COMPOSING WITH NEGATIVE SPACE AND LEADING LINES | FOR PHOTOGRAPHERS

It has been a while since I did a ‘behind the scenes’ post and I think this is long over due! I have gotten questions on how I choose to compose my photos. And to be honest, it really is just a natural reaction to the different settings that I have been fortunate enough to shoot in. Let it be a wildflower field, a modern college, white picket fences, whatever it is, I react to it organically and just compose what I think looks cool. HOWEVER, if I really have to describe it, I would say I love using negative space and leading lines in order to compose dynamic images.

Some of you might know that I have a bachelor’s degree in Architecture, and my eyes are naturally trained that way. I notice shapes, massing, volume, lighting pattern in different ways than other photographers. I have prepared a few images that I have done in the past and I will provide a break down of each image. So here we go!
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Now in the image above, I shot Kelly & Kenny’s engagement session in old town Sacramento. Ramps are naturally a great way to provide leading lines into your photo. What lines create is ‘depth’ in the photo. In another word, the image appears to be deeper, and it sets up a visual reference of how far your subjects are from the viewer (or the photographer). It creates a more interesting photo, compositionally. And of course it doesn’t hurt to have a gorgeous couple in the photo.
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Now the leading lines don’t just apply to portraits only. If you are a wedding photographer, you know through out a typical wedding day you are expected to shoot product, fashion, landscape, architecture, portraits, just to name a few. Some photographers like to ’tilt’ their photos in order to create an interesting composition. But for me, I’d much rather use the built environment than artificially creating it. I hope I am making sense! For this wedding I shot at Pasadena City Hall, I decided to use the colonnade in my composition. I know I wanted the words “city hall” to be in my photos, but I also want to capture as much architecture as possible. I looked up and saw that I can frame the image in such a way that the iconic tower of the Pasadena City Hall can also be part of the picture. To be honest, I have looked online and this appears to be the only shot for the City hall that has not been done before. Yay!

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For this “rock the dress” session or “trash the dress” session, I had Kristine & Alferd lean against a white picket fence. I purposely framed it in a way that the fence appears to be extending BEYOND the image itself. What you don’t see is a manufactured home off to the left side of the fence, and my car parked right in front of it. 🙂 Again, the point is to make the picture tell as much as a story as possible with a single frame.

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Another type of shot I like to do is by using negative space. I define negative space as an area with no texture/color, or just an area that is devoid of a story. In this case, the negative space is a blank plaster wall next to the gorgeous Sandra and her fiance Brian. I wanted the focus to be on her smile, and the love they have for each other. I had the couple hold hands, and had Sandra lean her head against Brian’s arm. I moved to the side of the couple, and leaned against the platser wall to create this composition. I know when a viewer looks at this photo, his/her eyes will be traveling from the right (negative space) to Sandra. I am a mind reader. 🙂

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Same idea here for Eliza & Gilbert’s wedding. The negative space on the left you see is actually a column. I used the column to frame my shot. Not the prettiest doors in the background and on the right side, but you do what you can. Eliza & Gilbert definitely worked it out!

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This wedding has yet to hit the blog, but I wanted to post this shot from the wedding. This was during the couple’s first look, a very intimate moment. So I purposely framed the shot where they appear to be surrounded by this white mass to the right of the image. Somehow this looks more intimate to me, than let’s say the couple standing in front of the bush. One thing I have found is that lighter color negative space tends to work better than dark colors. Dark color negative space feels a bit more dramatic. Some photogs love using dark colors, but I like to keep things light and airy. 🙂

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stairs are another great way to lead your viewers into a photo. For this shot, the groom and his guys are getting ready before the ceremony. I stood probably 5 or 6 steps down from the groom and shot up towards him. I used the mirror to get a reflection of the groom. And using rule of 3rds, negative space (devoid of a story) and leading lines, I created an image that otherwise would have been pretty flat and dull.

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If you are lucky enough to find a spiral staircase…. USE IT. This was shot at the Claremont Colleges. I had the beautiful Eliza grab her wedding gown, and instructed her to just spin. Naturally she feels silly so she gave a very sincere smile. By using the spiral staircase, I can create a very dramatic composition. The viewer’s eyes will travel from the lower right hand side of the image, going counter clockwise until the eyes land on the beautiful bride.


This is another picture that has not made the blog. I did a quick portrait session for Daniel (my brother-in-law) at Chaffey College. They just built this very cool modern student center, and I know I wanted to use it to my advantage. This cool metal sun shading device provided a perfect leading line into my photo. Again, I purposely cropped off the awning so it appears to extend beyond the image.

So that’s about it! If you like what I shared, please hit “like” on the bottom of this post and share it with your friends! And please leave me a comment and tell me how YOU compose your photos. Would love to learn from everybody!

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