Minimalism is a very subjective concept in the art world. The Webster dictionary defines it as follows: A style or technique that is characterized by extreme spareness and simplicity. Some love it, others hate it, but no one seems to be indifferent. Many artists thrive in the openness of the concept, others have a problem with the lack of definition and direction. Many of us are drawn to ‘less is more’ with simple lines, geometric patterns, strong shadows, contrasting colors, lone subjects, etc. For others, deciding what to leave out of the frame to make a stronger image is a difficult exercise. Here are a few tips and examples to get you started in your quest for minimalist imagery.
1. Keep It Simple
The most important, and probably most obvious, tip for creating minimal compositions is to keep it simple. However, this doesn’t mean your photo has to be boring or uninteresting.
As long as you choose a subject that will catch the viewer’s eye, your photo should be engaging and interesting, even though it may not take up much of the frame.
Make sure there are no distracting background elements or other objects in the scene that will take attention away from your main subject.
Think about what you want to include and what you want to eliminate from your shot. Then work towards achieving this. That might mean moving your subject to a different location to use a cleaner background, or shooting from a different angle to eliminate distracting objects from the scene.
2. Include Lots Of Negative Space
Negative space is the empty space around the subject in an image and use it as a neutral or contrasting background to isolate the main subject. The subject is referred to as the positive space.
You might think that empty space doesn’t have much importance in a photo, but that’s far from true. Negative space is an important tool to help you emphasize your main point of interest in the scene.
Without any distracting elements in the background, there’s nothing to compete for attention with the main subject. So even if your main subject is very small within the scene, they will still be very prominent due to the empty space surrounding them.
Negative space also helps to create a sense of scale in an image. It gives the viewer a good idea of how big or small the objects in the image really are. The relation in size between the negative and positive space will naturally create a sense of scale.
Using large amounts of negative space can also help you to balance and compose your image.
Don’t be afraid to use a lot of negative space, especially if you have a strong subject such as this child wearing bright red clothing in the photo above.
It’s not an exact science and is mostly based on personal preferences, but when you find that perfect balance between the empty space and your subject, you’ll know it!
3. Shoot Against A Plain Background
Shooting against a plain background is vital for minimalist photography. You don’t want any distracting objects or patterns competing for attention with the subject.
A plain wall or floor is perfect, or if your subject is small enough you can place it on a table or other plain surface. Alternatively, you could use some drapes or sheets if you’re shooting in your own home.
This gives you complete control of the image. If you want a white background, place a white sheet on the ground and position your object on it for shooting. If you want a red background, use a red sheet.
When you use one of above mentioned spaces as a background, you won’t have to look for an angle where the distractions in the background aren’t visible, because there won’t be any distractions.
4. Use The Sky As Negative Space
If you’re shooting outside, it can often be difficult to find a neutral background or a large expanse of empty space against which to photograph your subject. In these cases, a simple solution is to use the sky as your background.
If you can pick your subject up, simply hold it up against the sky and take the photo. If your subject can’t be moved, get down on the ground and shoot from a low angle, ensuring that you get only the sky behind your subject.
5. Shoot Contrasting Colors
You just need to ensure that the color of your subject contrasts with the color of the negative space, so that the subject is isolated against the background.
This technique is an easy way to strengthen your intended point of interest. All you have to do is decide what you want to shoot and which colors you want in the image. This pink flower stands out really well against the vivid blue sky, creating a striking and vibrant minimalist image.
As well as using vivid colored backgrounds, try using a plain black background.
6. Include Only Part Of Your Subject
For interesting minimalist photos that create a sense of mystery and intrigue, you might like to experiment with only including a small part of your subject in the frame. The more negative space you include, and the less you see of the positive space, the greater the mystery.
A minimal composition with an air of mystery. Who is this person? What are they doing? Why are they there?
Just make sure you have a plain background such as a wall, field or sky behind them. You could also use this technique with larger subjects when shooting from a distance.
Without the details from the bottom of the scene, you lose any point of reference which creates a sense of mystery in the photo.
7. Create Silhouettes
If you shoot an object against a bright sky, you can create the most beautiful and mysterious silhouettes. Sunset and sunrise, when the sun is low in the sky, are usually the best times of day for creating silhouettes.
Position your subject so that only the sky is visible behind them, then focus on your object and adjust the exposure by swiping down on the screen. You need to make the image dark enough so that your subject appears as a black silhouette against the bright sky.
There are two easy ways to ensure you get only plain sky behind your subject. You can either find a hill or other elevated position to put your model on, and shoot from lower down so that you’re looking up at them. Or take the shot from a very low angle – you may need to lie on the ground to ensure you get only sky behind your subject.
You can also create silhouettes indoors by shooting against strong light coming through a window. You could also use an artificial light source, such as a lamp, behind the subject. Just remember to reduce the exposure so that your subject and any other dark areas become completely black.
8. Photograph Lines & Patterns
Lines and patterns make great subjects for minimalist photography. As always, make sure you have a plain background to act as negative space within the image.
Photographing these lines against the sky creates a simple yet powerful image. The symmetrical composition helps to create a balanced image and the lines draw your eye into and around the scene.
The vibrant red pattern in this image really stands out against the plain sky behind it. Filling the frame with your pattern is usually the best way to compose the shot in order to create maximum impact.
You’ll often find interesting patterns on building facades. Get up close to the building and then shoot a classic look-up shot like this with just plain sky above it.
9. Tell A Story Through Minimal Street Photography
You wouldn’t normally think of street photography as a good scenario for creating minimal compositions. Busy street scenes don’t lend themselves to minimalist photography for obvious reasons – distracting backgrounds, lack of a single subject to focus on, etc.
However, it’s certainly possible to find good locations for minimal street scenes, and when you do, you’ll be able to tell great stories using a single person in the frame. High vantage points are often the best option for this type of photography.
By looking down, you can exclude the busy background of a street scene, while just including a certain part of a road or street in the frame. Then you just need to wait for a person to enter your scene and snap the shot.
Look for areas with interesting contrast that will add to the composition, such as white markings on a road or shadows created by nearby objects. Shooting in harsh sunlight can be challenging, but it’s great for capturing strong shadows which can help create dark areas of negative space in your image.
Use burst mode to capture a sequence of shots as the person moves through the scene, then you can select the best shot from the series. To activate burst mode, simply hold down the shutter button as you shoot.
10. Use A Fifty-Fifty Composition
Rather than always using mostly negative space, you could also try experimenting with a fifty-fifty composition. Basically this means splitting your image in half, with 50% negative space and 50% positive space.
Giving the negative space and positive space an equal amount of room within the frame can create a simple and clean image that still contains a strong focus on your point of interest.
This goes against the rule of thirds which is a well used composition technique for positioning the horizon or subject off-centre. However, breaking this rule and placing the horizon across the middle of the frame in a minimal composition can create a very strong symmetrical image.
Don’t be afraid to break the rules and try new things. For an alternative take on this method, try flipping your picture vertically in post-processing to see how it looks upside down. You might get an interesting result!