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A Simple Guide to Minimalist Landscape Photography

A guide to minimalist landscape photography

Do you ever wish that your landscape photos were more striking – the kind of images that cause people to stop and stare? You might think the answer is to travel to breathtaking locations, but I have another, much simpler suggestion: Try going minimalist.

You see, in landscape photography (and any type of photography, really!), the simplest images are often the most striking. And minimalism is all about keeping it simple.

With minimalism, the basic goal is to pare down your landscape images until they’re reduced to a few simple elements. It’s not difficult to do, though creating this type of image does require thoughtful use of your lens, careful composition, and consideration of your location. In this article, I explain how you can capture amazing minimalist landscape photos of your own!

1. Choose the right location

A Simple Guide to Minimalist Landscape Photography
In this photo, the main subject is the mountain in the distance. The remainder of the frame is kept simple.

You can do minimalist landscape photography in a lot of locations. You don’t need classic landscape photography features, such as picturesque waterfalls or stunning coastal rivers, to get good minimalist shots.

But that doesn’t mean that you can capture amazing minimalist shots anywhere. Yes, you have a lot more options, but you’ll want to choose your location carefully. In my experience, where you take your photo will go a long way toward ensuring success.

So where can you capture the best minimalist shots?

In general, you’ll have the most success in relatively remote locations. Minimalism is all about simplicity, and remote locations tend to be visually simple. Once you add in too many people and human-made structures, the world starts to get more complex, and achieving a simple shot becomes a lot harder.

When photographing in a busier environment, you’ll need to use the correct lens and camera angle to maintain minimalism with your photo. More remote locations naturally have a minimalist feel, but the challenge in those locations is locating a strong main subject.

The following are locations you could use for a minimalist landscape image:

  • Coasts: Beaches, oceans, and sand dunes are great locations for minimalist photography. The great expanse of the sea invites minimalism. You can further build on this by flattening the sea through a long exposure. Interesting rock formations or a lighthouse can make great main subjects.
  • Deserts: Whether you’re photographing on the sand or on the ice, deserts are the land equivalent of the sea when it comes to minimalism. Vast, uniform in their features, and without the clutter of human development, deserts offer plenty of minimalist possibilities!
  • Mountains: These breathtaking formations do offer opportunities to create minimalist landscape photos. If you photograph too many mountains in one scene, the result can feel cluttered, so choose your compositions with care. For instance, a lone hut surrounded by the green foothills of a mountain range would make for a good minimalist shot!
A Simple Guide to Minimalist Landscape Photography
Thanks to their relative simplicity, deserts make excellent locations for minimalist landscapes.

2. Pick your lens carefully

The lens you choose is just as important as the location for a minimalist landscape. There is no absolute rule for which lens to use; it depends on the location you find yourself in.

If you have chosen a location in the wilderness, the chances are you can use either a wide-angle lens or a long telephoto lens. However, if you’re photographing in an area with lots of human-made structures, your lens choice becomes even more important.

  • Wide-angle lenses: These lenses work well for minimalism, as you can use that wide angle to create the nice negative space required for a minimalist landscape while capturing the main subject – such as a distant mountain on the horizon – small in the frame. In a more cluttered environment, you need to be careful, however. The wide field of view could easily cause unwanted elements to appear in the frame and make your composition appear far too busy. If that happens, you’ll either need to adjust your perspective to exclude those elements from the frame, or you’ll need to use a longer lens instead.
  • Telephoto lenses: These lenses allow you to zoom in on a particular portion of your scene. Here, the challenge is to avoid compressing too many things into the same photo. Choose an area on the horizon that’s interesting but devoid of too many extra elements. This focal length can be a big advantage in a busier setting that’s generally too chaotic for minimalism, yet has portions of the skyline that can be zoomed in on to create a minimal image.
A Simple Guide to Minimalist Landscape Photography
I used a wide-angle lens to capture this minimalist landscape. Note how the wide field of view let me highlight the repeating patterns in the sand juxtaposed against the flat blue sky.

3. Adjust your perspective

Photos that are taken at eye level work well for many situations. However, when you’re trying to capture a minimalist landscape image, changing to a new perspective can simplify the composition very effectively!

