“Less is more” is a phrase often attributed to German architect and designer Mies van der Rohe, and although it’s become associated with everything from brevity in writing to anti-consumerist philosophies, the roots come back to a particular visual aesthetic.
With this in mind, we’ll draw our understanding of photographic minimalism from the traditional definition of minimalism as it relates to art, architecture, and design. In these contexts, minimalism traditionally refers to visual simplification, stripping all extraneous elements and details to the bare minimum necessary to present the subject.
Allow “Less is More” to be your mantra as you shoot for this creativity exercise.
Here are some tips to help you begin creating minimalist photographs:
1. Simplify, simplify, simplify
When shooting for photographic minimalism, try to shoot the “cleanest” frame possible, giving the viewer a single visual point of interest within your photograph. Ask yourself if there is anything else you could remove from the frame (before shooting or when processing) to strengthen that single point of interest.
2. Work with negative space
Some claim that negative space is an essential component of the minimalist photograph. One might argue that the blank, open area is as important as the subject itself. How much completely empty space can you include around your chosen subject before other elements begin to intrude on your edges?
3. Incorporate spatial isolation
Related but not necessarily identical to negative space, spatial isolation refers to separation of your subject from any other elements in the frame. Try to leave plenty of breathing room around your subject, isolating it as much as possible and avoiding intersections with other elements.
4. Look for simple geometric shapes
Basic geometric shapes are heavily associated with artistic minimalism. Explore your environment for simple rectangles, circles, and triangles. See if you can build your composition around a single basic shape.
5. Square off your lines
Vertical and horizontal lines that perfectly parallel the natural edges of the photo help to establish a clean and orderly appearance that is a cornerstone of minimalist design. When working with squares, rectangles, or simple lines within the frame, avoid lens distortion or perspectives that yield oblique angles, squaring off your lines as much as possible.
6. Bring in a pop of color
The minimalist aesthetic in many ways returns us to the simplicity of elementary art. Look for opportunities to photograph a brightly single-colored subject against a solid color background. Complementary primary/secondary pairs (red/green, yellow/purple, blue/orange) can be particularly eye-catching, but a color pop on white has a modern appeal, color pop on black is high drama, and a color pop against neutral stone or wood suggests austerity.
7. Seek out strict repetition
To the extent that a completely solid background does not appeal to you (or is not available), aim to incorporate patterns with consistent repetition that bring order, uniformity, and predictability to the frame.
8. Draw the photo in your mind
Could you clearly represent your photo on a white sheet of paper in five quick pen strokes or less? Would a pair of crayons be enough to accurately color it in? Is the composition simple enough that a young child could draw a reasonable representation of the photo without too much trouble?
9. Let go of deeper meanings
The Minimalist movement among artists in the 1960s was largely a response to Abstract Expressionism, which sought to convey the artist’s personal emotion and energy through art. Minimalists, in reaction, explicitly avoided the inclusion of message or metaphor. Minimalist painter Frank Stella summed it up as follows: “What you see is what you see.” Let that be enough.
What’s the best way to improve your photography? Shoot thoughtfully and frequently! Try new things and embrace creative and technical challenges. Every month, Sarah Wilkerson posts a new tutorial and challenges our members to join in a new Creativity Exercise on the Clickin Moms photography forum. At the conclusion of the exercise, we select Editors’ Choice images from among the exercise submissions and share them here with you on the blog. Congratulations to the ladies whose photographs included in the exercise above were selected as this month’s Editors’ Choices, and thank you to everyone who participated in the exercise!
Do you want to participate in the next Creativity Exercise? Visit the forum where Sarah has posted “ 5 Ways to Shoot More Like a Film Photographer.” We’d love to see your work!