When photographing architecture, you’re often presented with two choices: fill the frame with your subject or leave some breathing space around it. The latter is called negative space and can be a great tool for your compositions.
Filling the frame creates a busy composition, often resulting in dramatic, intense, sometimes overwhelming images. Leaving some negative space around your subject has the opposite effect: your image looks more minimalistic, serene, with a strong focus on a particular feature of the building.
For example, in the example above, the image on the left is the fill-the-frame version of this spiral staircase. By shooting from above, you see the entire staircase, with all the railings and steps. It’s a wide view that shows a lot of things, with many lines and patterns.
The image on the right is shot from underneath the staircase, which has a lot of white space. I zoomed in on the railing and positioned myself so I would only get a sliver of it, surrounded by negative space. It looks so different from the first image, much more minimalist. Yet, both images are of the same staircase at the Palmer House.
Empty walls are a great way to create negative space. If they’re not white, switching to black and white might make the negative space stronger. When you’re outside, however, the obvious way is to include a good amount of sky, as I did in the image of the Geisel Library below.
If you can get some reflections, you can create even more negative space. The image below became all about that narrow jagged line. Yet, if you look at the building from far away, it looks completely different.
It doesn’t have to be strictly empty sky or white walls. A well lined-up, uniform pattern can act as negative space if you subject is disrupting that pattern. In the Flamingo image, I used a tilt-shift lens to include as much as of the background building as possible. The black, rigid pattern acts as negative space for the colorful, curvy sculpture. Plus, it provides a sense of scale for the sculpture vs the surrounding buildings.
Finally, the sky doesn’t have to be completely empty. A few clouds can be interesting and a secondary subject.
Or in some cases, a glass building will even start blending in with the clouds: