Have you ever seen a design where a picture seemed to emerge from, well, nothing? Most likely you were observing a masterful use of negative space.

But what exactly is negative space? The easiest way to describe it is as the empty space between the objects that form a design. But this isn’t quite accurate. In design, no part of the image is ever truly empty. In fact, all good design needs negative space in order for us to make sense of the positive space (the objects or text). Think about the space around this text – if there were no gaps, you wouldn’t be able to read it.

Negative space gives us the design room to ‘breathe’ and let us absorb the information presented. It also helps to balance the space, as well as draw and direct the eye.

So how we can harness negative space to create compelling film posters? Let’s look at some examples.


The Moon poster powerfully evokes the character’s sense of isolation. His small and solitary figure is marooned within two ‘empty’ spaces – and combines with a lack of colour to communicate the film’s sombre tone.

Moon poster

Little Miss Sunshine

As we read the image left to right we see the characters rushing and placement of the van slightly off the right side of the poster gives the whole design a sense of momentum. The punchy colour scheme feels anything but empty. The off-centre design mirrors and balances the increasing size of title typography.

Little Miss Sunshine poster


Another design lacking colour, The Poltergeist poster draws the eye straight to the centre of the image – conveying a growing threat that threatens to swallow the small figure at its heart. This foreshadows the narrative both literally and figuratively – as a young girl is sucked into a portal by malevolent spirits.

The Poltergeist poster

The Lobster

This poster makes incredibly bold use of negative space that both reflects the quirky style of the film and suggests the main character’s dilemma – he is missing a meaningful relationship in his life.

The Lobster poster

Blue is the Warmest Color

The lack of negative space is a huge signifier here. The closeness of the two characters’ faces signal the genre (romance) and hints at the intensity of their relationship.

Blue is the Warmest Color poster

Star Trek Into Darkness

Negative space doesn’t always have to involve flat colour. Using the differentiation between the pale sky of the background and rubble in the foreground, this poster creates the iconic shape of the Star Trek logo. The unusual presentation of the logo however indicates that this film will be a fresh take on the traditional style of the franchise.

Star Trek Into Darkness poster


This deceptively simple design leads your eye all the way up the piano steps to the warm glow at the centre of the title – giving us plenty of narrative cues along the way. The steps show us that this is film both about music and a journey (possibly a heavenly one). We get a peek at our probable protagonist and that warm glow promises that everything might just turn out alright in the end.

Soul poster

As you can see, there is no limit to the way that negative space can be used to communicate genre, mood and even the narrative of a film. How do your favourite movie posters use negative space and what does it tell you about the film?

If you’d like to discuss a film poster design project, feel free to drop me a line at adam@strelka.co.uk.