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Minimalism in Photography

Minimal

I was chatting to one reader last week about their photography and they shared that their main challenge in taking digital images what finding subjects to shoot because of the place where they lived. Here’s a snippet from what he said in our email conversation:

“I live in a rural area of Australia and the problem I face is that it’s all just so empty out here that I find it difficult to find anything to take photos of. What should I do?”

A number of things came to mind as I spoke with my new friend. For starters he lives in one of my favorite parts of Australia where there are opportunities for some great landscape shots. Secondly I suggested he invest in a macro lens and start looking for the little things in life.

Thirdly I wondered out loud if instead of complaining about the ‘emptiness’ of his location what would happen if he made a decision to work with it and explore a minimalist style of photography.

As I look over the images submitted in our latest Group Assignment (on the color Blue) I realize that often it’s not what you put into your image that makes it powerful but what you leave out of it. Some of my favorite shots in that thread are beautiful due to their simplicity.

I hope the participants of the thread won’t mind me highlighting a few in this post (click on them to be taken to larger versions).


Minmal

Why does minimalism work?

I’ve never studied it and I’m sure a lot has been written on the topic by much more learned people them myself – however the thing I enjoy about minimalistic images is that by creating ‘empty’ spaces in the photograph you actually accentuate the subject that you do include.

The eye of the person looking at the image can’t help but be drawn to the element of the image you’ve taken.

How to work with minimalism:

One piece of advice I still remember from my high school photography teacher is this:

“make your subject the strongest point of your photo even though it might take up only a small part of the overall image”

When I’m attempting to take a show with a minimalist feel to it I keep those words in mind.

Minimalism

There are many ways to do it – here’s a few:

  • pick subjects wisely – obviously for a subject to dominate an image even when it’s relatively small in the scheme of the overall shot it will need to be a fairly striking or contrasting one.
  • experiment with color – contrasting colors between your subject and the rest of the shot are one way to make it stand out. Perhaps why I was stimulated to write this post was that the ‘blue assignment’ produced so many shots in which the majority of the image was one color with a contrasting subject. Alternatively making the subject the same color as your background can give a minimalist type feeling also. Another strategy that photographers use is to strip the color out of shots – often in post production.
  • use depth of field – another way to focus the eye on your subject is to strip out detail from the background of your shot by making it blurry. The best way to do this is to use your aperture settings (I’ve written more about this on this tutorial on backgrounds).
  • crop out distractions - perhaps the most effective way to rid your photos of distracting details and to leave shots with a feeling of space is to crop your shots in a way that edges out the details. This is not always possible of course if the details are in the middle of your images (in that case you might need to learn to use Photoshop) but can often be useful.
  • Zoom In - in framing your shots utilize your zoom to eliminate distractions
  • Zoom Out – alternatively zooming out to a wide angle can also give a feeling of space as it decreases the size of distracting elements.

I find that the key to getting great minimalist shots is to take a lot of shots at different exposures, different focal lengths and from different angles. It can sometimes take moving your position as the photographer or tweaking some of your camera’s settings to get things just right.

I’d love to see some of your examples of ‘minimalist’ photography over in the Flickr group. Post them in this new Assignment Thread.

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category.

Darren Rowse is the editor and founder of Digital Photography School and SnapnDeals. He lives in Melbourne Australia and is also the editor of the ProBlogger Blog Tips. Follow him on Instagram, on Twitter at @digitalPS or on Google+.

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