When simplifying a landscape scene, here are some perspectives and compositional approaches to keep in mind:

  • Bird’s-eye view: Things look very different when you’re looking down from high above the landscape. The higher you get, the more dramatic this becomes, and the more the landscape becomes more abstract and simple. There are many amazing minimalist landscape shots taken with drones, and this is why!
  • Worm’s-eye view: At the other extreme is the worm’s-eye view; that is, photos taken from low down so the camera is pointed upward. These photos can include a small amount of the horizon line and make the remainder of the photo about the sky, giving you a landscape shot with a very minimalist feel.
  • Frames: The use of a frame-within-a-frame technique – where you frame the landscape with some sort of human-made or natural frame, like a window or a stand of trees – can result in a wonderfully simple image. The landscape itself need not be fully minimalist, so long as the surrounding frame excludes chaotic areas of the scene and emphasizes enough negative space to tick the minimalist box.
  • The lensball: A lensball basically frames a landscape inside a spherical object. That allows you to frame a minimalist landscape and keep the area surrounding the ball simple. It’s an unconventional way to get a minimalist shot, but it works, and the result can be ultra-creative!
A Simple Guide to Minimalist Landscape Photography
With a lensball, you can take a scene that is normally fairly complex and capture it in a minimalist way.

4. Find a good main subject

Almost every type of photo is strengthened by having a main subject. In some cases, the inclusion of that main subject can be more of a challenge. Portrait photos, for instance, have an obvious main subject: the person you’re photographing. Landscape photos, on the other hand, may not always have an obvious main subject – in some cases, it’s not needed – but for most landscape shots, having this additional focal point will boost the image.

Now, for minimalist landscape photography, the main subject won’t just act as a standard focal point. Instead, thanks to the negative space every else in the frame, it’ll leap out of the photo.

So what type of object could you use for this main subject?

  • A lone tree: This is a minimalist landscape classic! There’s a good reason that lone trees work so great for this type of photography: It’s a clear focal point, it looks beautiful, and it can be incorporated into various compositional approaches (symmetry, rule of thirds, etc.). It’s also relatively easy to isolate a lone tree.
  • A single person: A lone person silhouetted against the horizon. Someone riding their bike up the ridge of a hill. A hiker standing at the base of a mountain. If you include a single person in your minimalist landscapes, the photos will have more narrative – though it’s up to you whether you want to wait for a person to walk through your frame or whether you want to stage the scene.
  • A building: Most landscape photographers like to avoid including too many buildings in the frame, but a single building surrounded by negative space can look fantastic. In rural settings, look for red-walled barns against green hills; in coastal settings, see if you can incorporate a lighthouse into your shots.
A Simple Guide to Minimalist Landscape Photography
The single yurt acts as the main subject in this photo. Notice how it stands out thanks to all the negative space around it!

5. Try other techniques

Minimalist landscapes naturally dovetail with several other well-known photography techniques. You can apply one or more of these to your photo as you see fit:

  • Silhouettes: To photograph a silhouette, you’ll need to point your camera toward the light – often toward a sunset sky. This means landscape features in your photo will likely be black, while the sky will (hopefully!) be filled with color. This will give you a good chance of creating a minimalist image.
  • Long exposure: Blurred clouds moving across the sky and flat water skimming across the ocean’s surface are both the result of long-exposure photography. Use a tripod and expose for more than five seconds to flatten the sea. To see cloud movement, you’ll generally need an exposure longer than 30 seconds.
  • Color harmony: This is all about maintaining a nice color palette throughout the photo. Working with cold colors or warm colors is a good starting point – but for an even more minimalistic effect, try keeping the same color but in different shades. There is a lot of potential for this in landscape photography, especially when the photo is taken from a bird’s-eye point of view.
  • Black-and-white conversions: Black-and-white landscape photography is powerful, at least in part, because it’s inherently minimalistic. A B&W conversion strips away color information, simplifying the shot. And if you use a high-contrast approach when editing, you can get even more minimalistic results. If you’re struggling to simplify the landscape, try a black-and-white conversion and see what you think.
A Simple Guide to Minimalist Landscape Photography
This photo has a relatively complex set of elements, but my black-and-white conversion helped simplify the shot.

Don’t be afraid to go minimalist!

Landscape photography and minimalist photography are both extremely popular, especially on social-media platforms. That’s why I think it’s such a great idea to combine them!

So head out with your camera and see if you can take some beautiful minimalist landscape photos. Remember that minimalism doesn’t require classically breathtaking scenes; instead, seek out relatively remote locations, then use various compositional approaches to simplify the shot. Pretty soon, you’ll have a portfolio of breathtaking landscapes!

Now over to you:

Have you experimented with this type of image? Will you use any of the approaches mentioned in this article? Share your thoughts and photos in the comments below!

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Simon Bond
Simon Bond

is a specialist in creative photography techniques and is well known for his work with a crystal ball. His work has featured magazines including National Geographic Traveler. With over 8 years of experience in lensball photography, Simon is an expert in this field. Get some great tips by downloading his free e-book!
Do you want to learn about crystal ball photography? He has a course just for you! Get 20% off: DPS20.

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