Telling a story with less

Posted by on Jun 29, 2016 in Techniques | 1 comment

Telling a story with less

Sometimes I feel that the Painter has an edge over the photographer when it comes to creating within our chosen art. The painter basically starts with a blank canvas and then adds their desired elements until they feel the story is told. As photographers we start with the full scene in front of us and need to remove or reduce elements until the story becomes clear, this can become a significant challenge but is critical to ensure strong impact with the viewer of the photo. When this approach is taken to its pinnacle we move into the area of minimalism in our photography and when done well this technique will yield you great pleasure and can delight those people looking at your photos.

Lonely Post by Ken Dickson

Lonely Post by Ken Dickson

Using the age old saying, less is more is a great mantra to consider when approaching minimalist photography. The resulting photos seem basic in their construction but it is through this very simplicity that the image gains it strong impact. The aim must be to focus the viewer’s  attention on the desired subject and ensuring that it stands alone with all unnecessary distractions cast aside. So our approach to handling this photography style must ensure both sides of the aim are covered.

The subject as a focal point

Beyond being a very bad photography pun, the statement above is also true within minimalist photography. As photographers it is our role to select suitable subjects that have impact and then utilise available tools to ensure that the viewer’s eye is drawn to the subject as the key point of interest. Good subjects for minimalist photography can vary widely but they normally have one key facet in common, that is they can normally be easily separated or isolated from the surrounding background. This can be achieved by seeking strong colour contrasts, texture contrast or simply an isolated object.

Drop on the vine by Ken Dickson

Drop on the vine by Ken Dickson

Composition becomes very important in minimalist photography, this is an instance when the “rule of thirds” composition guideline plays a very big part. Imagine the photo divided into equal thirds vertically and horizontally with gridlines, this will make 4 intersection points across the frame. Placing the subject on one of those intersecting points or along one of the 4 gridlines will help with subject emphasis and draw the viewers eye to primary point of interest. Sometimes the use of leading lines or geometric shapes can be effective in focussing attention on the subject but as more elements are included in the photo the further it gets away from a true minimalist theme.

Stonewall by Ken Dickson

Stonewall by Ken Dickson

Cast those distractions aside

It can be argued that the greatest impact from a Minimalist photography theme comes not from the subject itself but how that subject is isolated from the background. A term often used here is negative space, which is basically area of the photo that is not your subject. The negative space gives breathing room around the subject, it gives the eye a place to rest and it prevents the photo from feeling cluttered with too many things. How negative space is handled within the photo will help to determine the mood of the image, it can be used to provide a sense of loneliness or make the image feel light and airy. When looking a minimalist photography we try and fill that negative space with very plain elements for example a single colour, smooth surface or an out of focus area.

A great way to isolate the subject is often as simple as looking up thus putting the subject against the sky, in this instance look for blue patches of sky. Getting high and looking down on the subject provides another option to help isolate the subject, doing this helps to remove the horizon line from the photo and often lets you simplify the background greatly. Using aperture to control depth of field is another great way to isolate the subject from the background, by utilising small aperture values (f1.8 etc) the subject can remain in focus with other elements quickly and effectively diminished by becoming out of focus.

A frosty sunrise in Central Otago NZ, the soft pastel colours of the morning were worth the chill in the air

Dawn on a frosty Tree by Tony White

 

Final Words

Being able to utilise a minimalist theme adds a great option to your photography skill set. And it is a skill worth challenging yourself to focus on by specifically spending an outing looking to capture minimalist images. Finding the key story elements of your photo and reducing the clutter of the background goes a long way to improving your photography. Quite often these deceptively simply photos are the ones that viewers and competition judges remember long after first seeing them.

 

Ken Dickson is an Australian based photographer with nearly 30 years experience. A regular contributor to international competitions, Ken holds honour levels both within Australia and Internationally. He started in photography when travelling the world with the Navy using both film and slide film. Moving to digital in 2004, Ken has embraced the available technologies to continue his artistry. With a love for sharing his knowledge and experience Ken helped to launch Ozlight Photo Adventures (www.ozlightphoto.com) providing courses and practical workshops in all aspects of photography.

 

1 Comment

  1. Have been reading some of your ideas hopefully I will be able to make my photos a little better. Thanks ox

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