Minimalism seems to be a hot topic of discussion these days in almost every facet of life. It has made its way into a lifestyle that is often associated with a particular way of living, of creating and even a certain way of traveling. Even though the interpretation is subjective, the Webster dictionary defines it as a “style or technique that is characterized by extreme sparseness and simplicity.”
Many of us are drawn to the ‘less is more’ concept, with simple lines, geometric patterns, clear shadows, colors, and isolated subjects. Sometimes these elements occur automatically in our surroundings and at other times require some manipulation in terms of decluttering and removing elements from the frame.
The key is to train your eye to assess what is required to create a strong story. Here are a few tips and examples to get you started in your quest for minimalist imagery.
Tips for achieving minimalist imagery
1. Composition techniques
One of the key elements of minimalism is the concept of less is more. Keep it simple, light – concise.
However, keeping it simple does not mean keeping it boring.
Contrary to popular belief, a minimalist approach requires a lot of creativity. Well-placed subjects and key elements that help communicate a story are all challenging to get right all the time. These concepts often require much practice until it becomes the way you see.
Start asking yourself these questions even before you bring the camera to your face to take the shot. Take your time in composing and don’t be in a rush to click and move on. Put some thought into it. Sometimes if it is not obvious, look through the viewfinder and see the shot instead of cropping unwanted distractions in post-processing.
In situations where it is not possible to remove distracting objects from the frame, use depth of field to isolate your subject from the background by shooting with an aperture as wide (smallest number) as your lens allows. This, in effect, blurs the background, distracting elements and gives a sense of minimalism. You will need a lens that can effectively give that bokeh effect.
2. Colors and textures
Bright colors or even contrasting colors help with the minimalistic approach by adding the right amount of contrast. The key is not to go extreme but to pick one or maybe two colors that work well with each other and use them prominently in the image. Sometimes even adding a little texture in the image can assist in improving the visual appeal like the lines of sand in the image below.
3. Leading Lines and Patterns
Lines and patterns, if done correctly, can also assist in the minimalistic approach. However, aim to keep it simple. Leading lines and other geometric shapes can make great backdrops for minimalist pictures.
But if there are too many elements in the frame, it can make the image appear chaotic and busy, which is not a minimalistic clean way.
Sometimes all it takes is to find a creative angle to photograph. Experiment with different angles – straight on, high up, or low down until you get a shot that showcases your vision for the image.
4. Negative Space
Learning to use negative space is a huge advantage when embracing the minimalistic movement. Negative space allows the main subject matter to breathe freely. It conveys a sense of lightness in both place and space. Negative space is a great way to isolate your subject so that the viewer can easily interpret the story you are trying to convey.
Remember negative space does not always mean a single subject and nor does it mean always photographing in the rule of thirds. It means allowing less clutter in the frame. Negative space, along with the posing, can add a lot of drama to an otherwise simple portrait.
5. Concise Storytelling
One of the best ways to practice and perfect minimalistic photography is to tell a story. Ask yourself if the elements in the frame help move the story forward or are hindering the story. Sometimes a human element is needed to tell the story, and other times, it is not needed. Symmetry, lines, patterns, and shadows take on the role of telling the story.
In the above image, the lack of a human subject is overcome by using the yellow median as well as the curve in the road to communicate the feeling of going off the beaten path. There really was not a single car for miles, and we had this magnificent landscape all to ourselves.
Sometimes the story and the environment come together spontaneously, and it’s the photographer’s job to see it and respond quickly. Other times it requires a bit of patience for the right subject to walk through the frame.
The good thing is that a minimalist approach to photography can be applied in nature as well as in an urban environment. You can practice anywhere, so get out there and open yourself to a different way of seeing with your camera – no matter the genre.
Minimalistic photography doesn’t end once you take the shot. You can extend this concept into post-processing as well. The easiest way to approach minimalistic photography in post-processing is to keep the image treatment simple. Avoid highly saturated images, a lot of contrast, and intense color corrections.
With portraits, don’t correct all the skin and tone imperfections. Let the subject’s natural beauty show without too much retouching.
The image below uses grain and emulates a film look. This adds to the minimalism.
In photography, minimalism is a visual statement where the story of the photograph is simplified, elements reduced, and clean space added. Not only has minimalist photography become its own genre, but photographers specializing in the discipline have come into their own. They have created an attractive space of art and creativity for us all to enjoy. As industry professionals, it behooves us to pay attention to this trend and see how we can apply this in our own body of work.