Beauty in simplicity: The golden rules of minimalist photography

Have you noticed that minimalism has been getting a lot of pop-culture air time lately?

There is a palpable thirst for sustainable living, a throwback to authenticity, and a renewed focus on what really matters. The humble Google search confirms this, with searches for minimalism increasing by a whopping 230% from 2016-17 worldwide.

For those looking to master the subtle art of minimalist photography, look no further. We’ve compiled the wisdom of four luminaries of the medium.

01. Keep it simple

A Manchester-based artist, Simon Bray’s minimalist photographs explore place, text, and sound, investigating our connection to physical spaces and their influence on our personal identity.

Bray’s advice on achieving minimalism comes down to choosing the right subject and knowing what to leave out of it:

“When understanding how to achieve minimalism, the rule is to keep it simple. But that doesn't mean it needs to be boring or uninteresting. Try to pick a striking and engaging subject that will catch the eye. The subject has to be the strongest element of the shot, even though it may not take up the majority of the frame.

“Before you take your shot, take a moment to consider what you are going to include in your shot, but also what you are going to leave out. The space around a subject will accentuate it's prominence, so look to zoom in or crop out any distractions.”

02. Play with geometric shapes and angles

Berlin-based Julian Schulze describes himself as “focused on geometric abstraction and minimalistic compositions.”

From Paris to Berlin, Schulze captures the graphic beauty and geometric structures hidden in our cities, playing with the movement of light throughout the day to unveil new forms through its shadows.

His images range from simple shots of everyday scenes made up of just one or two elements to mind-bending abstractions that will leave you wondering which way is up. Each shot is expertly composed, using light, shadow, and color to create a 2D canvas out of a 3D scene.

On his art form, Schulze writes:

“Whereas I think that these ‘rules’ can be a useful guide for the beginner, I think that strictly following them (as suggested by the term ‘rule’) can seriously impede your success in finding interesting angles, interconnections, and the true character of a picture.

“Therefore, I want to advocate to follow gut feelings more often, to try out different things without considering the rules, or said differently, to break the rules—at least sometimes!”

03. If in doubt, go monochrome

Michael Kenna is a highly influential minimalistic landscape photographer. He works only in black and white, preferring to shoot at odd times of the day–including dawn and dusk,and when the weather is misty, foggy, rainy or snowy.

Blue skies and sunny days don’t inspire him as much as they do other artists, and this shows through his work. In regards to why he works solely in black and white, Kenna says:

“Black and white is immediately more mysterious because we see in color all the time. It is quieter than color.”

Highly influenced by his travels to Japan, his photographs herald a serene and meditative and quality, with poetic use of silhouette and shadow that is somehow painterly.

04. Experiment with new techniques

Grant Hamilton differs from the previously mentioned photographers, in that he only shoots on Polaroid film.

Because of the way in which he shoots, there is no room for error. There are no negatives, no memory cards, and no post-processing. Each image is exactly as he saw it in real life, and there’s a sense of honesty and beauty to that.

Since there are only ten images in each film pack (and since the price of Polaroid film continues to increase), he has to examine each subject with meticulous detail before taking the shot. More time is taken to consider shape, form, light, color, and subject. His photographs range from the corner of a motel sign to balloons on a ceiling—no subject is left untouched.

On how he came to using only Polaroids, he says, “I was introduced to Polaroid images through the internet and thought that the imperfections and characteristic colors perfectly suited the types of subjects I was interested in. Through my photos, I strive to find beauty in the mundane. It is hard to describe to passers-by why, exactly, I am photographing the side of a bus or standing on a ladder on the side of a road, trying to reach a sign. Most of the time, however, people will see the beauty that I am seeing and will smile. Often they will remark that they never noticed that before.”

In the same way that unburdening your life allows its simple pleasures to sparkle even more brightly, a frame that is simple in its subject and composition can yield infinite power. Just as jazz legend Charles Mingus said: “Anyone can make the simple complicated; creativity makes the complicated simple.”

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