What is Minimalist Photography? How to Compose and Earn

Beyond art and decor, Minimalism is a theory and a lifestyle. Discover how this 1940’s movement changed photography and how to create minimalist photos of your own!

minimalist photography

What is Minimalist Photography? We aren’t just discussing ‘photography’ with that term, are we? Décor, art, photography, fashion, music, architecture, even lifestyles have embraced this unique prospective. I for one, am a huge fan. There is so much beauty in simplicity and for someone who hates clutter, I love shooting minimalism.  But what exactly does that mean? And what kind of market is there for minimalism photography? We are going to cover what it is, how to compose minimalist photography shots, and what to do with it.

What is Minimalism or Minimalist Photography?

The aesthetics of minimalism have always been around. However, they became more defined in the post WWII era with the rise of modernism, abstract expressionism, and geometric art. As a global concept, minimalism is about simplicity. In décor, think open space with only necessary furniture, clean lines and little to no ornate designs. In architecture, imagine basic geometric shapes without unnecessary detail that serves no purpose. Minimalism is about only including what is necessary and nothing else. Removing all the décor and clutter that is used as “filler” and allowing the intended focal point to stand on its own.

Applying a Life Example to Understand Minimalism Photography

As an example, let’s look at our lifestyles for a moment. Like many who read this, I have a closet full of cloths that all have different patterns, colors, and textures. You may also have some shoes you wear practically every day and some that you have only worn once. Hats may line hooks along your wall, and some may only match one shirt you own.  If my clothing were to reflect a more minimalistic style, I would have to grab some large trash bags.

My shoe collection might only include a pair of hiking boots and sneakers (in white since they go with everything). Maybe add a brown and black pair of dress shoes and a pair of flip flops for summer days.  I would reduce my patterns and textures and be left with colors that pair well in many combinations. Only those that can be swapped out to appear as a new outfit while taking up minimal space. This means that when I go into my closet, my shoe choice is very easy. My shirts are based on the weather, colors, and perhaps a sweater just to spice it up. Then I can decide to wear a hat or not, since I would only own a couple.

learning- only add necessities

This all might seem extreme, but there is science behind the lifestyle choice. It has spread into every avenue of our lives, photography is no exception. We can still use our rules of composition while creating beautiful works free of frills. Minimalist photography isn’t about lack of detail either, it’s about only adding what is necessary. Instead of having your subject centered with objects throughout the background to fill the frame, now you worry about perfectly capturing your subject and remove anything drawing a viewer’s eye away from the subject.

Composing Minimalist Photography

Minimalism is a form that can skirt along with many of the traditional rules of composition or can challenge art by beating to its own drum. You probably won’t find many minimalistic photos using layering, but I often use the rule of thirds or leading lines. Using symmetry is a fantastic way to showcase minimalism but asymmetry can work just as well.

Minimalism Photography is about Staying Focused on the Subject

If you can’t stick to any rules of composition, how do we create minimalistic art? Simple! Instead of trying to balance elements or fill space, you decide what your subject is then decide what in the photo is necessary to support it. Take the picture below of a church steeple. Could I have centered the steeple directly in the center of the frame? Sure. Could I have used balanced light to not have one shadowed side and one lit? Of course.

Taking this picture, I knew the steeple was my subject. Glare, clouds, or a rising sun would only take away from my subject, so I did not include them. I shot against a dark blue sky to help contrast the white architecture. I even chose to shoot a bright side and shadowed side for aesthetics. Then I added a little angle to the steeple because I’m a rebel! Also, I didn’t want such linear architecture to come off too perfectly vertical. There isn’t a right or wrong, it is about my interpretation and artistic vision.

example of minimalism 
minimalist photography
Example 1: Focus on the Subject

Subject doesn’t have to be simple!

Notice from the church steeple example that my subject itself is not very simple. There is a great deal of structure, angles, columns, and detail. What makes this minimalistic is that your eye is instantly focused on the bright side of the church. I added just enough to draw a viewer in. I want a viewer to think about why I might have added a shadow side. Also, I want your eyes instantly focus on the steeple and all the detail and features of this beautiful piece of architecture. If I had storm clouds, sunrises or a window washer hanging from the roof, these things would draw your eyes away and make you miss the beauty.

The Blank Canvas for Attention

Take this next example I recently took. Nothing but a tree and some leaves, but with the help of minimalism, we create mood and feeling while drawing the eye to the beautiful colors in the tree. Overexposing the sky allowed me to set my Fall foliage on a “blank canvas” of white. Using white makes it difficult to even tell where the edges of the image start and stop if placed on a white wall or website.

