Photo Assignment #10 :: Positive and Negative Space in Photography Composition

What is Up everybody in This Video we’re Going to Talk About Photo assignment Number ten Which Is going to be Exploring Relationships Between Positive and negative Elements in A visual Composition what the heck does That even Mean Well Typically positive Elements of A Composition or positive Space is where you want the viewers eye to go? On the Photograph and I think the most Obvious example this is let’s Say? You’re Shooting a Portrait that you want the eye to go to the Person in the Portrait that Is the most important Object in the Composition Now Anything Else That exists in That Photograph it Simply Referred to as negative Space and when this is done Successfully You want to Eliminate? Distracting Objects That don’t need to be There that are not Supporting The Composition You want everything in that negative Space to support the positive Space so this is Easier Said Than done in The Studio Situation you Can do something that’s very Minimal That’s very Perfect and very Classical in Terms of that you Can Shoot a head Shot against A flat color or Pure Black or A pure White and you have A very Minimalistic Relationship Between Positive and negative Space the Only Thing that’s being Utilized is the positive Space and The negative Space has no choice but to Support That Because it’s Just solid Black White color Whatever it is now that’s a studio Situation but how Does That Relate to something like Documentation or Photography or street Photography or Photojournalism Or something Is a little bit Different that’s more Improvised Well Sometimes you Can Have more Than one Subject in your Composition you Can Have Multiple People you Can Have multiple Different items that all? Create the Story Or that are Trying to support what you’re Trying to Communicate and the Negative Space Is all the other Stuff and how Does that support it and that’s what I want to Look at Today and we’re Going to look at the Work by two Different Photographers That I think did This Really Well The first Person I’m going to Talk About Is irving penn Now Irving penn did This in A very conservative Manner but he Was an Amazing Photographer he Spent his Career at Vogue Magazine Photographed A Lot of Celebrities A lot of Fashion Shoots and Has Influenced Generations of Photographers and I think the World of irving penn and he, was A Huge Influence on Me and Today We’re Going to look just at the Portrait Work Because I think the the the beauty in This Is in the Subtleties? These Are Pretty much straight on Headshots of Celebrities Typically and if You look at something like the Miles Davis Picture this is A Classic Example of positive Versus negative Space The negative Space Completely Supports The Subject to his Miles Davis in this Case now Miles Davis This, was Shot in The 80s? Was A bit of A mysterious somewhat Enigmatic Individual and I think This Photograph Underlines That someone if You look at the way he’s lit and This is where I think Lighting Plays an Essential Role in This Relationship Is that Basically he’s Shot with one Light from above That Puts A real Big Highlight on Those Cheekbones so it’s Almost like al Hirschfeld or somebody who Was doing Characters and you look at when he was able to Draw a Certain line and it Kind of suggested A celebrity Pin Is not trying to be Funny With this but what pin Does. Is he’s suggesting Miles Davis You’re getting Almost a character he’s Accentuating Facial Features of Miles That Make him very Distinctive Looking and I think This is Really beautifully Done Another One That I really like that again it’s in The Subtleties and This Is a portrait of Another Photography this is Helmut Newton and It’s a pretty Conventional Portrait Whose head is Resting on his Hand but if you Look at What’s going on in The Background you actually Have Contrasts That Play against each other in Kind of This? Opposing Checkerboard Type Fashion of Black and White in Certain Areas But These support the Composition They support the Head and They Also support the Hand and again Notice how he’s lit the Cheekbone Now Another Thing that I think is Really Interesting that Penn Began to do is a concept that people Typically refer to as Deconstruction of the image now Penn Shot in The Vogue Studios and They were Typically done on Platforms with These built Backdrops and What he Would start to do Is Pull the Camera back a little bit to Expose the lines of the set so you see the Boundaries That Go Into It and This has A lot of Implications To it it Was kind of A radical Thing for penn to do but What’s Interesting is Visually? That Becomes The negative Space you see the Elements of the side of the Backdrop or the the way the platform Is sitting Up and? The Person Standing on it but They don’t distract They Still support No pun Intended or maybe pun Intended but They Still support The subject of the Photograph and so I think that’s the Takeaway I think Penn is A classic Photographer to look at because He’s very Conservative in his Approach to this but Positive and negative Space Always Must exist for a reason and then When They become most Successful Is when They have a play Where the negative Space Supports What’s Positive in the Composition now Another Photographer that I want to look at who is Another one of my Favorites Is Harry Callahan and no we’re not Talking About the Clint Eastwood Character There was a Photographer Named Harry Callahan who Was Wonderful Harry IS an Amazing Photographer and I think one of the most impressive Things About Harry’s Work is the rain? That He’s Capable of you See everything from Still life