Less is more… A phrase that has been used a lot in all aspects of life. Whether it’s a painting, interior decorations or even cooking, often simplicity can have amazing results. You have probably heard of the term “minimalism”. But what is it and why should you incorporate it into your photos?
What is minimalism?
Minimalism emerged in the 1950s as an extreme form of abstract art. In simple terms, minimalism is based around the notion of the viewer interpreting what is before them. This is usually done through the form of simple geometric shapes such as squares and rectangles. There is no outside reality depicted as is in say a painting of a landscape or a person. Even emotions and moods are not shown. As the famous minimalist painter Frank Stella said about his paintings ‘what you see is what you see’.
In photography, this is slightly different in that a photograph is usually from a real-life situation or place. But we can still use some of the principles of minimalism to achieve great results. So here are 6 reasons why having less in your composition can improve your photos.
1. Highlight the main subject
Often one of the best reason for using a minimalist approach in your photography is to help highlight the main subject more. A simple composition will allow the viewer to immediately see and interpret the main subject. The more busy or complex a scene is, the more time the viewer will need to spend scanning the image to understand what you are trying to depict. Sometimes you do need multiple elements to balance a photo or to show how chaotic a place is. But at other times you should try to isolate your subject and remove distracting elements from the composition.
2. Better placement
The simpler your composition is, the easier you will usually find it in placing your point of interest. Because there is just one element in your frame you can easily use the rule of thirds for example. When there are multiple elements in a shot, it requires a bit more thought as you need to ensure there is a balance and a clear story being told. For example, a lone boat on a lake is much easier to position in your composition than a whole set of boats.
3. Sense of scale and solitude
Keeping your image simple and less cluttered naturally means allowing more negative space in the photo. This, in turn, helps to create that sense of solitude and even scale. A lonely person in a vast landscape such as the shot below straightaway conveys these notions. But if you were to crop, or in other words remove the negative space, suddenly it loses that impact. In fact, sometimes the difference between a good photo and a great one is the negative space that allows the viewer to get that sense of scale.
4. Focus on aesthetics
The principle notion of minimalism is around removing intended meaning from what you are looking at. When translated into photography, this allows you to focus purely on the aesthetics of a scene rather than a story that is being told. It might just be an interesting contrast of colours, textures or even shapes and lines. These are elements that might often be missed when you are photographing in the traditional storytelling manner. So one of the great things about keeping your images simple is that it also allows you to just focus on creating something that is visually appealing even if it doesn’t necessarily tell a story.
5. Utilise leading lines
Sometimes you will find that by reducing the number of other elements in your photos, you will begin to rely on other composition methods to guide the viewer’s eyes around the image. One of the best ways to do this is by using leading lines. This is when you try to incorporate natural or man-made line to take the viewer to your image. Where this technique can be really powerful is when it is utilised in a minimalist image as it can guide the viewer on a journey.
6. Capture the small things
Most photographers are consumed with the big stunning shots that have a central story or focus. It could be a beautiful sunrise shot with a dramatic sky. Or it could be a portrait of someone from an exotic and far-flung tribe. Sometimes beautiful images are found in the most unexpected places. A colourful door against a mundane brick wall. Or a lonely tree in a vast field. It could even be a simple door handle with an interesting texture. If you can train your eyes to be able to see these simple compositions, you will find that it will give your portfolio much more variety.
Minimalism in photos isn’t necessarily about replicating what is done in art. It’s about trying to simplify your composition as much as possible. It’s about removing the clutter and distraction from a shot to allow the central story or subject to be clearer. But it is also about embracing the notion of the beauty that is all around us beyond the obvious so that you capture photo simply because “they look good”. So the next time you are out and about photographing, aim to capture a few photos whilst keeping in mind some of the principles in this article. You might find yourself pleasantly surprised by the results.
Photo credits: Kav Dadfar – All rights reserved. No usage without permission. Dreamstime.