If this was during a sunset, it could still be beautiful, but the orange and yellows wouldn’t be a vibrant since the sky would also be filled with many of those same colors. I could have shot this with a plain blue sky, but I felt the blue would take away, nothing contrasts better than white. Whether you like the image or not, you have to admit that your eyes are instantly pulled to the right side, and you can almost feel brain receptors light up in delight.

minimalist photography
Example 2: Minimalist photography- using a blank canvas for contrast

Sometimes Color is too Distracting for Minimalism Photography

Okay, last two examples show that you can fill the frame while keeping a minimalistic mindset. When shooting this image of an acoustic guitar below, it was the color of the guitar itself that was taking away from my subject. Strange right? But for me, the color was unnecessary to the image. It didn’t add aesthetics to the clean leading lines, nor did it bring out details that I wanted to showcase. Therefore, I left this image in monochrome and split my frame using the guitar itself.

acoustic guitar, minimalism photography
Example 3: Sometimes color is a distraction

Minimalist Photography Doesn’t Always Mean Empty

To that point, the next image I filled the entire frame with stadium seats! But you notice from looking at this, the color of the umbrella is what draws your eyes to the subject immediately and you aren’t so worried about the folded seats and uniform rows as much as they create leading lines for my subject of a gentleman covering a lady in her seat during a rain delay.  The seats are necessary because I wanted to show it was just those two there, everyone else had left. The frame is virtually empty except for these two, seemingly married people.

minimalist photography, minimalism, stadium seating, rain delay
Example 4: Filled Frame: Minimalism doesn’t always mean empty

It comes down to your vision and how you can draw the eye to the subject and remove everything that is a distraction from that.

What can I do with Minimalistic Photography?

The first thing you can do is enjoy it! If you do not enjoy and see the aesthetics in minimalism you aren’t going to create anything worth selling. But let’s assume you are past that and love it as much or more than I do. There are three big avenues you can take with minimalism, with which, I have had personal success.

Prints and digital sales for Art and Décor

This is a big market with a wide array of buyers who are very interested in having a piece in their home that was not purchased at a big box store. Finding a work that matches the colors they are looking for while staying true to the minimalistic values could be very lucrative if you know how to market. And although your works may be exactly what someone is looking for, you must get it in front of them to find. That takes time, advertising, patience, and tenacity. Consider approaching established galleries, create and market your own website, or begin spreading your brand through in-person sales at markets, fairs, etc. Your income potential here is only limited by your creativity and work ethic.

Minimalist and Minimalism Stock Photography

Stock photography is a bit on the decline; however, minimalism photography is one of the rare styles that is still thriving. If you were a company trying to sell something and wanted to focus on a single subject, wouldn’t minimalistic photography be a good avenue? A smoothie company doesn’t want an image of fresh fruit on a table with mountains or architecture in the background. They want the viewer to see the freshness of the fruit, right? So maybe a few strawberries on a plain white background would sell better than something much more complicated. You can shoot almost anything, and using the rules of minimalism, draw attention to the intended subject and begin selling for free on stock sites.

Learn from my experience

I sell a lot of stock photos, but recently came across the greatest site ever created, Wirestock.io. Here, I don’t have to worry about inputting and researching keywords or demand, I just upload my pictures for free and they do all the work for me. They only take 15% commission, but trust me, it is well worth their take. I simply put a title on each picture to help them target audiences, make sure there aren’t any name brands on my images, and upload any releases if I have models in my images. They take care of the rest and within a couple weeks I begin to see earnings filter in.

The more pictures I upload, the more I begin to earn. Not bad earning money indefinitely for a simple upload. Just remember that rules are very strict since businesses are using these images and many may be rejected if you don’t remove brand names, upload grainy pictures, or have recognizable people. But Wirestock is great about telling you what you did wrong so you can fix it and resubmit.

I used to submit to several agencies and each site required their own submission, that’s why I went to Wirestock. They upload to a dozen stock sites all at once and the earnings are channeled through them for one paycheck. I guess you can say Wirestock is the minimalistic way to do stock photography! But remember that stock photos are a numbers game. You might earn $.33 from each sale, maybe more, but do that a few thousand times a month and it begins adding up. More images equal more potential. And sure, $.33 isn’t worth the effort, but when you are earning $.33 a download for a picture indefinitely, every picture adds up to a lot over time!

Competitions for Minimalism Photography

I must put this one on here only because it is possible to win competitions and I have had my fair share of victories over the years. However, using this as a business model is about like buying lotto checks as a retirement plan. Personally, I have seen amazing art go unrecognized and it normally comes down to individual judges and their preferences over actual talent and artistic integrity. But it is fun, it can get you plenty of recognition, and winning national and global competitions can earn you some serious money and prices. Be careful of scams where you send in an entry fee and never hear back again. Only go with well-known competitions that are backed by name brands. Many times, companies and state parks will do their own competitions so definitely look out for those that may be free.

That’s a Wrap

I know this article is far from minimalist, right? But I wanted to provide you all the information I have gathered over the years. Plus, just share my love for this art form and the benefits I hope you can get from it. The same goes with minimalism photography as with anything you create with a camera, you must enjoy what you are doing and feel like you are creating something beautiful. If you can say that the sky is the limit. I genuinely hope you get something from this article and, as always, feel free to browse our other topics or send in topics that you may be interested in seeing! We love what we do and are happy to help you deepen your love and skill for this art form. So, until next time, happy shooting and God bless.

Written by Jon Frederick, Lead Photographer for Seven11

Did you know we also write Christian articles to help encourage and strengthen faith? If you are here and wondering what God sees in you, give this article a try! We also use our photography for Bible captioning and even Memes!

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