Minimalist Photography for Any Photographer
Photographers, let me ask you this. When someone says the phrase “less is more” what's your instinct telling you?
I would guess that a picture in your mind come together in the form of either a bare spacious room furnished with a single chair and perhaps a book?
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Or, a single yacht gliding gracefully across the horizon, even a single person walking across a vast empty parking lot, with nothing else in the frame?
Am I close…ish? I appreciate that I could be waaay off here and you might be thinking simplified “arty” photography with little thought other than the clever use of negative space?
Whatever your thoughts, it's hugely popular amongst the photography community and it's not hard to see why.
Today we're blitzed with images, the world feels over-saturated with digital photography, and it's become consumption overload. However, this is where the calming relief of minimalist photography comes in – kinda like meditation for the digital mind. Visual noise, social media and the internet in general, means our minds are literally buzzing!
With minimalism in photography, you have space to zone out, breathe and have a detailed think about what you're seeing and what story is being told. Getting inside the mind of the photographer through their art is what we want to achieve.
The idea is this: Minimalist photography involves large surrounds of space and an isolated subject or object, all captured in a frame, neatly composed. Correct? Yes and no. Yes, that's true. No, there's more to it than that, so we'll cover the rest of that today.
1. Get Familiar with the Concept of Minimalism
This is more of an instruction rather than a request. If you don't understand the concept, you need to or just walk away and find out what your cup of tea really is as a photographer.
When we look at minimalism and in particular minimalist photography, we're taking elements of light, shadows, color(s), textures, lines and space. The focal point of your subject is isolated and then portrayed with minimum detail.
In proportion to the frame, your subject will only occupy a small piece of the entire frame. Yes, the idea is in fact, simple.
We're going back to Minimalism in Art used by many great 20th Century artists. The concept expresses this art form as highly simplistic, using a minimal amount of compositional components. Therefore seemingly creating more from less.
Ad Reinhardt, whose nearly all-black paintings appeared to demonstrate minimalism, had this to say about what value a reductive approach holds in art:
“The more stuff in it, the busier the work of art, the worse it is. More is less. Less is more. The eye is a menace to clear sight. The laying bare of oneself is obscene. Art begins with the getting rid of nature.”
You should be able to convey a whole idea and approach from very few visual components, thus making this a clever form of art. Then we move onto Minimalist Photography, which carries its own set of challenges because you've got to view the world in a different way. You need to eliminate “necessary” elements of a composition and create something totally unique and beautiful.
2. Keep it…Simple
We want to achieve a story being told from a composition, and this must happen before the overall impact is lost and the viewer moves on. A lasting gaze and a provocative piece of work is the end goal.
By keeping it simple, you can focus on making the photograph powerful because your distractions have been eliminated. Make it eye-catching, make it stick in the viewer's mind after they've looked at it, make them look twice or three times to see if they understand and appreciate the image.
You only want to include the minimal amount of information required to illustrate your intentions, whether that's lines, curves, colors, textures or whatever.
3. Using Negative Space in Minimalist Photography
Is minimalist photography just about using negative space? So I basically crop out any distractions?
Not exactly. When we're referring to negative space, yes we're talking about an empty space around the subject. It's one of the most important elements you should be considering when putting together your minimalist photos. Not only is it space around the subject but also between subjects (if there's more than one).
It requires forethought because it's often this “space” that composes the image and helps enhance its impact. A classic example could be a clean bright blue sky and a corner of a modern piece of architecture.
4. Use of Textures and Colors
Moving on now, we'll look at using color and textures or patterns. What we're looking for here is visually bright colors, ideally ones which have a high contrast with others. Often with the use of colors and textures, just the angle can make all the difference and increase its impact.
With contrasting colors and textures you can create an element of tension, smooth garden tiles and rough jagged grass or sand against old grainy and textured wood – there are countless options. Next time you spot two contrasting surfaces of different colors and/or surfaces, have a think about it and decide if you could make this work in a photo.
Remember, you can go as bold as you like with BIG color shades, there really is no limit! Often, the brighter and more contrasting, the better.
Experiment and see what's happening through your viewfinder. Not feeling it? Keep going, get into different positions – high, low, near, far and see how you can make it work.
5. Use of Strong Lines & Patterns
Look for conspicuous leading lines and/or shapes to draw your eyes through and across the image. This is where you can use lines as a visual aid to demonstrate a sense of depth in your photo.
With minimalist photography, these strong leading lines are more important than ever and are a major influence in your compositions. Using strong lines can show proximity, a sense of depth, isolation and separation.
Have a look around your local city or town for some of these strong geometric patterns, bold shapes and lines which look striking to the eye. When used in a minimal way, they can provide an excellent element of your composition in a very simple but impressionable way.
6. My favorite – Tell a Story
I'm a fan of storytelling. Our instinct reverts to books and many of us love to read. But what we're really talking about here is using less to create more. An analogy I might be tempted to use would be to create a movie from a single page of script. We want to viewer to see exactly what's in front of them.
This doesn't just mean “visually” one can see a bicycle on a gravel road up against a white-washed building. It's seeing beyond that, something more – that particular bicycle and the dirt road and the type of wall – what do they say about this potential home, the owner, even the country.
With the right elements fused together, combined with clever well thought out angles and composition, your story can demonstrate what is significant about this moment in time. Whether it's using humans, objects, nature, shapes, lines or colors; aim to get your message across, what inspired you and what you want the viewer to take away.
7. Have Loads of Fun
Enjoy a new project, get out there and starting shooting, but not anything and everything, just what you take notice of. Look twice at the way that crooked wooden gate outside your front yard droops down or that lonely snail upon a journey across a seemingly huge stretch of grass.
Even the color of your car against a plain white wall you just so happened to park up next to.
Whatever it is that inspires you, go with it, otherwise, your creativity will feel forced and then we have a kind of “forced creativity” scenario which frankly, doesn't work.
Use the images featured in this article as examples to get you inspired by looking around your home, your neighborhood, even your street.
- Leading Lines as a Compositional Tool for Better Photographs by Jason Row
- These 6 Essential Composition Skills Can Turn You Into a Really Good Photographer by Karlo de Leon
- 5 Ways to Use Shadows in Your Composition for Better Images by Jason Row
- Minimalism – The Art of Less by Kent DuFault
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