Minimalist photography can be summarized in one quote by Leonardo da Vinci:
“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”
Less is more.
By stripping a photo down to the bare essentials, minimalist photographers show how powerful simplicity can be. There’s no clutter to distract viewers from the main subject. They see exactly what the photographer wants them to see.
This concept isn’t new. Minimalism has been around since the mid-20th century, and it’s only risen in popularity. It’s no longer an avant-garde idea. You can find minimalism all over Instagram and in many advertisements.
Nowadays, to make your minimalist photos stand out from all the rest, you need more than stark simplicity. You need to combine minimalism with other strategies and techniques, such the ones listed below.
Inspiring Minimalist Photography
Here are a handful of techniques that work great with minimalism, plus 40 beautiful minimalist photos for inspiration.
Choose an interesting subject.
This isn’t really a technique, but we’re mentioning it anyway because it’s so important in minimalist photography. Because there’s little else in the photo but the subject, the success of your photo will partly depend on how interesting that subject is.
Of course, what’s “interesting” will depend on your audience, style, and photography goals. One photographer might be fascinated by flowers, while another thinks they’re dull. Some photographers aim for epic scenes, while others find the beauty in everyday life.
In other words, practically anything could be interesting, but not to everyone. You have to ask yourself questions like: “Who is my audience? Why am I photographing this? What kind of photographer do I want to be?” Answering these questions can be tough, but it’ll lead to more powerful minimalist photos as you find your voice and audience.
Tell a story.
Another way to think about subjects is to consider what stories you want to tell through your photography. Visual narrative or storytelling is a technique many photojournalists use to make their images more powerful as they connect with viewers’ emotions.
Minimalism works well with storytelling because there’s nothing to distract viewers from the story. Instead of cluttering the picture with details, you give viewers visual space to think about what’s happening and build a narrative.
Create a sense of scale.
Scale is when you compare something large to something much smaller. This comparison allows viewers to see and understand how massive something is. For example, you can compare a skyscraper to a person or an ocean to a boat.
This technique is useful to keep in mind when taking minimalist shots of architecture, landscapes, and other large subjects. These subjects are well-suited for minimalism because they allow for a lot of empty space. However, without a sense of scale, their impressive size won’t be obvious. You’ll have simplicity, but not grandeur. Having both will make your photo instantly more powerful.
Work with bold colors.
Bold colors can be visually striking, but they need simplicity to truly stand out. That’s because bright colors can be overwhelming if there’s too much happening in a photo. They’re yet another element pulling at the viewers’ attention.
That’s why minimalism and bright colors are a perfect match. The colors catch the viewers’ eyes, and the minimalism makes the image attractive instead of overwhelming. For more tips on photographing bright colors, check out this post: How to Capture Bold Colors in Your Photography.
Go for black and white.
At the other end of the spectrum, you can use black and white to get the same eye-catching effect as bold colors. Without the distraction of color, viewers will see the contrast between dark and light more clearly. This contrast alone can grab their attention.
This strategy is great for subjects that are dark but lack color, especially if they’re set against a light, colorful background such as the sky. Instead of competing with the color, the subject will then pop out in black and white as the darkest thing in the photo.
Experiment with texture.
Another way to create contrast is to place different textures side-by-side. For instance, you can photograph something smooth next to something rough. Though subtle, this textural contrast can make your minimalist images more intriguing.
Contrast isn’t the only way to work with texture, though. Some textures are worth photographing by themselves without any comparison. This is particularly true if you already have another type of contrast in the image. For example, if the photo is in black and white with a stark contrast between the two, a single texture is probably enough.
Look for interesting patterns.
Repeating patterns are fantastic subjects for minimalist photos because they don’t always work well with other elements. They grab too much attention. If you use them as a background, they’ll likely distract viewers from the main subject. And if they’re one of several elements, the image may look cluttered.
Minimalism prevents patterns from cluttering or “taking over” an image. There’s little else for viewers to look at – perhaps just a silhouette or shadow of a person. Patterns with a lot of repetition, such as stairs, windows, and columns, are all great choices for a minimalist photo.
Pay attention to directional lines.
Vertical, diagonal, and horizontal lines can all be considered directional lines, as they direct the viewers’ attention. Each one comes with a certain “feel” that influences the image’s atmosphere. Horizontal lines are stable and peaceful; vertical lines are strong and structured; and diagonal lines are powerful and energetic.
Regardless of which type of line you photograph, remember to pay attention to where the line begins and ends in the frame. Ideally, the lines should direct the viewers’ attention to the subject.
You’ll also want keep horizontal and vertical lines as straight as possible, and photograph vertical lines so they end in a corner. This will prevent your image from looking crooked or off-balance.
Find a striking composition.
When all else fails, aim for an excellent composition. A well-composed photo will take you a long way in minimalist photography. Since the photo itself is rather simple, a thoughtful composition is crucial for creating powerful images.
Many photographers start with the “rule of thirds” when composing photos, but it’s not the only technique out there. For a list of compositional techniques, check out our 2019 Photography Challenge, which has a large section devoted to composition.