NEW: Lindt Advent calendar 2021 - Order now!

NEW: Aluminium-Dibond XXL - Order now!

  • Guest contribution

    Minimalism: the art of leaving things out

    Minimalism: the art of leaving things out

    Minimalism is the opposite of excess. In photography, clear, simple lines make for impressive images. Concentrate on the subject and leave out anything unnecessary.

    Less is more

    With minimalism, the focus is what is essential for the picture, everything else is kept out, cut out, blurred out or coloured out using a range of different design techniques.

    One simple method is to avoid bright colours or colour in general. These photos are called monochrome. A combination of reduced colours and reduced shapes can be particularly effective. Leaving things out focuses the eye on the rest, i.e. what is still in the picture.

    Minimalism and landscape

    Nature offers countless opportunities to try minimalism. When you take pictures, think about the space all around, the vast openness and the nothingness. Play with the long line of the horizon or with soft focus and make sure you leave large parts of the photo just “empty”.

    Minimalism works well in many landscape shots. A monochrome mood can also add appeal.
    Minimalism works well in many landscape shots. A monochrome mood can also add appeal.
    Minimalism: the picture hints at more than it shows. The colours are in pastel shades and merge gently into one another.
    Minimalism: the picture hints at more than it shows. The colours are in pastel shades and merge gently into one another.
    The schematic image, the vagueness and the blurred edges: that’s what minimalism in landscape photography is all about.
    The schematic image, the vagueness and the blurred edges: that’s what minimalism in landscape photography is all about.
    The strong edge to the image combined with the silhouette is very much typical of minimalist images.
    The strong edge to the image combined with the silhouette is very much typical of minimalist images.
    The composition of the picture consists of two arches and the diagonal of the figures with their shadows. The black and white colour scheme underlines the minimalist composition.
    The composition of the picture consists of two arches and the diagonal of the figures with their shadows. The black and white colour scheme underlines the minimalist composition.
    Detail is left out, leaving the interpretation of the image to the viewer.
    Detail is left out, leaving the interpretation of the image to the viewer.

    Monochrome photos

    You can take monochrome images at the shooting stage, but also create them at a later date in Lightroom or Photoshop. It doesn’t matter whether the photo consists of exactly one colour or whether there are different shades of one colour.

    Monochrome light is often used in museums, art galleries and events as it creates a mystical atmosphere.
    Monochrome light is often used in museums, art galleries and events as it creates a mystical atmosphere.
    At night, you can produce silhouetted images in blue and black.
    At night, you can produce silhouetted images in blue and black.

    Minimalism in urban spaces

    Minimal design thrives on shapes and colours that exhibit a certain degree of abstraction. The ideal subjects here are those that consist of geometric shapes or patterns, or which have a strikingly high level of saturation.

    This picture from Hamburg is all about the geometry, the colours are not important. The tiny street light shifts the proportions of the whole image.
    This picture from Hamburg is all about the geometry, the colours are not important. The tiny street light shifts the proportions of the whole image.
    Brightly coloured house facades like those here in Burano (Venice) are a popular subject for minimalist pictures.
    Brightly coloured house facades like those here in Burano (Venice) are a popular subject for minimalist pictures.

    Shapes and accents

    The fact that the appeal of the photo is reduced simply to colour or shapes is evidence of the eye for detail. Consider anything round or rectangular, or anything with bright iridescent colours. Then select a section where the focus is on the geometry. You can arrange the lines and shapes straight or at any angle you like.

    “0” level sign in the Urania multi-storey car park in Zurich. Seen from a distance, the zero looks normal. Signage, shop windows and street signs are perfect subjects for minimalist photography.
    “0” level sign in the Urania multi-storey car park in Zurich. Seen from a distance, the zero looks normal. Signage, shop windows and street signs are perfect subjects for minimalist photography.
    The geometric partitioning of the image is softened by the subject, which is moving and out of focus. Minimalism is expressed through implication.
    The geometric partitioning of the image is softened by the subject, which is moving and out of focus. Minimalism is expressed through implication.
    Angled shots take on a particularly dynamic look. The heavy cropping and the opposing diagonals emphasise the message of the image.
    Angled shots take on a particularly dynamic look. The heavy cropping and the opposing diagonals emphasise the message of the image.
    Pictures with harsh lines, geometric shapes, contrasting colours and symbols have a minimalist look to them.
    Pictures with harsh lines, geometric shapes, contrasting colours and symbols have a minimalist look to them.

    Focus on portraits

    Taking minimalist portraits in a natural setting is not easy as the background can often be too lively. Look for structured walls or masonry as a backdrop and wait for your subjects to step in front of the lens. Make sure the light is coming in from the side.

    Reducing the image to just the subject makes for a strong image. There are no distractions in the background, the shot is authentic and does not look posed.
    Reducing the image to just the subject makes for a strong image. There are no distractions in the background, the shot is authentic and does not look posed.
    High-key shots have just a few tonal values. It is a style which is particularly effective in black and white.
    High-key shots have just a few tonal values. It is a style which is particularly effective in black and white.
    In this low-key portrait, the background is black – there is nothing to distract from the face. This kind of shot can be taken in a studio or at night with coloured lighting.
    In this low-key portrait, the background is black – there is nothing to distract from the face. This kind of shot can be taken in a studio or at night with coloured lighting.

    The hint

    Information in the image can be “hidden” by means of deliberate blurring. With exposure times greater than half a second, you can take some surprising pictures that look like artistic splashes of paint.

    Long exposure times can turn images into colourful splashes which only hint at the content.
    Long exposure times can turn images into colourful splashes which only hint at the content.
    You can get these minimalistic effects by panning the camera along at the speed of the subject with an exposure time of around one quarter of a second. During the day, there is too much light, so I work with a neutral density filter to make the long exposure times possible.
    You can get these minimalistic effects by panning the camera along at the speed of the subject with an exposure time of around one quarter of a second. During the day, there is too much light, so I work with a neutral density filter to make the long exposure times possible.
    The lamp is reflected in the shop window. It is in the middle, while at the side, the image is split in equal proportions 1:4.
    The lamp is reflected in the shop window. It is in the middle, while at the side, the image is split in equal proportions 1:4.
    Shadow images and vague reflections are ways of playing with spaces: what is inside and what is outside?
    Shadow images and vague reflections are ways of playing with spaces: what is inside and what is outside?

    Open aperture gives blur effects

    A picture gains clarity when the subject stands out from the background. The figure in the picture can be brought out by the contrast, colour or sharpness. In macro photography, open apertures (about f2 to f5) are used to blur the background. This blurriness is referred to as bokeh in the jargon. Depending on the lens, it can create blur circles.

    .
    The colour scheme is reduced. An open aperture blurs the background.
    The colour scheme is reduced. An open aperture blurs the background.
    Ralf Turtschi

    Ralf Turtschi

    Ralf Turtschi has made a name for himself as a specialist book author and journalist. He works as a photojournalist, is a hobby photographer and lecturer and gives technical and creative advice on all aspects of photography. He is particularly fond of nature, landscape, portrait, travel, macro, architecture, and night photography.

    Further information: www.agenturtschi.ch

    Similar Articles