Composition Posts

Shooting with Digital Textures in Mind:
Negative Space and the Right Composition

Negative space is the term that photographers use to describe an area of composition that isn’t occupied by anything specific. It’s a void or a space with no real defining quality; it’s the counterbalance for the subject, the space left over. I’m not sure the word negative really sums up just how important this element of composition can be. It was easier for me to comprehend its value when I started to acknowledge that my finished image was no longer created entirely in camera. Although a texture is, in essence, a surface quality that’s applied afterward, the contribution of textures to overall composition is often neglected when shooting. Textures are somewhat subjective, applied like the layers of paint or varnish on an artist’s canvas. They seal in emotion, character, and even narrative. They add more than just their scratches, blurs, and rough grains. They must be allowed to reside comfortably in the composition, and although some consider the application of textures to be no more than a finishing touch, I think that their success depends greatly on a little forward thinking. I like to give careful consideration, when composing my shots, to how I will eventually come to use selected textures in my processing.

I generally compose to the rule of thirds, positioning my subject slightly off center. I try to obtain as much negative space as possible when setting up my shots. This gives me more creative freedom and later provides grounding for my textures. I’m a strong believer that not every image should, or can be, textured successfully. Processing with textures is about finding a balance, and that balance goes beyond the technical nature of its application. Every texture, whether soft and tonal or extreme and dramatic, should have its place; it should rest easily within the framework of my composition. A texture shouldn’t suffocate, detract, or smother its accompanying subject. It’s the incorporation of negative space that brings room and breathing space within my compositions so that both the image and my selected texture can cohabit and work in unison.

Negative space may derive from many factors, such as background space, blurred foregrounds, or the addition of a gradient fill. Regardless of where it originates from, it offers a clear destination by which my textures can manifest their unique qualities. Compositional negative space, such as skies and distinct areas of blur, can become home to some of my stronger textural elements. I’ll fade, etch, and render these areas of otherwise “nothingness,” leaving my subject clear and strong to stand its own ground.

My photographic work is undertaken in two equal halves: my initial image capture and processing. Both are just as important to the overall success of my finished image. Being mindful of my intentions before I even pick up my camera reaps its rewards and makes processing that much easier. I fully engage with this second half of the process, as this is where I add a deeper layer of creativity. I go beyond what my camera alone can achieve to create work that is personally instinctive, intuitive, and has a great emotional presence.

TIP: Most landscapes are photographed or painted on a “landscape” orientation but the images in my Shirelands collection were all photographed on a “portrait” orientation. The skies provided the negative space, covering 75% of the composition. I wanted to create the illusion of large vaulted skies in which my textures could be most visible and effective. Each image still works to the rule of thirds with the subject seated at the bottom of the composition.

READ ANOTHER BLOG POST BY SARAH GARDNER –Working with Digital Textures – Blend Modes Explained

Excerpt from Art Beyond the Lens by Sarah Gardner © 2012 Taylor & Francis Group. All Rights Reserved.

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