“Clevedon Pier” by Steve Chatman (Or When Whitespace Is Truly White)
Whitespace is a term borrowed from the publishing industry where the application is quite literal: It is the space surrounding the typeset paragraph. In photography, it is supposed to apply to the area around the subject, which isn't always white nor is it always completely devoid of detail. It is just devoid of important detail. So normally I prefer the term negative space, except when that space is actually white. In those cases, I believe the white has more weight and power than other forms of negative space. This week, we feature a photo that uses whitespace quite effectively. Titled Clevedon Pier, this inspiring photo was captured by Steve Chatman.
A brief aside: On the scale of tones and colors, the two most powerful are black and white. Like their places on the tonal scale, their impact on the viewer is also quite opposite. Black can be looming, creepy, haunting, lonely and sometimes evil. White is pure, trusting, safe and welcoming. Even in color, each has an important role. Predominately black photos can be off-putting. Meanwhile, photos that are more white (brighter) tend to be more welcoming, honest and inviting. You're inviting your viewer to visit with your photo, stay a while and get to know it. For that reason, I feel that white is the most powerful of all values. So when the negative space is actually white, I like to refer to it as whitespace (because negative space sounds so….black, don't you think?).
Back to Clevedon Pier. To put it simply, Steve's photo makes me want to visit this place. It's a looks to be a quaint Victorian pier that is worthy of a walk out to the end, and I expect I would enjoy spending time there. There's a good reason the pier is so inviting, and it isn't entirely because of its architecture. The most obvious reason is the reflections. Even if they aren't crystal clear, reflections are appealing to the eye. They draw us into a photo and reveal details, imaginary lines and perspectives that aren't readily apparent in the right-side-up world. Another feature inviting us is the leading lines. It's a shallow angle of the walkway leading up to the end is just enough of a tilt and the right amount of convergence to push your eye from the edge toward the end. Next is the end of the pier itself, which is significantly larger – and therefore holds more weight – then every single other element in the shot. While all of these features would be enough to make the viewer want to take the stroll to the end, none is as effective without the powerful whitespace that is completely surrounding our subject.
Squint as you might, it's very difficult to figure out exactly where the horizon is. The water meets the sky and carries on. The result is the canvas for which the pier will exist. This scene has structure because of it; because all of that space is pushing inward onto the subject. Try this little experiment: View the image as large as you can and focus on any edge or corner of the photo. Try as you might, it is very difficult not to find your eye wandering towards the pier. That is both a measure of the power of the whitespace as well as a measure of how well balanced the scene is. Now one might initially think that a shot like this needs to be captured on a foggy, cloudy day. But with some choppy water and a long exposure and a black & white conversion, it is possible to blur the line between water and sky. The side effects, such as the defined the fuzzy reflections, only add to the inviting nature of the photograph (and therefore, I guess it's not technically a side effect). In post, I'm sure Steve pushed down the saturation of the blues, boosted contrast and tightened up the dynamic range to reveal this finished product. The results are impressive and inviting, thanks in part to all that surrounds.
Steve Chatman is a Landscape Photographer that also dabbles in other genres. But his experience with landscapes has given him the wisdom to create beautiful and inviting photos like Clevedon Pier above. So he is a photographer that is deserving of your attention and time. At the very least, you should browse through his photostream. If you're a Flickr member, you should be following him as well.