to Botanical Studies To Nature Studies With the Famous Picture of the Trees in the snow you see abstracts you See Multi-Layered Multi Exposure Shots You See Portraits you see Street Photography You See our Contextual Photography he Really Ran the gamut and he did it in A way where you could kind of Always tell It was Harry Callahan and I think that he Really put a stamp on it But what’s interesting to me Is to See how he Did a Certain play With Things and he Has a ton of Pictures that he Took, of his wife Eleanor and Sometimes Hid Their Daughter Barber, was in These as, well but These Portraits end Up being very Interesting to me Because Typically When We think of Portraits We Think of an Approach in A classical sense like what were V penn Was doing where the subject Is close Up to the Camera and They Dominate the Composition and A lot of These Shots With Eleanor in Them She’s not dominating the Composition her Figure is Actually very Small in Terms of Placement and it Could be something like you know This Wonderful Use of Water in This Picture Where you see them and There’s Even A Third Subject Over The Side but Nothing is distracting the way the light Works again it’s Important in Everything this Is very Minimalist Supports The Subject of the Composition Which, Is his wife and Daughter Another one That’s very Interesting as Well is this One That has Kind of an Architectural Portrait Feel To it now this is not Exactly A minimalist Background There’s A lot of Shapes and A lot of Geometry But first of all if You look at where They’re Placed in the Conversation Which is dead Center so your eye will be Automatically Sort of Drawn There but the way that the Shapes and The lines and Even The Three Dimensionality of Architecture Leads your eye in and They’re not Distracted it Also helps that There’s no other People in The Shot so again A lot of Times With Positive and negative Space We are Looking at contrasts and that can be Contrast of light Can be Contrasts of subjects it could be? Anything That Would be Opposite of One But There’s Sometimes color Plays Into This Too in Fact Speaking of Color There’s Another Great Photo that I love that Carrie Callahan took and it’s it’s the back of A woman walking but the way the Composition is Divided Up and What is the Positive in The negative Space in Here Because I think at first glance our eyes Are Drawn to the red Dress It’s Obviously Red it’s very Vibrant in color it is Contrasting to the blue Sky that you Barely See on the Upper right Hand Side But then I think She’s more Dividing the Composition the more you look at it you realize that What is the Point of Focus Here? Is that the car Is that the Sky is it her Is it the dress is it the Pattern There’s no Right Or wrong answer but the way the Contrasts all Work Together It Creates That Interest and I think This Is an extreme example of positive versus Negative Space so that is Two Different Photographers Approaches to Positive and negative Space and This is something that We’re Going to talk about a little more over the next couple Weeks I’m going to give you a full two Weeks to do this assignment at least and We’ll see Where everybody is because I think This One Requires a little bit of Thought and This is one of Those that I really think Needs to be One that that you want to push Yourself Outside of what you’re used to doing and Think a little bit Differently Really put Some Effort Into This and Put Some Thought Into it Because I think it’s a really Important thing and the thing that I love About this whole concept of? Positive and negative Space is Essentially what, we’re Doing Is we’re Just Looking at the? Relationship of Objects Individual Composition and so if You’re The kind of Person who Does not Really subscribe to rule of Thirds or rule of Odds of Dynamic Symmetry Or Geometry or Anything that is a proscribed Mathematical Method for where Things need to be Placed in the Composition you don’t need to Worry About it because Positive and negative Space is Simply Exploring Those Relationships and it has There’s no right Or wrong way to do it there’s Just More Successful Ways to do it than Others and that’s what We’re Looking Into on this so Anyway you guys are all encouraged to Participate if You have no idea what I’m Talking about what the Heck Are Photos sent These are These things that We do Pretty much kind of Every Two Weeks and They’re These Bi-Weekly Photo Challenges and They are designed To Improve our creative Thinking and Our skills as Photographers and if You want to know how to Submit now to Participate in All that Stuff A Dental Video Just for you I will link to it up here I will Also put links in the Show notes so Feel free to check them out we’ve done nine of These so far and This Has Become One of the Favorite things that I do on this show it’s a chance for me to get to connect with you Guys Through Photographs The Work Gets Better and Better Every Week and it’s Just A lot of fun we’ve we’ve had A? Really Good Time doing this so i encourage People if You’re New to participate as Well and Go Check out the other Video will Show you exactly how you Can Submit your Work if you have Any Questions on this Please Leave Them in The Comments and I will do my best to respond This Stuff Is a little bit Different if You’ve Never Approached kind of A formal Method Towards Visual Composition and There Could be Questions There Could Be thoughts I’m sure They’re gonna be A Lot of Opinions There Always Are and so if you’ve Enjoyed this Video Please Remember to like it share it subscribe To the Art of Photography for more Videos We’ll see you guys in the next One until then Later you


