Negative Space

‘Groyne Post’, Southwold, Suffolk
Canon EOS 1Ds Mark III, Canon EF 100-400 f/4.5-5.6 L IS USM @ 200mm, 1 minute @ f/11, ISO 50
LEE 2-stop ND + 3-stop ND filters.
Manfrotto 441 tripod, Manfrotto 322RC2 Heavy Duty Grip Ball Head.
Adobe Lightroom.

“Empty or ‘negative’ space provides an important counter-balance to the main subject, significantly strengthening its presence.”

Negative Space

Minimalism is a relatively recent trend in the arts, only emerging in the later half of the last century. It refers to any art or music that is stripped down to its most essential features, minimizing unnecessary and distracting details or embellishments. This idea sits comfortably with the ‘subtractive’ nature of landscape photography. Deciding on a composition when framing a scene is an exercise in subtraction. Unlike the painter who starts with a blank canvas and builds up his image by the addition of paint, as photographers we work in the other direction. We constantly remove superfluous detail from around the edges and frame our composition to only include intended elements.

The Japanese have a word “Ma” which has no direct equivalent in the English language but describes the emptiness or space forming part of something, which although empty, helps form the essence of it. For example, the empty space within a bowl is an equally important part of the overall function as the material from which it is made. When used photographically, such empty or ‘negative’ space provides an important counter-balance to the main subject, significantly strengthening its presence.

This image was made as darkness established itself after a particularly disappointing blustery overcast end to the day. I turned my attention to this groyne-post and decided to create a minimalist image. The drab overcast conditions created an otherwise uninteresting featureless sky, perfect for a minimalist representation with nothing there to distract from my main subject. Despite the darkness, I used neutral density filters to enable a long exposure of one minute. This ensured that both the sea and sky were rendered in an almost homogenous blur without any distracting detail to create the desired ‘negative-space’ and emphasise the isolation of the groyne-post. For such a long exposure, it was critical to ensure a rigid platform and eliminate camera-shake; I positioned myself with my tripod on the concrete promenade beside a beach-hut which sheltered me from the wind and used my open-jacket as a wind-break to shield the camera throughout the exposure. Back in the ‘digital-darkroom’ I desaturated the image to further dilute the muted nature of the understated pastel blues and emphasise the red post-top.

This article first appeared in Outdoor Photography Magazine. Reproduced with kind permission.