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Is Less Really More With Minimalist Photography?

brown wooden dock with cloudy sky

The saying ‘less is more’ doesn’t always apply in everyday life. You can never have too many photo books, for one thing. You can never have enough parmesan cheese on your spaghetti, you can never have enough smiles from your little one --but when it comes to photography, the saying really makes sense. 

The number one best picture of 2023, according to The Independent Photographer, was a simple portrait of a woman. Titled Far Away Thunder, this is an authentic image of vulnerable beauty that says all it needs to say with just one subject. Other photographs on the same list were brilliant and beautiful in their own right, but compared to Far Away Thunder, they can't be recognised as minimalist, and that's very much where photographer, Jorg Karg, shined. 

Minimalism, as a photography concept, is a great way to make an immediate impact and grab the attention in a matter of milliseconds. Once this attention has been caught, it remains. In many ways, we end up looking at a photograph longer and with more engagement than we would with a photograph that is busy with stuff. This is because our brains are desperately trying to work out what it is that has engaged us in the first place. 

How could a simple picture of a woman be so captivating? What is the photograph trying to say and what does it mean to me and my life?

Minimal Photograph, Maximum Reaction

Without wanting to bring anybody down, it’s unlikely that you can whip out your phone and take a photograph as intricate and enchanting as Karg’s in the next few seconds. But you can draw from his technique. Whether it’s for your Instagram portfolio or an Instagram photo book, shooting minimalist photographs is a proven winner when it comes to captivating an audience, and this is especially true if you’re a photographer who wants to tell a story. 

Because minimalist photographs are stripped back and stark, there is a greater emphasis placed on the subject, and this tells the viewer immediately who they should be looking at and who they should care about. Think about an empty stage, with a single actor standing in the spotlight. There is nowhere else to look, and no one else to pay attention to, and so the audience pays attention to them. They watch them, listen to them, and thus, the emotional connection is strengthened, and their story is allowed to flourish. 

Shooting Minimalist Photographs

The act of taking minimalist photographs is also relatively simple. As mentioned previously, a minimalist photo is only going to have one subject, so you only have to focus on getting one thing right. The composition is important here. Without other subjects and substantial background noise, the angle at which you shoot the photograph – and the framing you decide to go with – has an even greater importance. This isn’t about shoving a single subject into the viewer’s face, it’s about delicately balancing the frame, using colours, depth of field, and movement to elicit your chosen emotion. 

As you would with urban or rural photography, the rule of thirds should also be applied, using three vertical lines to decide where to put your subject, and experimenting to see what works best. Speaking of experimentation, a lot of photographers use a higher exposure to blur a background’s definition, accentuating darker subject matters by surrounding them with negative space. These are all guidelines, of course, so they aren't necessary to follow. But the point is that minimalist photography can be as easy as you want it to be, and it's accessible to any photographer, no matter whether they’re professional or amateur.

Finding Minimalism

If you’re interested in minimalist photography, take a look back at the photos you’ve uploaded to our photo book maker, or take a scan through your social media portfolio. The chances are you’ll find this is a trend you’ve played with before, even if it wasn’t on purpose. By looking at these pictures, you can grasp the kind of minimalist subjects you can try out – subjects that have evidently interested you enough in the past – and then set to work improving the craft. 

Remember, you don’t have to be living in a barren landscape, a desert, or a beach to take minimalist photography. Even in a crowded city, you’ll be able to find minimalist subject matter that can get you started – stretches of concrete buildings, blank walls, grassy parks, or dramatic shadows. So get a handle on the kind of subject you’d like to play with, get your smartphone ready, and go and experiment!


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