  1. Jacob Gionfriddo July 25, 2017 at 2:03 pm

    Great vid!

  2. The Cat Melon July 25, 2017 at 2:09 pm

    This is gonna be the first time I take part in a photo assignment! Looking forward to trying this time 🙂 Thanks for encouraging us to go out and take photos Ted!

  3. James Harris July 25, 2017 at 2:10 pm

    That picture of Alfred Hitchcock makes me think, "Bowling Ball".

  4. The Art of Photography July 25, 2017 at 2:16 pm

    You can see all Photo Assignments here ->

  5. Niven A. Nolte July 25, 2017 at 2:22 pm

    Thank you.

  6. Wallace Mitchell July 25, 2017 at 2:23 pm

    Cant wait to try this out, first time participating and I absolutely LOVE the theme and the images you showed! (the wife and daughter portrait with the architecture was a stand out for me!)

  7. 123 July 25, 2017 at 2:27 pm

    50th like. 10th comment. 380th view.
    Great start to this assignment! I should be submitting again this week as well Ted. 🙂

  8. Andy S. July 25, 2017 at 2:27 pm

    Great assignment!!! What is interesting to me is that I can also look into my older pics and let me check out, where I can see a composition with pos/neg space I made by accident 😀 (sorry for the bad english^^)

  9. Simon July 25, 2017 at 2:38 pm

    This is a pretty hard photo assignment. I like it.

  10. Edmino14 July 25, 2017 at 2:38 pm

    Hell yeah! I'm gonna finally participate!

  11. Ed Ruttledge July 25, 2017 at 2:39 pm

    Perhaps the more challenging photo assignment so far … I have to think about this for a couple days … Also preparing for the August 21 solar eclipse – I will have 49 seconds of totality at my house on the Oregon coast. Been practicing with an ND 100000 filter.

  12. Max Khramov July 25, 2017 at 2:41 pm

    Posted already 🙂

  13. 007Stalled 7 July 25, 2017 at 2:41 pm

    Most interesting video highlighting the importance of composition.
    Our Art teacher in the 5th Form used to say, "Dark against light, light against dark, sometimes fading away", a concept worth considering in photography too I would suggest.

  14. Miika Mäentaus July 25, 2017 at 2:45 pm

    I just saw Penn's work in a photography museum and it was damn amazing

  15. Chris Cushing July 25, 2017 at 2:47 pm

    I was at the Irving Penn show at the Met on its closing day. I saw a bunch of the photos you featured in person, and a few which he printed multiple times in different ways over the decades.

    It was really dynamic, striking stuff up close.

    That weathered looking backdrop he frequently used was also on display. It was kind of spooky to think of all the people who had graced that backdrop.

    Looking forward to making an image for this assignment!

  16. eirini kiki July 25, 2017 at 2:51 pm

    Can I send a color picture

  17. Jeremy Greenberg July 25, 2017 at 2:52 pm

    Great assignment. This should be challenging in a good way. I look forward to all contributions. Good luck folks!

  18. Eric Rossi July 25, 2017 at 2:53 pm

    How do I submit photos????

  19. Oscar Martinez July 25, 2017 at 3:01 pm

    Do I need a good camera? Can I do it with phone camera? Just wondering.

