Minimalist Photography

Street lamp. Examples of minimalist photography by Alina Oswald.

During this coronavirus pandemic, I’ve spent months organizing and reorganizing pretty much everything around the house, a la Marie Kondo. I’ve also become interested in minimalist living (not the extreme kind) and, in the process, realized that I’ve always been a minimalist to a certain degree.

Recently, I’ve also discovered that there is such a thing as “minimalist photography.” So, what exactly is minimalist photography?

Examples of minimalist images ©Alina Oswald.
A lamp hanging from the ceiling. Examples of minimalist photography. ©Alina Oswald.

There are several characteristics that (loosely) define the look of a minimalist image:

  • plenty of negative space (or copy space) or a small positive/negative space ratio (in contrast, the positive/negative space ratio in a headshot is quite large, for example)
  • oftentimes but not always, there’s only one subject (one tree, one bird, etc)
  • isolation of the subject – the subject appears small and oftentimes isolated, surrounded by all that negative space
  • simplicity, in part but not only because of the small positive/negative space ratio (think the opposite of a busy image)
  • rules of composition that, together with a small positive/negative space ratio are used to achieve that simplicity and isolation: the rule of thirds, color (for ex. for the subject to stand out), leading lines, etc.
  • all of the above work together to help focus the viewer’s eye on the subject
  • in addition, minimalist images can in color or black and white, oftentimes high-key or low-key (bright/dark background) images
  • also, the subject can be pretty much anything, in motion or not

Here are a few examples:

  • The moon and the evening star. ©Alina Oswald.
  • Fighter jets fly over the NYC area in 2020 to thank the coronavirus pandemic first-responders. ©Alina Oswald.
  • The Moon. ©Alina Oswald.

Now, as an example of an image that might or might not be considered a minimalist image:

A silhouetted Katyn Memorial photographed against a dramatic sky. ©Alina Oswald. All Rights Reserved.

In the above image there’s plenty of negative space, and yet, the negative space, itself–the background–is quite dramatic (stormy clouds) and, hence, it could be considered as balancing (rather than only enhancing or isolating) the already dramatic subject. Hence, in this case, categorizing these kinds of images as minimalist images could be open to interpretation.

Street lamp. Examples of minimalist photography by Alina Oswald.
Street lamp. Examples of minimalist photography by Alina Oswald.

As always, hope this finds you well, and thank you for stopping by.

Alina Oswald


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