When I first started making pictures I focused on action and the subject of the image and paid little attention to the space around it. What you will see in this post is what happens when I focus on the space around the action.
For the above image, the construction worker chipping away at the cement post is the obvious action in the scene, but the soft clouds of the early morning are equally present in the scene. This balance is purposeful and impacts how we take in the picture. By not just turning to the action, the space on the right emphasizes the action that the construction worker is doing and also provides an easy read on where to begin looking at the image. Utilizing negative space is a strong way to emphasize the process in how a viewer should take in an image.
Negative space can be equally powerful in creating the overall feeling of an image. The fisherman waits for signs of life in the water, but the stillness of the water and the reflection of the orange hue from sunset warms the scene and makes the above picture serene and relaxing.
Later, I would photograph the fisherman as he cast his net, which is an interesting picture, but it lacks emotion and any sort of feeling. When negative space is used correctly, it can often add a feeling to the image that wouldn't be obtained by just documenting action.
I spent quite a bit of time with this young boy and his family as they collected plants for dinner and played in the water. As he waded out into the shallows, I raised my camera up a bit and put as much water around him to emphasize his being surrounded by water. By shifting my lens to have a slightly more downward gaze removed the many plants growing another 20 feet in front of the boy. This "cleaned up" the image and makes it more impactful.
Offering "breathing room" into our images can emphasize certain aspects of the image, create a feeling and showcase the immensity of a space. I continue to find that I gravitate towards negative space as a way of directing viewers to see how I do and obtain a feeling from an image (which is generally a main priority in photography).