Negative space…no its not the place in your head where you second guess your photographic composition and/or lens choice and/or exposure settings and/or enter general anxiety here. The simplest explanation of negative space that I can think of is that it is any space in your photograph that is not the intended subject. Or as Wiki puts it “is the space around and between the subject(s) of an image.” For editorial photographers the negative space of an image can be incredibly important and can make or break an image for publication.
When you are sent out on assignment or are asked for a stock submission you may get some request like, “mind the gutter”, or “right read two page opener” or better yet “cover please!” All of these requests are basically code for negative space and how they want that space to be organized. When you are out shooting, you should keep these negative spaces in mind. Below are a few example of how negative space is used in editorial photography.
Mind the Gutter- Just like it sounds, the gutter is where the left and right pages meet in the middle of the magazine and art directors generally will not want to place the subject of the image within the gutter. If the subject is centered then they may make the image a ¾ spread and put text in the left or right column depending which way the image was placed
Right (or left) read two page opener- Be prepared to keep you subject and the action confined to one side of an image. Often you will find that a story opens as a two-page spread photograph with the copy on the right side and the action/subject on the left and sometimes the other way around.
Cover please! – The phrase every photographer wants to hear. Extremely elusive and always an honor no matter the size of the publication. This may be the one time when a center-punched subject (something generally avoided) will work well for you and your editor. Another consideration is that, contrary to what you would think, most covers (well mine at least) are pulled from horizontal images NOT vertical.
Below is an example of an image that could only be run as a half page. Compositionally I had to have my subject in the middle of the page so that I could tell a complete story with the gawking pedestrian viewers left and the pelican and dice viewer right.
Another example of an image made to be used as a two page spread. I was sure to keep my athlete our of the “gutter” so that he would be on the right and the copy on the left.