Less 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- 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.
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