9 tips for beautifully minimalist photos

“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.

White-Flower-on-White-by-Diane-Wittenberg

Diane Wittenberg


Mustachoed-Child-by-Megan-Dill

Megan Dill

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?

Birds-on-a-Wire-by-Kathy-Roberts

Kathy Roberts


Cherry-by-Melissa-Gibson

Melissa Gibson

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.

Lightbulb-on-Black-by-Eve-Tuft

Eve Tuft


Sledders-with-Negative-Space-by-Piper-Anne

Piper Anne

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.

Circles-by-Eve-Tuft

Eve Tuft


Minimalist-Road-by-Heather-Pich

Heather Pich

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.

Blue-Horizon-by-Little-Fish-Photo

Erika Roa


White-Wall-and-Door-Squared-Off-by-Sarah-Wilkerson-1316

Sarah Wilkerson

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.

Minimalist-yellow-lines-by-Ilaria-Cossettini

Ilaria Cossettini


Sledder-Going-down-Hill-by-Erica-Allen

Erica Hacker

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.

Towel-on-Rack-by-Susan-Jaske

Susan Jeske


Child-on-Simple-Tiled-background-Vironica-Golden

Vironica Golden

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?

White-flower-by-Christa-Paustenbaugh

Christa Paustenbaugh


Minimalist-Duck-on-Lake-by-Nadeen-Flynn

Nadeen Flynn

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.

Minimalist-Tailor-Form-by-Stephanie-DiFormato

Stephanie DiFormato


Lightbulb-on-Black-by-Meredith-Raarup

Meredith Raarup


White-Table-and-Chairs-by-Adriana-Meixner

Adriana Meixner

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!2015 Editors Choice award for the CMblog

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!

Sign up for a risk-free membership!

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About the Author:

Sarah Wilkerson is the CEO of Click & Company and also provides mentoring services, teaches advanced Click Photo School courses on composition & creativity, and authors the “Why It Works” series in CLICK magazine. She specializes in low light photography, everyday documentary, and tilt-shift work. A former attorney and Duke graduate, Sarah resides in northern Virginia with her Army JAG husband, four children, and three dogs.

10 Comments

  1. Meredith Jan 09 2015 at 3:53 pm - Reply

    How fun to discover my image in this wonderful collection! I look forward to these creativity challenges every month, so informative and inspiring. Beautiful work ladies!

  2. Tara Jan 09 2015 at 6:48 pm - Reply

    Really great tips! I particularly like the photo by Stephanie DiFormato of the dress form. This is definitely offering me some great food for thought in photography. Great job everyone! Thanks for sharing.
    http://absolutelytara.com

  3. Nadeen Jan 09 2015 at 10:00 pm - Reply

    So excited that one of my images was included in this collection. I love how these exercises provoke me to try something a little different. Very inspiring images everyone!

  4. Piper Jan 09 2015 at 10:56 pm - Reply

    Wow, so excited to have my picture included among such beautiful images! I loved this exercise and I’m looking forward to participating in the future.

  5. Diane Jan 10 2015 at 12:44 am - Reply

    So happy to see that one of my images was chosen along with all of these beautiful entries, thank you so much!

  6. Erica Jan 10 2015 at 9:24 am - Reply

    What a fun creativity exercise, Sarah! I always look forward to these- they inspire me to try new things. I am thrilled that one of my images was included amongst such talent. Thank you!

  7. Susan Jan 10 2015 at 9:28 am - Reply

    I’m so honored that one of my images was included. What a fun exercise!

    Beautiful work everyone!!!

  8. ILARIA Jan 13 2015 at 12:52 pm - Reply

    Thanks for selecting me!
    It’s an honor to be featured among such a great artists!
    At list this time my husband will stop pulling my leg saying that I’m too minimalistic!

  9. Jamie Bates Mar 20 2015 at 8:06 pm - Reply

    What you see is what you see. Perfection!

  10. mara Jan 02 2016 at 3:00 pm - Reply

    I miss you friend!

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