected in the strong sidelines of the product, a disappearing shadow to give depth, all against a plain backdrop.

But negative space is more than just a simple way of saying, ‘here is the subject’, it does, as my mentor suggested, carry a visual weight that needs to be carefully balanced by a subject. It reduces visual clutter and the minimalist approach welcomes a view to pause and reflect in a tranquil, welcoming way.

I have been I think, always a minimalist. Well, at least at heart. Preferring the simple to the complex visually.
Whether street, or field, or portrait, or product, I’ve always been happier to work with a subject against an uncluttered backdrop.

Most times, either here on the blog, or on Flickr, or my other web site, I try with the birds to provide as much detail as possible, preferring the closeup frame filling moment, rather than building a mystery or calmness or asking the viewer to pause and ponder, “Why there, why now, what was going on?”

So the past several weeks have been a bit intense, staying at home, (by preference) working through the photo library—it’s called Culling!
Removing those images that I am never going to pay the hostage price.
See Saturday Evening Post #87

And finding of course some photos that I’ve never spent time with, yet, hold a strong sense of graphic because of the smaller subject in its surrounds, or lack of them. Not always suitable as bird descriptive shots, but perhaps with a little work, suitable for Birds as Poetry.

Shots where the bird is almost inconsequential in the frame compared to the negative space.
It is true that I hadn’t been consciously working on that feel when I pressed the shutter, and it did require me to revisit to see the opportunity.
I’ve oft quoted my long-term friend and mentor John Harris. “You’ve got to look within the photo, to find the picture. Always look at the details, look at the obvious as there is always a highlight there somewhere, that others aren’t seeing.  That is the diamond.  Look for it always.”   Thanks John.

The ones that have got the creative juices flowing, are those that lend themselves to making the most of the negative space.  I’ve shared a few on Flickr of late, and thought this very active male Superb Fairywren had made a strong enough compositional statement to balance the dark moody area behind him.

As he moults into his breeding colours he is ready to become the master of his new status, his balance of the negative space gives him a strength and purpose.

The Doona Hermit.

Remain.