by ʇolɐǝz ǝɥʇ qoq

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From here:

you have far too much negative space so the eye goes toward the back...of the picture, and there is not much to see there...either.

What qualifies to be a negative space in a photograph? Something which doesn't have a POI?

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up vote 7 down vote accepted

Negative space is the part of the image that does not contain your subject. It has the strongest effect when it is literally empty as some of my images below, as they draw attention to your subject, basically by not giving your eye any other place to rest!

In your image, while I wouldn't have thought of it as negative space, the colorful boats do command attention against the backdrop of the river. It would be a very different picture without them - unavoidable as you say, but maybe try cloning them out.

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A non-subject area of a photograph can be background, foreground, or just clutter — negative space has to be space, not just "not subject". – mattdm Mar 17 '12 at 1:53
thanks very much for the beautiful pictures. – TheIndependentAquarius Mar 17 '12 at 2:09

Negative space is essentially empty areas that don't contain anything. The idea behind negative space is that the empty area draws your attention to your subject. For example, if you have a white sheet of paper with a drawing of a small bee on it. The white paper draws your attention to the bee. The white doesn't directly contribute to the image but it draws your attention.

In your particular picture, the river is the negative space. I think what the person who offered the criticism is getting to is that the subject of the photo (I'm assuming the boats) isn't a strong enough subject to handle the negative space. If you recrop the picture so that only one boat is visible and only the river is visible (no banks, horizon, etc) then it would be a stronger composition for negative space.

You can read more about Negative Space from this article from Layers Magazine (Kelby):

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thanks, actually the subject of the story is the "river". Boats are just a distraction which I couldn't have avoided. – TheIndependentAquarius Mar 16 '12 at 14:02
Hmm, it's going to be hard to make this river the subject. The color is so similar to the banks and background. – nwcs Mar 16 '12 at 14:46
does that matter? I mean in a landscape photo can't I expect to make river the subject? – TheIndependentAquarius Mar 16 '12 at 14:55
Maybe taking the photo from a different angle, or at a different hour, so the light is different thus making the reflections in water more interesting. That may clearly show the river as the subject of your photo. Also, try a polarized filter to change the aspect of the reflections. – Jahaziel Mar 16 '12 at 15:01
I change the wording in this answer slightly by saying that the negative space is the area that doesn't contain your "subject". Also, I think some judicious use of photoshop could fix some of the problems here. The boats would be easy enough to clone or heal, and you could either convert to black and white, or perhaps do some selective color correcting to make the river pop a little more. It's perhaps not an ideal photo to work with, but if it means something to you or you like it, it could be worth a shot. – cadmium Mar 16 '12 at 18:54

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