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The Rule of Space is a subtle compositional technique that uses negative space in a photo to lead the eye of the viewer around the image, create pathos or present a narrative within your work. The Rule of Space has similarities to the Rule of Thirds, however, it focuses on the empty or ‘negative’ space in the image to make its impact.
Using the negative space in the image allows the photographer to express motion, intention and, in a more abstract sense, a better balance in the photograph. When a photographer uses the Rule of Space to good effect, the viewer’s eyes will be naturally drawn towards the subject first before being led into the negative space of the image.
Why use the Rule of Space in your photography?
When the Rule of Space is used well it creates a relationship with your viewers where they can almost enter the picture themselves and see the scene through the eyes of the central subject of your photo. The negative space pulls the viewer into the picture and they begin to project their own feelings, thoughts and perspectives into the scenery of the photo.
Using the Rule of Space creates a strong narrative in the photo which your viewer will partake in themselves. This is a great way to involve your audiences in the drama of the image and bring the subject of your photography to life.
What kind of locations work well in conjunction with the Rule of Space?
When you are selecting a location to employ the compositional technique of the Rule of Space in your photography you want to look for scenes that have natural areas of empty space that you can contrast with a subject. Rule of Space is difficult to implement when you live in a neighborhood like Center City Philadelphia, with it’s tall buildings and crowded streets.
You can use this technique anywhere, and it even works well in abstract photography, however, when you are starting out here are some suggestions of locations where you can go and try your hand at using the negative space to create pathos, drama and a strong narrative within your photography:
- Deserts. These scenes are vast and naturally convey a feeling of emptiness to the viewer. It might be difficult to find suitable subjects but a solitary figure looking out across the dunes would be perfect.
- Coastal Regions. The vast oceans and often exciting weather conditions can make a fantastic backdrop for employing the rule of space in your photography. Subjects could include coastal birds, lighthouses, people or boats.
- Subways, Railway Stations or Abandoned Warehouses. There are fewer places in the city which make a good choice for practicing the Rule of Space however places that do have the potential are available if you use your imagination! When you find a place in the city that has a lot of minimalistic features, such as an abandoned warehouse, you can make great use of the negative space to contrast with a subject. Don’t forget to try to incorporate the strong leading lines that also abound in these places!
- The Countryside lends itself to taking images with the rule of space in mind. With plenty of wide open spaces and subjects just waiting to be photographed it’s an ideal place to practice if you can get there. Country roads, fields and even rivers can be used to great effect with the rule of space.
How to place an object in your photo while using the Rule of Space.
When you are using the Rule of Space, taking advantage of negative space, you still need to consider how to place the subject of your photo in such a way that they stand out and ‘feel’ right to the viewer. To do this most effectively, you should try to make use of other compositional techniques in combination with the Rule of Space.
The Rule of Space and The Rule of Thirds.
Utilize the Rule of Thirds to help you choose where to place your subject in the photo. This will mean that you should place the subject in either the left or right hand third of the photo leaving two thirds of the image as negative space into which you can project the narrative of the image into.
The Rule of Space and Leading Lines.
You can use Leading Lines extending from your subject into the negative space to create depth and movement. This will automatically draw the viewer’s gaze into the negative space and help you to create a strong sense of narrative within the image.
In this example, the negative space in front of the couple who are the subject of the photo is bisected by the dramatic Leading Lines of the architecture of the modernist building in the background. Further to the empty space in the foreground the photographer has also managed to place another area of negative space under the arch of the building in the center of the background making use of a kind of abstract, unconscious Leading Line.
The Rule Space and Patterns, Textures and Points of Interest.
When you are using ‘negative space’ this doesn’t necessarily mean that there cannot be anything in that space. As well as using the sea, the sky, empty fields and other relatively uniform features to create empty space, you can also use negative space that has interesting patterns, such as emotive clouds in the sky, waves on the ocean, flowers in a field and so on! Creating points of interest within the negative space can also be used to add to the narrative to the photo while creating more texture and contrast within it.
In this example the photographer not only makes use of the interesting texture and play of light on the waves but also uses the waves as Leading Lines to draw the viewer’s attention to the right hand side of the image, towards which the subjects are moving towards.
The Rule of Space and Minimalism.
You can use minimalism to exaggerate the sense of negative space in the image by keeping your subject very small within the context of the image. A distant ship on the ocean is one example, which you could position in the right hand third of the photo to give the impression of the size of the sea and the perilousness of the ship’s voyage.
In this example the photographer has kept the tree relatively small in the desert scene. The simple colors of the background help the tree to stand out while the barely visible swing hanging from one of it’s branches is powerfully understated. Whether the subject of the photo is the tree or the swing might be a good question for debate; but often, with a good minimalist photograph, particularly when it uses the Rule of Space to good effect, simplicity is its major strength.
Mixing up the Compositional Techniques to Create a Synthesized Whole while keeping the Rule of Space in mind.
In this photo the subject is relatively small, and placed in the bottom third of the photo. The vast sky is brightly lit by stars and is contrasted with the silhouette of the subject. The photographer has also used the stars of the Milky Way as a Leading Line to draw the viewer’s eye into the negative space above. The negative space in the image is not uniform, but scattered with points of light.
Summary: The Rule of Space in Photography.
When you use the Rule of Space in your photography don’t forget that you can, and probably should, use it in conjunction with other compositional techniques. Every technique in photography overlaps with every other one to form a fascinating tapestry of potentials that you can explore and experiment with for a whole lifetime!
I try to incorporate the rule of space, the rule of third and minimalism in my photography. How about you?
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