Rule of Space in Photography

If everybody needs space, so does the subject in your portraits. This is a rule in photography more commonly known as the rule of space. This rule states that if the subject is not looking directly to the camera, or looks out of the frame, there should be enough space for the subject to look into. This technique creates intrigue in the minds of the viewers.

Moreover, studies show that people viewing this kind of image will naturally look at the area where the subject is looking at.

rule of space in photography

Photo by Cowork Klitmøller; ISO 400, f/4.0, 1/5000-second exposure.

If you are taking pictures of moving objects like cars, bicycles, running animals and the like, this theory should still be applied. The image should present the moving object with more active space and less dead space. The active space is the area where the object is facing. On the other hand, the dead space is the area behind the subject. This strategy builds impact, shows the expression that the object is actually moving and has a destination. This also enables viewers to instinctively look to where the object is heading, thus, building excitement within the image and sets its mood.

Not only does it add dramatic accents in your photos, but it also creates a flow to naturally drag the attention of viewers to the direction of the subject.

While following this technique can help you achieve your desired photo, it can also be very interesting if you break this rule.

Breaking this rule, especially in moving objects where the space behind is what breaks or makes the image. Doing this kind of tactic will give the viewer an idea how fast the object had been and where did it come from.

Changing the framing and the look-space direction will also give a different meaning. A subject who runs and has too much dead space behind, means that he is leaving swiftly. But if you put active space in front of it, then it would suggest that the subject is leaving with a goal or target in front. This may also mean the start of his journey.

photography rule of space

Photo by Mark Kent; ISO 800, f/5.6, 1/500-second exposure.

Either way, you can experiment on your own. Who knows? You might be able to discover something new, something fresh and never been known. Just bear in mind what the rule of space states – put some active space to where your subject is facing in order to capture the element of creativity.

About the Author:
Samanta Vis is a talented photographer. She writes about several subjects including tips and how-tos in the field of digital photography and photography poses.

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5 responses to “Rule of Space in Photography”

  1. Murray White says:

    Robert Bateman is an artist that almost always reverses the concept of leaving room to look to but rather leaves a lot of space to one side or the other from his subject when painting his wildlife images. His work is very effective and the technique can be very effective when creating some images. Sometimes just fun to try out.

  2. Awesome article the rule of space is a very important aspect of photography

  3. Amy Winters says:

    Thanks for explaining that the rule of space means there should be enough space for the subject to look into if they’re looking out of frame and not at the camera. My husband and I want to buy some photography prints to decorate our new home. I like the effect that following the rule of space has on a photo, so I’ll definitely be looking out for that as we shop!

  4. Sharon Rosa says:

    Good content about RULE OF SPACE IN PHOTOGRAPHY. thanks.

  5. An interesting aspect of this is that it can applying to static inanimate objects too. As humans we tend to anthropomorphise objects and we can perceive them as needing looking room as well. For instance, a jar with a label might look more comfortable if we give what we perceive to be its ‘face’ – the label – some looking room.

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