Thursday, August 25, 2011

The negative space in food photography

The 'negative space' in art is the room around the subject, which is sometimes called 'positive space' then. The room around the subject in food photography is often filled by props and side elements. And the props and side elements can become subjects on their own supporting the main subject - the food. In general one would not call this negative space, because it is filled with 'side' subjects, although it is possible that this background and side elements work as negative space in some way. More obvious is the negative space, when it seems to be 'empty' too.

The best known negative space in food photography is when you photograph food against a sheer white background, like it is done in the following image:

© All rights reserved, Thorsten Kraska, 2011

This kind of negative space is suited for many publications, because one can isolate the food easily from the background and can use the food in many different ways without being determined by a maybe distracting background. You will find such photos in many stock photo collections.

The negative space, especially when it takes more room in the composition as the food does, can be used to emphasize on contrasts, structures, textures or to bring the attention to certain characteristics of the food.

Vineyard Peaches
© All rights reserved, Thorsten Kraska, 2011

In the above photo I have used a light blue color in the negative space which makes a 1st order color triangle with the red and yellow of the peaches. It is not a true color triangle, because the colors are 'broken', but the blue negative space brings the attention more to colors. Together with a soft backlight you get the impression of smoothness and silkyness of the fruit. And the colors still remain a fresh impression.

Water Melon (2/2)
© All rights reserved, Thorsten Kraska, 2011

Another example with a negative space and color contrast. In this image some melon seeds were placed beside the water melon. With such a empty space every little element gets more attention like here the seeds. This effect is based on a 'room contrast' (small-to-big-contrast). And although the seeds just take a very small portion of the image, their meaning is enmphasized by the negative space. When there would be more side elements here the meaning of the seeds would be reduced.

Red Apple
© All rights reserved, Thorsten Kraska, 2011

In the above photo with the red apple the negative space is used to emphasize on the structures on the apple surface. See how the more or less strucure-less background brings your attention to the different structures of the apples. And to use a dark background helps here to make the apple the 'brightest' spot in the photo, which makes it easier to highlight even little color differences and textures.

© All rights reserved, Thorsten Kraska, 2011

In this monochromatic photo of an avocado the background introduces a different structure. One can use the structure contrast to hightlight the structure of the subject (avocado) more. To pronounce this more I have used a structural light from left which creates more shadows so that the texture of the avocado is seen better.

The cake (1/2) The cake (2/2)
© All rights reserved, Thorsten Kraska, 2011

There are transistions from an 'empty' negative space to a more filled negative space as you see it in the above two photos. To maintain the feeling of an empty space the coffee pot and cup in the back were kept out of focus. With a defined focal plain on the food and a more shallow depth of field one can separate the subject (food, here cake) from the rest of the photo and so one create a kind of negative space too.

One can find many different ways to use the negative space in food photography. And here are some more examples from the Food Photography Club (a discussion group on Flickr). Please click on the link to see the photo:

Untitled (by seven spoons • tara)
- a very reduce composition with a graphical setting. Beside the great use of the graphical patterns (circle of the food against squares of the background) a color contrast of broken red, green and blue is used.
Blackcurrants (by zapxpxau) - the basket is used to frame here the blackcurrants with in the frame. The grass is giving the impression of fresh picked fruit.
Apple core (by sunshinemomsblog) - also an example of color contrast using first order colors of red, blue and yellow. The negative space is also giving the impression of the apple core left behind, because the negative space is an empty space too.
Couscous agli Agrumi - Citrus Couscous (by Alessandro Guerani) - a very strong color contrast. The yellow and purple are strong colors in contrast to the green. The large area (negative spave) the green is taking here brings the green into a good balance to the two stronger colors yellow and purple.
Cheese souffle (by Souvlaki For The Soul) - great use of bruigthness contrast. The souffle is the brigthest spot in tis composoition whereas the rest of the photo is based on darker notes and is also out of focus. It creates a very rustic atmosphere.
distinctive characters (by Melina Hammer) - a monochromatic setting with a plain two colored background. This setting is focussing strongly on the wonderful structures and textures of the mushroom.
enjoy 0019-153.jpg (by skrockodile ( - this caviar shot is almost a black & white image. Only the script is remaining of a color image. Here we have a two-fold negative space. The caviar in the box is working as negative space for the caviar on the spoon. And the white background is a negative space for the bow. This minimalistic setting is emphasizing the exclusiveness of the caviar.
Chocolate brownies w dulce de leche (by DarioMilano Food Styling & Photography) - a monochromatic setting which creates a lot of tension by placing the food far off center. The lines of the brownies are counter acted by the wooden lines. And the the dark shadows are separatring the food from the background.

If you browse through the above mentioned flickr group 'Food Photography Club' you will find many more examples on the use of negative space in food photography.

If you like this post, you make alos like to read:
High and Low Key Food Photography
How close to the food should one get in food photos
The breakfast shot
Post Processing in my Food Photography


La Cuisine d'Helene said...

Thanks so much, I love to learn. I prefer the white, black and monochromatic.

Thorsten said...

Thank you very much. Hope it was an interesting read.

Rute said...

Loving your blog. Besides very good recipes, I appreciate the nice tips for photography as I just started as well.

Gourmandelle said...

I love your blog! This post was so helpful! Thank you very much!

Gourmandelle from Gourmandelle Lifestyle Blog

Thorsten said...

Thank you all again for your feedback

Groupdmt said...

lovely photos i can't wait to your blog :)

Unknown said...

great post and wonderful examples.

Unknown said...

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EatDrinkFlash said...

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New (MIM said...

waaoo...what a nice picture..lovely

BumbleVee said...

I just found your blog from looking at the Food Photography group.... as I was just looking for some nicely photographed foods to put in a gallery. Most groups are just plates of food and not that interesting to me even though I don't know much about food photography...
I liked reading your info on this post regarding various applications of it.. thanks ...
Your own photos are lovely....