Creativity Booster #3: Minimalism

Creativity Booster #3: MinimalismLess is more.

We’ve all heard it before yet when we pull out our cameras our first instinct is to put everything we can see inside the frame.

That’s ok. I do it too. I just don’t show anyone those shots. It’s like you have to get it out of your system so you can focus on something more artistic.

Minimalism in any art form is about reducing the subject to include only the necessary elements. Think of the clean lines and geometric shapes you see in minimalist architecture and the negative space in minimalist interiors.

In photography, images with the most impact tend to have less in them. They are only about one thing. Of course there are always exceptions. There is always that image with a path leading past some flowers to a barn at the base of a mountain with snow capped peaks at sunset. Pulling off that image without it coming out like a snapshot takes some skill and we will get to that in this series. But for now what we are after is a single concept.

Filling the frame with a texture is one approach that works for minimalist photography but since we talked about that in Creativity Booster #1 we will skip that. What we are looking for here is minimalist compositions. Something that is more than filling the frame but less than a complex scene.

Minimalist compositions have a feeling of openness to them. They have lots of room to breathe.

Here are some ideas to get you started:

1. Isolate simple lines and curves

Keep your eye out for lines and curves and when you find them isolate them from everything else in the scene.

I made this image at Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area. To make a minimalist composition from a grand scenic of large dunes I eliminated everything but the curve that shaped the top of a single dune.

Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area

Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area

2. Monochromatic scenes

A scene with many different colours is by nature more complex. The image in the first example is monochromatic because it contains only shades of the same hue.

This image of the moon is simplified by the (almost) monochromatic background colours in the sea and sky at night.

Dark Sea Moon, Victoria, British Columbia

Dark Sea Moon, Victoria, British Columbia

3. Two bright colours

Ok, I know, I just said less colour, right? But what about an image where colour itself is the subject? If you have two colours, whether they are complementary (opposite each other on the colour wheel) or analogous (next to each other on the colour wheel), in some sort of simple shape, you have a minimalist composition. The trick is that it must be a very simple design.

Palouse Hills, Washington

Palouse Hills, Washington

By the way, yes this is my photograph! I did not steal it from Microsoft :)

And yes, the Palouse region of Washington really does look like this. It’s a great place for photography.

4. Empty space

Leave lots of empty space around your subject. If the empty space has very little texture it is even more minimalist, but as long as the background is simple and doesn’t distract from your main subject it will be ok.

Goat, Glacier National Park, Montana

Goat, Glacier National Park, Montana

5. Shallow depth of field

If your background is messy, you can still isolate your subject by using a shallow depth of field. That will make only the subject you have focussed on sharp and the background will be out of focus.

Frog, Everglades National Park, Florida

Frog, Everglades National Park, Florida

6. Use a long shutter speed to smooth out the details

If there is any motion in your scene and you do not want to include the details or distractions caused by it, you can use a long shutter speed to blur out those details.

In this image taken on a beach in Georgia, I used a long shutter speed to blur out the motion of the waves in the background.

Driftwood Beach, Jekyll Island, Georgia before sunrise.

Driftwood Beach, Jekyll Island, Georgia before sunrise.


  • Do whatever you have to do to remove all distractions. Each of the techniques above are a method of removing distractions.
  • The rule of thirds works great for creating minimalist compositions. Remember to put your main subject on one of those intersections and leave the rest of the frame as plain as possible.

If you like this post, don’t forget to “pin it.”

Creativity Booster #3: Minimalism

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24 Responses to “Creativity Booster #3: Minimalism”

  1. Kris Koeller says:

    Great summary. Although I was never a fan of Windows XP, I really dig the cloud photo!
    Kris Koeller recently posted..A New York City Christmas TreeMy Profile

  2. LensScaper says:

    Excellent mini tutorial Anne. Very useful tips too.
    LensScaper recently posted..The Guides of Chamonix FrescoMy Profile

  3. Jimi Jones says:

    Very nice post, Anne. This is my favorite of the series, thus far. Thanks for the tips, I don’t do enough of this type of photography.
    Jimi Jones recently posted..Falls Avenue CanalMy Profile

  4. Lisa Gordon says:

    Wonderful post.
    Thank you for sharing!

  5. Greg says:

    Anne, you always post great photos and informative insights. This was one of the best; thank you for sharing it.

  6. Chris Hansen says:

    Very well done, Anne.
    Chris Hansen recently posted..Effects of the RainMy Profile

  7. Paul Conrad says:

    Great post Anne.

    I love seeing how your work has evolved over the years.

    You have become a true artist.

    It’s a great pleasure looking at your work.
    Paul Conrad recently posted..Blog PhotosMy Profile

  8. Duane Blocker says:

    Anne, I have read a lot on composition and photography and I think your text and images have made the subject clearer to me than anything else I have read. I just ran across you from Digital Photography School email.

    Your examples of working the subject were informative as well.

  9. [...] Creativity Booster #3: Minimalism – Anne McKinnell delivers another of her features in a running series designed to help us all create better imagery.  This one takes a close look at the concept of minimalism, and Anne’s awesome photography does a great job here of providing examples of the issues being discussed. [...]

  10. Gorgeous photos and great tips :D
    Chanel @ La Viajera Morena recently posted..Christmas In New YorkMy Profile

  11. mak khogaly says:

    thanks Anne,Ireally enjoyed your writings and photography tips

  12. Alexandra says:

    I am loving this series! Keep the good stuff coming!
    Alexandra recently posted..Travel Porn: Havana, CubaMy Profile

  13. Hi Ann,

    I just stumbled upon your stunning photography on G+ and I fell in love with it. Of course followed you. I’m on G+ too.

    Great tips, very helpful, too.

    Browsing through your photos I just realized how much I love the non-over saturated images. I am not so happy that users of G+ tend to give plus mostly to the saturated ones. So I thought I’d make my images to saturated option but yet i, personally, don’t like that style. Anyway, thanks for the heads up.

    Thanks, again,for your gorgeous photos and tutorials.
    Betty Manousos recently posted..You, Me, and KittyMy Profile

    • Hi Betty, I agree with you, often the over saturated images get lots of pluses and likes, but I personally prefer the more natural looking images. Remember, you are the artist, so you should make your images how you like them best. Pluses and likes are nice, but in the end the photos should be for you. Thanks for your comments, much appreciated!

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