Why Using the Negative and Positive Spaces to Judge a Fine Art Photograph

Judging an artistic photograph is complex and difficult. Indeed, there are many ways and criteria for making a judgment. We often use an interesting method that is based on the roles played by the positive and negative space of a photo.

A black-winged stilt in Danube Delta in Romania. Fine art Photograph.
A fine art photograph of a black-winged stilt in Danube Delta in Romania.

Judging is in Practice an Emotional Act

To judge an artistic photograph an observer can use different methods that go from the most objective to the most subjective. Often, we tend to think that the most objective is the best way to make a judgment. This is certainly true in theory but in practice it is often wrong.

Indeed, as photograph artists, we have often found that the price of a work in no way depends on objective technical criteria but on the emotion felt by the buyer when he discovers the photograph.

When a person has a crush on an art print, it is before an emotional and visual encounter between a human being and a work of art. In no case does this person make a detailed and precise analysis of the work. The buyer will only buy the time of a glance that lasted a fraction of a second, a click has occurred in the depths of his being.

A viewer can connect with an art print because memories are suddenly raised to the surface of his memory. A personal connection has been established. This immaterial link, totally incomprehensible to other observers, gives a value to the work.

We found that most of the time that judgment is an emotional act that has absolutely nothing to do with the technique.

Different Methods of Judgment

An observer has at his disposal a full range of technical tools to judge an artistic photograph:

  • He can use the method of five points: contrast, light, sharpness, colors and creativity. This technique is mostly used when viewing on a screen.
  • He can use the method of ten point: the work is presented in a final way. It is printed and framed. It's a judgment in real life.
  • He can judge a series. In this case, the observer judges the coherence of an artistic approach, a style, an artistic approach with the respect of a true vision.

All these methods have in common to be analytical. They are based only on technical criteria. They are objective because the emotional feeling of the observer is totally absent.

Judging Using Negative Space and Positive Space

When an observer looks at and analyzes an art photograph, he looks for a main subject which will arouse interest. This is called the positive space of a photo. All other photographic elements such as the background or subtopics are of lesser importance. They will always be identified in a second step. These elements constitute the negative space.

The negative space supports the visual impact of the positive space.

In our ACANP method, which we use to create our artistic photographs and to animate our nature photography workshops, we place as much importance on the positive space as on the negative space. We often judge a photograph the way a photographer will highlight these two spaces. The more the harmony between the two will be obvious, the more the photo will be successful.

This is one of the methods we use to judge photographs. We often use it to complement that of the ten points. Indeed, it allows to bring a criterion of qualitative judgment on the creativity without judging the emotional role which is very subjective.

Negative space is a difficult concept to understand and apprehend for many photographers. For example, in wildlife photography, it may be the habitat or environment of an animal. The negative space can consist of a plane of the photo or the foreground plus the background. Its interest is to showcase the main subject.


To judge an artistic photograph by considering only negative and positive space is an additional tool in the vast range of judgment criteria. It is interesting because it allows to better identify the creativity of the artist while remaining objective.

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