Negative Space in Land Photography

A sports photographer at the Olympics will focus on a specific area of the running track, awaiting and anticipating a subject — an athlete — moving into that area so he can press the shutter. Skilful underwater photographers do the same — choose an area of outstanding negative space and wait for something to swim into it before they press the shutter.

fig. 5.8 Tubeworms are very common and found in abundance so it was not these subjects which caught first caught my eye in Bali. What attracted me was a sizeable formation of corals which stood over a metre high from the seabed. It meant that I could position myself below the formation and photograph anything remotely interesting which protruded from it because the background (negative space) was plain and simple blue water. In Figs 5.7 and 5.8 I approached them from eye level with an aperture of f16 using a Nikon 60 mm macro lens on a Nikon D200 with two Inon Z220 flashguns. I shot Fig. 5.7 at a slower shutter speed of 1/60th sec which has recorded the blue water a slightly darker shade than it appeared to my eye. I shot this image also at f16 but on this occasion, and to illustrate the concept of negative space, I used a shutter speed of 1/125th sec, which has recorded the blue water as black.

There is nothing difficult, challenging or creative about either of these two images but don't they jump out at you! It is nothing to do with the subjects themselves. The reason is the background — the negative space, non-distracting, non-cluttered, non-busy — where they are situated. Try this technique when you next photo-dive. Look for good negative space and find subjects within that space.

If the background is poor and the subject is quite ordinary, I may not bother to take the shot. If it's a subject I have not seen before I will shoot it, but only enough frames 'to get a 'recording shot'. If the negative space is particularly good, then I will take more shots.

Dive guides are specialists at finding critters. However, more often than not what they find is laying or situated around cluttered or distracting negative space. That's not the guide's fault (they are there to find the subject) and whilst it may be attractive, if the background is distracting, even the most experienced uw photographer would be hard pressed to improve it.

• Newcomers look for specific subjects.

• Experienced photographers look for good negative space and then make efforts to find simple subjects within their chosen negative space.

• My own favourite negative space is the water column which can be recorded at various shades between blue and black (in tropical climes). Green and black in more temperate seas.

fig. 5.9 The resort of Nuweiba on the Gulf of Eilat (northern Red Sea) is well known for the amount of Lion fish which inhabit the house reef of the Coral Hilton Hotel. They are in abundance at all times of the day but after sunset, attracted by the spot-lights of the hotel's jetty, they rise to the surface. Not just two or three but 20 or 30. Because they occupy the water column and are not hidden within a reef crevice, this means that the potential to shoot dynamic pictures of them is huge, and in Europe and the UK they consistently do well in underwater photo competitions.

fig. 5.9 The resort of Nuweiba on the Gulf of Eilat (northern Red Sea) is well known for the amount of Lion fish which inhabit the house reef of the Coral Hilton Hotel. They are in abundance at all times of the day but after sunset, attracted by the spot-lights of the hotel's jetty, they rise to the surface. Not just two or three but 20 or 30. Because they occupy the water column and are not hidden within a reef crevice, this means that the potential to shoot dynamic pictures of them is huge, and in Europe and the UK they consistently do well in underwater photo competitions.

fig. 5.10 The very first time I shot the Nuweiba Lion fish I could not believe the potential of what could be achieved. My first idea was to go for a reflection just below the surface. I accomplished this quite easily! There were so many to choose from, I just had to wait until one turned towards me to pose.

Nikon D200, Nikon 17 mm-35 mm at the 35 mm end, f8 at 1/90th sec, two Inon Z220 flashguns, ISO 100.

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