  20. Soumen Barua July 25, 2017 at 3:10 pm

    Sir, how can i participate in the photo assignments……..

  21. William Hickie July 25, 2017 at 3:39 pm

    How can i submit my photos?

  22. Andy Overcash July 25, 2017 at 3:56 pm

    Wish I could participate. Had to send my camera off for some maintenance.

  23. Jennifer Thompson July 25, 2017 at 3:57 pm

    Thank you for another great challenge Ted! I'm really looking forward to shooting for this one and seeing the images!

  24. Brad Hammond July 25, 2017 at 4:15 pm

    It's kinda funny this is the current assignment. I shot a roll of ilford XP2 last week. Because it was black and white I was trying to think a little more in terms of negative space as I was shooting.

  25. Ali July 25, 2017 at 4:35 pm

    Nice video, I loved the photos you used as examples.

  26. maf36 July 25, 2017 at 4:49 pm

    @Ted. Thank you for sharing your knowledge and educating us. I don't have any social media other the YouTube. I have been following all the assignments and I'm up to date.
    As long as there are passionate people like you PHOTOGRAPHY will stay alive!

  27. evelasq1 July 25, 2017 at 5:05 pm

    Not sure how to show the positive and the negative.

  28. Geekin' Dad July 25, 2017 at 5:19 pm

    Looking forward to doing this, it'll be my first photo assignment to do.

  29. David Göz July 25, 2017 at 5:19 pm

    Did you change your colour grading @tedforbes

  30. Carrie W July 25, 2017 at 6:29 pm

    positive and negative space is one of my favorite things to play with in photography I love this assignment already!

  31. Brian Fox July 25, 2017 at 6:37 pm

    I'm in…..

  32. Decent Motion July 26, 2017 at 1:16 am

    I've been watching your videos for a year now and I had no idea your studio was literally down the street from me. I live on Granbury road by the train tracks.

  33. Reg.szeho July 26, 2017 at 1:52 am

    love your channel so so much. Thank you.

  34. tinyman392 July 26, 2017 at 3:30 am

    Photo assignment on a Tuesday?! Can it be? This should be a fun one.

  35. Zoë Simmons July 26, 2017 at 8:40 am

    Ever thought about doing a podcast?

  36. Michal Nowak July 26, 2017 at 10:43 am

    Great assignment. It's an opportunity for me to look into this practice. I was always critical of my own uses of it because it feels like CHEATING to me!? Somehow I'm suspicious because it makes composition so much easier, simpler. It feels like a shortcut.

  37. David Rothschild July 26, 2017 at 10:55 am

    Thanks Ted. Very informative illustration. I can't wait to see what people come up with.

  38. victor whitby July 26, 2017 at 11:44 am

    Great vid

  39. Sean Crowley July 26, 2017 at 2:04 pm

    Hey, Ted, you may want to throw in a due date in the description. You said two weeks, does that make it exactly two weeks from the date posted? (August 9th?) Or by the Monday of that week? Does putting them up a few days earlier mean you're more likely to be able to use them?

    Also, has the AoP Flickr group been sidelined? I know it wasn't mentioned in the how to participate video, but I see people regularly submitting to it anyway. (at least some of which are definitely going with the assignment's theme!)

    One last question: should I directly post the shots to Twitter, or link to them on another site? (I'm guessing direct is probably easiest for you)

  40. serge933 July 27, 2017 at 8:50 am

    Love the videos Ted! Just submitted mine, looking forward to more great content!

  41. Mz E Brown July 27, 2017 at 9:13 pm

    I was wondering if you had any ideas on how to improve event photography or if there's any famous artists

  42. Punkt64 July 28, 2017 at 10:10 pm

    love those Assignments Ted, particulary the way you explain the theme with the great work of some great artists.

  43. Patryk Urban July 29, 2017 at 2:10 pm

    Hey Ted!
    You should do a piece on Brett Weston whilst we're on the subject of positive/negative spaces

  44. Brian Steeves July 30, 2017 at 5:49 pm
    I need your help. I am in a contest at Wistia to win a really nice camera and I need you to share this with the entire world including the # above. I have until August 9 to get as many shares as I can….with your help. Thanks. B.

