Minimalism In Photography – Learn the Essentials of Less

Minimalism in photography is an art form that focuses on a single object, living thing, or group of objects that are beautiful in their simplicity.  We’re going to examine the composition and focus of minimalist photography as well as how to create your own minimalist-style photos.

Minimalism in photography is defined by simplicity, negative space, contrasting colors, and geometric shapes to create interest and focus.  Through lighting and color, texture, and an attention grabber, anyone can create a great minimalist photo.

Have you ever looked at a photograph and felt overwhelmed by the number of things to look at?  Were you aware that there’s another category of minimalism that applies to photography?

What Is Minimalism in Photography?

To begin with, minimalism is the belief in “less is more” in aesthetics, art, belongings, clothing, and more.  Photography is a still art form in which pictures are taken of subjects or objects.  Minimalism in photography is the practice of taking pictures that are simple, uncluttered, and comprised of only essential forms, concepts, and features.  It has been described as sparse, extreme, and strictly simple yet beautiful and calming.

Camera - Minimalism In Photography - Gone Minimal

Elements of Minimalist Photography

Although minimalist photography is based on the “less is more” aesthetic, there are some essential things that should be considered for this style to work the best.  The elements of minimalist photography include the following:

  • Simplicity – There are simply few objects in the photo for the eye to focus on.  There is no clutter, no extraneous objects or people, and the eyes are drawn to just what the photo focuses on.
  • Color – The colors in minimalist photography are complementary, bold, and usually few in number.  Contrasting colors helps the viewer to focus on what’s most important in the photo.  Minimal colors also keep the photo simple, also helping to isolate the main object from the negative space.
  • Negative space – One of the most essential elements of minimalist photography is the use of negative space.  This helps direct the viewer’s eye to the focus of the photo-the subject.  There should always be a great deal of negative space in this style.
  • Geometric patterns – This can include many single types of shapes-stairs, windows, brick walls, and bridges can be single in a photo or in repeated patterns in a photo.  This is another often-seen theme in minimalist photography.
  • Texture – A simple texture throughout a photo can be a powerful yet simple beauty in photos.  Grass, sand, textured walls, and especially with contrasting colors can create a texture the viewer can imagine and feel.
  • Strong lines – Outside of geometric patterns it’s important to have strong lines in this style of photography.  Clear delineations between surfaces, sky and land, roadways cutting through land are all ways to communicate strong lines and create a powerful minimalist photo.
Minimal textural photophraph of a building - Minimalism In Photography - Gone Minimal
Minimal textural photophraph of a building

This seems like a great deal of elements for minimalist photography, but keep in mind these do not all have to be incorporated in the same photo.  There are different combinations of color and patterns, texture and color, negative space and simplicity, and so on and so forth.  So let’s look at how to make it work in true minimalist style.

What Makes for a Great Minimalist Photo

So what makes for a great minimalist photo?  Using the elements listed above, one can create a simply beautiful photograph that communicates simplicity-the most important element.  There are four elements that any photo should have in order to make it good: composition, light, technique, and an attention-grabbing subject. 

You can have an interesting subject and great color, but it must remain simple and uncluttered.  With the right lighting and background, a simple subject and little contrasting color can make a great minimalist photo. Minimalist photography aims to mimic a scene or subject, emphasizing simplicity, clean lines, and a sense of calm. It invites viewers to appreciate the beauty in minimalistic elements and encourages a mindful approach to composition and visual art.

There are four elements that any photo should have in order to make it good: composition, light, technique, and an attention-grabbing subject. 

Minimal photo of treeline - Minimalism In Photography - Gone Minimal
Minimal photo of treeline

Types of Minimalist Photography

Minimalist photography is not just about the essential elements and simplicity-there’s got to be some type of focus.  When we talk about different types of minimalist photography, we’re talking about categories that we will delve into here.

Minimalist Nature Photography

Minimalist nature photography has nature as its focus.  Trees, skies, land, plants, even weather are the focus of this category.  A single tree in a field with calm skies, sunset at the beach, a single cloud formation in the sky, and the contrast of mountains against sky are all examples of minimalist nature photography.  There’s a single focus in nature with a calm sky or sprawling field as the negative space, sometimes with a muted color scheme or even a contrasting color on the item of focus make a beautiful minimalist nature photo.

Minimalist Wildlife Photography

Minimalist wildlife photography incorporates a living thing in nature in this category.  A single bright red cardinal on a snow-covered field, a flock of birds in the sky, or a pelican flying over the ocean are examples of minimalist wildlife photography.  There’s a clear contrast between the wildlife and nature (negative space), drawing the viewer’s eye to the actual focus of the photo-the wildlife.  Same with the nature photography-there’s similar colors for simplicity or contrasting colors for attention to the wildlife.

Minimalist Portrait Photography

Portrait photography isn’t something we think of often when it comes to minimalism, so it is overlooked often.  This goes beyond the family picture-it’s a style of portrait that keeps the focus on the subject(s), which are the people.  It can range from a single person wearing all black with a dark background to a family all wearing the same color with a single color background to avoid distraction with props or fancy outfits.  The eye goes to the people’s faces-exactly where it should be. 

Analog film roll - Minimalism In Photography - Gone Minimal
Analog film roll

How To Become a Minimalist Photographer

Photography can be a complicated occupation when you’re trying to achieve the right look.  If you’re wondering how to become a minimalist photographer, it’s a bit less challenging-especially if you keep a few things in mind as you compose, focus, and click.  To help you learn, here are some steps to assist in the process of creating these simple compositions:

  • Remember simplicity.  A single focus, uncluttered.
  • Negative space to shift the focus to the object or living thing.
  • Use of color-minimal color, similar colors, and contrasting colors.
  • Repetition of patterns, geometric forms, and similar objects.
  • Picture in your mind what you’d like to create and put it together!

It may take some practice in remembering and utilizing the elements of minimalist photography.  Keep in mind that minimalism in itself focuses on “less is more”, so picture that when you’re composing your pictures.  It’s really not complicated at all!

This super helpful video will give you some tips on how you can make your photography more minimal.

Subject Ideas for Minimalist Photography

To get started in your journey to minimalist photography, think about some things you’d like to capture on film.  Here are some interesting items for you to consider:

  • Beach with no people
  • Single shell on a beach
  • Ocean and waves
  • A bridge
  • Railroad tracks
  • Field of flowers of a single color
  • Vase with flowers or a plant
  • Animals like a single bird or four-legged creature
  • Your pet in the middle of a wood floor
  • Weather like a single bolt of lightning
  • People like family members or friends
  • Children and babies
  • Single wardrobe piece like a wedding dress or shoes
  • Rocks of similar shape or size
  • Grass or crops
  • Insects like a butterfly or praying mantis

Other Resources:

Minimalism has infiltrated just about every aspect of life and art, and minimalism in photography is a great example.  With its simplicity in form, patterns and textures, and focus on a single object, minimalism in photography can be relaxing to look at as well as create.  If you’ve got a camera and an interesting focus object or living thing, you too can create a minimalist photo!  What will you capture on film first?

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