soldier in post-apocalyptic wasteland

Negative Space and Media Form


When you are taking pictures for your coursework, you need to carefully consider how the images will be used in your final product. Instagram posts, magazine covers, and movie posters all have their own formats which could influence how you frame your subject, so make sure you take plenty of close ups and long shots of your friends and family. The composition might also be very different for a website banner compared to an image for a double page spread that bleeds across the gutter.

You will then be expected to combine your images with other elements, such as headlines and titles, to construct effective messages that will grab your audience’s attention.

We are going to demonstrate the importance of negative space and media form with artwork for End of Aeon, our fictional science-fiction film. First, let’s define the concept.

What is negative space in photography?

Negative space refers to the blank or empty areas surrounding the main object in a photograph. Photographers use negative space to emphasise the focal point by providing a visual contrast, give a sense of scale, or simply to create a more interesting composition.

The interplay between the subject of the image and the empty space can also evoke different moods. For example, a vast expanse of empty sky might convey loneliness or isolation, while negative space around a small subject might create a feeling of vulnerability or insignificance.

End of Aeon Campaign

In End of Aeon, players step into the rough-worn boots of Lieutenant Reynolds, a seasoned soldier navigating the wastelands of a post-apocalyptic world ravaged by war and environmental catastrophe. As one of the few remaining survivors, Reynolds must grapple with the moral dilemmas of survival while uncovering the truth behind the cataclysm that brought civilization to its knees.

You might have to use at least three original images to meet the minimum requirements of your brief, but we are going to rework one image to explore negative space in media texts.

Box Art

The box art needs to be visually striking because the game will be available in stores and competing against other titles for the audience’s money. Ready for action, the protagonist walks towards the viewer with the dress codes establishing the futuristic setting. The gas mask, smog, and barren landscape all signify the toxic disaster that blights the world.

In this long shot, the use of negative space emphasises the desolation and the protagonist’s desperate struggle to survive. It also offers plenty of room at the top of the frame to overlay the title and tagline.

Stepping back from your subject can add more impact to the image compared to a medium shot or a close up. Importantly, it can also give you more space for the other elements.

box art for game making use of negative space
Box Art

Title Card

The download games market continues to surge in popularity with the vast majority of players buying digital copies of the latest releases. Instead of a long shot drawing attention to the apocalyptic setting featured on the box art, we used a more aggressive medium shot of the protagonist in an attempt to make an immediate connection with audience scrolling through the grid of small title cards on their screens.

However, this meant there was not enough negative space in the background to add the title. We could have pushed the character further down in the composition to make room for End of Aeon, but this representation would reduce his significance and the impact on the audience. Fortunately, changing the font to white contrasted enough with the dark clothes to make the title stand out.

title card for our fictional game


Despite billboards being much larger in size than front covers and title cards, they are designed to be viewed at a distance, so the combination of elements is just as important. The first advertisement is located in a busy train station where the mode of consumption is tertiary, and we only have a brief moment to make an impression:

The game poster displayed in a train station
Billboard Example

The protagonist is off-centre to meet the rule of thirds and create an effective balance between the dominant signifier and the background. Once again, the negative space provides room for the title, tagline, and release date.

The next advertisement follows the typical dimensions of a poster found at bus shelters. We positioned the protagonist’s masked face at the top of the frame to meet the audience’s eyeline and provoke fear. Again, this meant we had to use the dark body to contrast with the lighter version of the title. We deliberately increased the size of the words and separated the name into three decks to ensure the message is clear to everyone walking past the bus stop.

the poster in situ at a bus shelter
Poster Example

Consumer data suggests bus shelters are great places to target students commuting to school. Hopefully, our unnerving advertisement will raise awareness of the game’s upcoming release.

Instagram Post

Social media platforms give agencies access to a large and diverse audience, including demographics that are harder to reach through traditional marketing channels. Using a medium shot of the protagonist left enough negative space in our post for End of Aeon for the title and a call to action.

instagram post with negative space

Gaming Magazine

Magazines use lots of coverlines to convince the reader they should buy the issue because there is a wealth of great content inside. This means you might need negative space either side of your subject or a background that will contrast with the text overlays.

Although we kept enough negative space either side the protagonist for the coverlines, we used rectangles to add variety and increase the visibility of some articles.

the use of negative space on a magazine cover
Magazine Covers and Negative Space

If you would like to practise your Photoshop skills, try our magazine cover tutorial. It is particularly useful for layering the masthead behind the model.

Negative space cannot be ignored whenever you are taking a photograph because it can help define the main object for the viewer. It can also show the relationship between the focal points and their background. Perhaps, like the protagonist against the toxic white background, it will make the image more dramatic.

Adele’s Hello

The negative space throughout the music video for Adele’s Hello conveys loneliness and longing. The singer is shown against stark and desolate backgrounds to encode that sense of emptiness.

Blade Runner 2049 Poster

The following teaser poster was created by BLT Communications to promote the release of Blade Runner 2049 (2017) in the UK.

British quad poster for Blade Runner 2049
Blade Runner 2049 (2017)

Ryan Gosling plays a detective who has discovered a secret about the bio-engineered humans known as replicants. This disruption sends the character on a quest to uncover the truth about his own identity and the nature of his mission.

The designers placed the protagonist against a white ethereal mist to draw our attention to his importance in the narrative. The emptiness helps define the character. The contrast could also suggest he is surrounded by mysterious and dangerous forces. Perhaps the lens flare behind is body signifies his determination to reveal the truth.

When you are taking your own pictures, remember that a simple or uncluttered background will help your subject stand out more effectively. It will also make it easier for you to overlay other elements to the composition, including the title of the film, actor’s names, and the billing block.

Timex Advertisement

Advertisers often associate aspirational settings and lifestyles with the goods and services being promoted. For example, the campaign for a new perfume might have the Paris skyline in the background because the city connotes romance and sophistication. These complex ads encourage consumers to transfer their feelings of desire from the setting to the product.

However, there are plenty of display ads that use negative space to emphasise the product and leave enough room for branding, taglines, and other elements. The following example is from a billboard in New York where the clothing company Adsum is based:

billboard illustrating effective use of negative space
Timex-Adsum Advertisement (2022)

The watch obviously stands out from the white background, but the minimal white design could also be poking fun at Apple’s marketing department who regularly use this style. The subtle intertextuality is reinforced by the tagline which compares this traditional watch to contemporary smartwatches and their intrusive notifications.


Before you point your camera and shoot, carefully consider how the image will work with the other elements in your media product. A close up of your subject might convey their emotions, but there will be little room for headlines and captions. Negative space can give you the areas needed to communicate a clear message to the audience.

Further Reading

Thanks for reading!