Ad Reinhardt, a 20th Century artist, who is known for almost completely black paintings is known for the concept of “less is more” or “minimalism.” The artist should be able to convey a thought provoking image with limited visual components.
When minimalism is approached, the elements of light, shadows, colors, textures, lines and space are considered. The focus of your subject is then isolated and projected with minimal detail.
Read more: Photography Composition: Negative Space
What I love about “less is more” in photography, is that you are able to take a step back, breathe, critically think about what you are seeing and what story is being told.
“The more stuff in it, the busier the work of art, the worse it is. More is less. Less is more. The eye is a menace to clear sight. The laying bare of oneself is obscene. Art begins with the getting rid of nature.”
No.01Keep It Simple
Sometimes the best images are the simple ones. Because you are keeping it simple, you can focus on making the photograph powerful because your distractions have been eliminated.
Make it eye-catching, make it stick in the viewer’s mind after they’ve looked at it, make them come back to look at it twice or three times to see if they understand and appreciate the image. You only want to include the minimal amount of information required to illustrate your intentions, whether that’s lines, curves, colors, textures or negative space.
In the photo below, my son is feeling the grass as it sways in the wind from the coming storm. You can feel the storm coming without anything else to contribute to the image.
No.02Using Negative Space
The subject of your photo is the “positive space” where as the space around your subject is the “negative space.” I think all too often we think that we have to get in close for the details to make it a good photo, when actually, it’s the space around your subject and maximizing it that makes your subject more profound. It creates an open space around your subject that helps add artistry where you may feel like you are missing.
In the next example, a blanket of fog hangs in a vast empty field. The empty space that surrounds my son allows him to stand out and creates a mood along with the pop of color from his coat.
No.03Tell a Story
Everyone loves a good story and I am a big fan of story telling images. We inherently go back to wanting to read a novel for a story. But what we’re talking about here is using less to create more.
With the right elements fused together, combined with clever well thought out angles and composition, your story can demonstrate what is significant about this moment in time. Whether it’s using humans, objects, nature, shapes, lines or colors; aim to get your message across, what inspired you and what you want the viewer to take away.
In the following image, I used a shallow depth of field in a dark room where the subject was in front of a window. This created a dark background that eliminated unnecessary distractions in the room. All you see is his arms folded with the dying flower hung over them. This lets your imagination wander as to why he is holding the flower this way and the sense of feeling it imparts.
No.04Use of Lines or Patterns
When composing a photo, think about the leading lines and/or shapes to draw the viewer’s eye through and across the image. These leading lines are very important and can be very influential in your final image. Strong lines or patterns can show a sense of depth, separation, isolation or proximity.
In the image below, there is an open space flanked with lines of fern leaves. The background is completely dark due to shallow depth of field so that you are not distracted by the space. Your eye immediately travels up the lines of the fern to the one single eye that is peeking through the opening.
In the image below, the straight lines of the stairs lead me to my son as he sits amongst them. I converted this image to black and white so that all you see is the shadow and light play on the stairs as my son sits offset in the middle. I burned the foliage so that your eye was not distracted by it but left slight highlights to give a sense of environment.
No.05Look Out For Details
Sometimes, I just want to capture tiny details of life that we seem to oversee on a daily basis. I love that my son collected these freshly fallen acorns on a recent walk along with leaves that are beginning to show color. What I love even more is the textures when they are combined.
I converted this to black and white so that just his tiny hands and nature collection were emphasized. I burned the space around his hands and brought out the light and highlights on the leaves and acorns so that you see only my vision that I want to convey.
In the next image, you see only one cluster of orange flowers that remain from summer as the surrounding flowers have passed on with fall emerging. The sun was almost gone over the horizon and a little bit of warm light was still shining on the cluster of flowers.
I underexposed the image to emphasize the light and flowers. The brown flowers and muted greens that surround the subject allow your eye to not be distracted by other details.
Next time you take your camera out shooting, pay attention to what you take notice of –not just everything and anything- and think how you can minimize the frame so that only the viewer sees your visual voice.