Positive space and negative space are terms that are commonly used in art and photography that have to do with composition. Positive space refers to the objects in the frame and negative space is the space between and around the objects in the frame.
At first, it may seem like negative space isn’t that important because it’s just the space surrounding the focus of the photograph. This is a misconception though because too much or too little positive or negative space can make or break a photograph.
There are many ways in which positive and negative space are balanced in a photograph to achieve appealing composition. If there is too much negative space, the subject may be lost in the frame. If there is too little negative space, the focus of the photograph might not be what was intended.
Positive and Negative Space Example
The two versions of an image below illustrate how the balance of positive and negative space affects an image. There is quite a bit of negative space to the right of the subject in the first version of the image. This space gives the boy space to run into while remaining in the frame. In the second version of the image, the large area of negative space on the right has been cropped off. In this version, the boy fills the frame more, but it looks as though he is going to run right out of the frame.
Read more about composition: rule of thirds.