At least once a month, I’m going to start talking about photography from a purely artistic point of view. I want to try to expose the photographers who stop by here to some “art lessons” in the hopes that those of you who really want to take things up a notch will spend some time contemplating something other than gear.
In Japan there is a principle called (Yohaku-no-bi.) This loosely translates in English to the beauty of empty space – looking for what is implied by the absence of something.
The tendency to clutter a photograph is one of the top amateur mistakes. The viewer needs to know what the subject is when they look at your image. Beyond beginners, clutter shows a lack of patience`. Whether it’s simply not knowing or not being patient enough or both, clutter can sometimes ruin a composition. Waiting for the scene to develop harmony by looking for what is unstated takes time and can often lead to spectacular results.
When I look at photographs by western photographers, I rarely see what I consider to be artful use of negative space. I struggle with this myself, even though I’ve spent quite a bit of time in Japan and some of it studying this very concept.
While I certainly don’t think the Japanese have the corner on art, I do think that western artists can learn from them. To those who want to be different, or to stand out, the use of negative space may be just the ticket. It’s counterintuitive. Instead of being the person who wears orange hair to the ballgame to get the attention of the cameras, you might be the person who dresses “normally” but wears an orange flower as a boutonnire.
Placing space around your subject; giving it room to breathe; surrounding the subject with nothing; these are things that are passive. Yet they give context and definition to a photograph.
The proper use of negative space can help you make dramatic photos. It can also help you create mood and tone to your liking which aide in the telling of a photographic story.
The next time you pick up your camera, try to experiment with negative space. Look for ways to surround your main subject with nothingness. It’s a great exercise that may just yield a great image.
P.S. If you want to study photography from Japan, I highly recommend The History of Japanese Photography (Museum of Fine Arts). It will give you a look at some amazing photography you might not be familiar with. In my case, it opened my eyes to a whole new way to make images.