  45. Brian Steeves July 30, 2017 at 5:51 pm

    I am looking forward to this. Our Camera Club challenge this month is B&W. Thanks for all of this. Brian

  46. Reeceness July 31, 2017 at 2:54 pm

    I think I subconsciously already explore this style without really having a label for it. The challenge I guess is defining the guidelines for what you may be looking for for this particular assignment. Like are we looking to minimize the subject(s) in the frame, are we to only capture bare and desolate spaces etc.

  47. MrSergio10013 July 31, 2017 at 6:57 pm

    Hi Ted, this is Sergio. I’m really fascinating from your video and specially for what you teaching me and many photographer you are discussing about, any way, watching your video I have always a question in mind which I would like to make to you: is there some famous photographer who you don’t like and, of course, why? Always appreciate for your video and your answer.

  48. Damian Coleman August 1, 2017 at 12:30 am

    Hi Ted, I love the show, have you ever done a video on making a zine, i have become very interested in making one for myself.

  49. Kim Miller August 1, 2017 at 4:55 am

    Hi Ted, this is the first assignment I've entered and I've discovered something that might be worth mentioning in future.

    I put the hashtag on a photo I'd posted to IG a few months ago and it didn't show up in the hashtag search feed – even after an hour or more. It turns out that IG lists the entries according to the date the photo was first posted, not when the hashtag was added. This means that you would not have found my entry.
    So I reposted the pic with a different title, added the hashtag and it showed up immediately.

    I'm guessing that I'm not the only person who didn't know of this quirk of IG, and might be why some people wonder if their pic ever gets to you.

  50. Altern Ergo August 5, 2017 at 9:21 pm

    When is the deadline?

  51. Bastiaan Woudt August 6, 2017 at 8:24 am

    Again, great video Ted . Offcourse I love your use of the Penn images as a reference. I think Penn was one of the best photographers using Positive and negative space in his compositions. Great inspiration!

  52. Nadja Niemann August 6, 2017 at 10:03 am

    Ah, thank you for these brilliant nuggets, Ted!

  53. Vonzfoto August 13, 2017 at 4:57 pm

    just uploaded my images for this assignment. let me know if you find it on facebook, otherwise, the hi-res images are here:

  54. Gaetano Diprimo August 13, 2017 at 6:59 pm

    Thank you so much for posting such great, informative videos. I enjoy and learn something new with each video. I feel your show is the photo show on YouTube hands down. Please keep them coming. Thank you, Gary

  55. Cj Justice Mtenga August 14, 2017 at 7:41 am

    Wow! Great tutorial on -ve and +ve spaces.

  56. Kamyar Goodarzi August 16, 2017 at 10:42 pm

    Irving Penn used two frontal lights not one in the Miles Davis photograph.

  57. Sargam Biswas August 23, 2017 at 6:26 am

    Even your current frame have the same negative space with that dark contrast

  58. Carter Cooper August 25, 2017 at 11:01 am

    Thanks for the great content here. Power packed 9 minutes!!

  59. Jack Talty August 31, 2017 at 10:05 pm

    Love the subject and the examples, but shouldn't you have done positive and negative space with your very busy background? Examples, door, format meta, light, shelves with lights. They were more attracting my eyes.

  60. Divi Photos September 2, 2017 at 1:24 am

    Cool video

  61. b m September 4, 2017 at 11:57 pm

    Anymore photo assignments #photoassignments #aop  @tedforbes ???????

  62. Jim Riviera October 20, 2017 at 4:43 pm

    This is a great video on the concept of negetive + positive spacing in photos. I was looking for some reference for a class I am taking and wanted to thank you for your videos. I am now interested in participating in your assignments. Thanks again Ted.

  63. Alison Smith June 25, 2018 at 6:03 pm

    Great, informative video …… but, I find it so irritating that the text has random capital letters at the beginning of some words in the sentences!!! Like, why?

  64. George Miranda January 23, 2019 at 1:08 am

    Your Videos are very Educational. I really enjoy learning and watching them. Thank you for sharing !

  65. larkspurlt January 29, 2019 at 3:46 pm

    I am doing this type of assignment for a photography class and it is driving me cray

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *