The Curse of the White Van

Every photographer knows it: the Curse of the White Van. Well, every photographer doing cityscapes and architecture, that is; in portrait, food or macro photography, it’s much less of an issue.

Photograph taken in the early morning of Saint Lawrence Church in Rotterdam, with a disfiguring white van parked in front of it
White van at Saint Lawrence’s church

Sick

So what exactly does it entail, this Curse of the White Van? It’s the phenomenon that a lot of potentially beautiful photos are spoiled because a white van is parked in a place where you would rather not have it. Sick man!

Unsightly white van, parked on the green area behind a row of traditional wooden houses on the island of Marken, The Netherlands
White van on the island of Marken

Annoying

Of course there are also vans in other colors. Not even mentioning motor vehicles in general. Or traffic signs, advertisements, trash cans, traffic lights, lampposts, signposts, parking meters. And let’s not talk about all those fellow humans who move rather undecoratively through your scene. But nothing attracts so much attention in such an annoying way as a white van.

Evening photo of the Rijnhaven in Rotterdam, with floating purple bulbs, a floating forest, modern architecture and an ugly white van
Find the white van…

Worthless

Wonderful, such an evening photo of the Theatre Square during the film festival. The beautifully illuminated Doelen concert hall, the Tiger logo, the reflections on the square, even the roof of the railway station is visible. But the image is completely worthless because there is a white van on it. One that even brought its big brother!

Evening photo, taken from a high point of view, from the Schouwburgplein, the Pathe cinema and the Doelen concert hall in Rotterdam with a disfiguring white truck and white van
Little van and its big brother

Ruined


Sometimes as a photographer you are so intensely involved with your subject that you forget to scan the environment for disturbing elements. This beautiful autumn day, with the sun slowly burning the fog to shreds, was one such moment. Completely overwhelmed by the spectacular light effects above this statue on Coolsingel, I pressed the shutter. The scooter and the car can be considered functional in this environment; perhaps I should have let that lady go down the escalator first. But the white van is ruining a photo that would otherwise have made the top 10 for 2021 without a doubt.

Coolsingel boulevard in Rotterdam, Holland on a misty day in autumn
White van ruining the special effects

Take it to the bridge

The driver of this vehicle, in the beautiful historic city center of Amersfoort, really went too far. And the critical reader may think: just wait until it has passed. But no, this white monster was parked on the bridge!

Ugly white van parked on a bridge in the beautiful historic center of Amersfoort, the Netherlands
Parking on the bridge

Monsters

But it can always be worse. During one of my January expeditions I once found dozens of white vans together. They were standing on the quay of Coolhaven at the crack of dawn, near the De Machinist building. These vans even attracted the attention of the local media: the Havenloods devoted an article to them. No one knew who the monsters belonged to. But City Management has ticketed them all. That’ll teach them!

A few dozen mysterious white vans parked at the quay of Coolhaven harbour in Rotterdam at dawn
Mysterious white vans at Coolhaven quay

Research

According to recent British research, women are attracted to men in white vans. Oh, is that it? That explains the inexplicable. I usually let myself be transported in a long yellow-blue shared car with a driver. But I realize now that’s not a wise thing to do from a romantic-strategic perspective.

Residential building and shopping center Da Vinci in Alphen aan den Rijn, The Netherlands, with a white van parked in front of it
White van in Alphen aan den Rijn

Working class heroes

Okay, I understand that those vans belong to working class heroes who are carrying out urgent repairs at a short distance from their ugly vehicle. And I also understand that such a van is very useful for transporting the necessary tools and materials. But still … can’t they make these motherfuckers transparent? Or rather completely invisible?

Photo made on an early winter morning of the cube houses in Rotterdam with a disfiguring white van parked in front of them

Strategies against the white van

Still, the situation is not hopeless. There are ways to fight back against the white van. Or at least to make its presence less unbearable. I will discuss five strategies for dealing with the Curse of the White Van. If I forget one: report it in the comments under this post.

1 – Photoshop

First of all: Photoshop is your friend. Content aware fill can offer a solution for relatively small vans. But usually it takes more patience, and craftsmanship, to get rid of the bastard. See below, for example, how I magically removed a van from Wijnhaven quay near Rotterdam’s White House. I had to figure out exactly what the facade behind it looks like.

2- Selective Blur

Sometimes a slow shutter speed can help to soften the presence of a white vehicle. With a little motion blur, even such a monstrosity can become pleasing to the eyes. But the word motion blur says it all: it only works with objects in motion. And the trouble is that these vans usually stand still.

White van passing with high speed next to the underpass at Koninginneplein in Venlo, The Netherlands
A moving white monster


3 – Composition

Even a white van can have added value within a strong composition. For example, I could have easily Photoshopped this one on the Landtong Rozenburg out of the photo. But with the horizon and the wind turbines on the golden ratio, the leading lines towards the Maeslantkering sea barrier and the mountain, as well as the negative space at the top left, the van forms a nice quirky counterpoint.

Rozenburg peninsula in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, seen from viewing point Paal 83, with ships, wind turbines, sea barrier and a white van
Quirky counterpoint

4 – Focus on the details

If you can’t beat them, join them. When the above tricks don’t work, for heaven’s sake make the van the main subject of the photo. And focus on details such as the reflection in the windows. As below with the culprit that marred the view of the church in Franeker.

Martini church in Franeker, The Netherlands, reflecting in the rear window of a white van
Reflections in a rear window

5 – Acceptance

And if nothing else helps, give it some time and let nostalgia do its healing work. In a hundred years’ time, we will be touched when we see such a cute and characteristic early twentieth-century delivery van on an old digital photo. Just like the mostly black cars on vintage postcards from a century ago also look charming and nostalgic.

Street leading to the church in Groede in the Netherlands (almost Belgium) with a disfiguring white van in the middle of the picture
In Groede, almost Belgium

1 Response

  1. al says:

    HILARIOUS 🙂 3rd picture there is one sneaking in the background.

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