C4 Positive/Negative; Figure/Ground relationships







This exercise in Positive/Negative Space deals with how positive/negative shapes (aka, figure and background) can be discovered nearly anywhere. Welcome to the world of figure/ground.

Figure/ground relationships are similar to positive/negative relationships but allow for more involved variations in which multiple layers of relationships can occur. For example, the above “fish on the dish” image begins with the olive and lime slice combo forming an eye (positive) which rests upon the body of the fish (negative). In turn, the fish (plus side greens) becomes a positive that rests upon a dish which is a negative. In turn, now the entire dish (a positive) rests upon a table spread with the background tablecloth forming the negative. Just like positive/negative, figure/ground relationships form patterns and shapes.

Exercise: Find several images that were unintentionally taken or were just poorly composed to begin with. Crop (meaning to trim or zoom into and trim) your photos as needed so as to reveal a balance between positive and negative shapes. This may involve losing your photo’s meaning or importance, but not to worry. We’re just dealing with space and shape at this time.

Crop even further if necessary. Rotate the image if need be. Try to end up with a composition where positive and negative forces feel equally balanced.

There’s a traditional Japanese concept called notan which refers to space as not being a mere accident or byproduct, but something that actually has a pattern or shape to it. See if you can discover that way of thinking through this exercise.

fuji2 boatsunset-jog forrest japonesque-vignette







When you’re done, post to the Exercise Blog and share: Facebook, Pinterest or Instagram.

Click here to again view the definitions for Positive/Negative Space. Click below to view specific examples on Pinterest and YouTube:

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