Black and white photo of tree and rocks
Lens-Artists,  Photographic techniques

Gallery: less is more (minimalism in photography)

Keeping things simple doesn’t mean taking it easy. Sometimes it’s harder to leave things out when composing an image than to include them. There can be a temptation to cram everything in, to show it all in a single image. However, often your subject will have more impact on the viewer if it stands alone, free of clutter. This is something I try for in all my photography; leaving the non-essentials out of an image.

But sometimes keeping it simple isn’t enough; I want to strip away almost everything to create a truly minimalist image. To be considered minimalist an image should be very clean, with a single point of focus. It will probably have a lot of negative space: areas that are empty of any significant content. That may sound boring but by placing your main subject in one small part of the image you can create maximum impact.

Composition matters more than ever in a minimalist shot. Generally the rule of thirds is a great guide to the placement of your subject, but sometimes breaking the rule to create a more symmetrical image can be effective. I have no idea why this is so or whether the variations that please me will also please others.

You can also achieve minimalism in editing, using photo effects to simplify a shot and draw attention to a single element within it. A high key edit can work well for this, as can conversion to black and white. My feature photo, taken at Brimham Rocks in Yorkshire, is an example of a deliberately minimalist edit, as is the Sussex rose below.

Another way of achieving a minimalist shot is to focus on a detail. By eliminating most of your subject you can create a more abstract photo with minimal clutter. I’ve done that with my detail of a house in Reykjavik and the barbed wire at Tuol Sleng. The latter is the notorious Khmer Rouge interrogation and extermination centre, now a museum. To me this small detail conveyed the chilling atmosphere in a different, but equally chilling, way to more general images of its cells.

I’m interested to see what you make of my contributions to this week’s Lens Artists Challenge theme. Sofia proposes that we share images that are either minimalist or maximalist or a selection of both. As I’m so fond of the former I have pulled out some examples from my archives that fit my own definition of the term!

Tuft of grass on rippled white sand

Grass at White Sands, New Mexico


Yellow sky with part of a tree, the sun, and birds

Sunset in Senegal


Straight reeds sticking out of water and reflected

Reeds in the Okavango Delta, Botswana


Pink flowers against a blurred background

Bougainvillea at the Royal Palace in Luang Prabang


Single autumn leaf against a blurred background

Autumn in Kyoto


Detail of bright green leaf

Banana leaf in Kerala


Curved striped fabric detail

Table mat detail, Leipzig


Curved building edge against a dark blue sky

Adobe building in Santa Fe, New Mexico


Angular yellow building against a blue sky

Building at Trinity Buoy Wharf, on the Thames in east London


Grey decorative trim on a yellow house

House in Reykjavik, Iceland


White wall with hand rail and small tile image of a boat

House in Whitstable, Kent


Sepia photo of a man on a paddle board with distant low cliffs

Paddle boarder, Sal, Cape Verde


Man standing knee deep in a wide river with a fishing net

Fisherman on the Mekong, southern Laos


Curved piece of barbed wire against a stone wall

Barbed wire at Tuol Sleng, Phnom Penh


Pale image of a rose

Rose in a Sussex garden

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