Minimalism in Photography: An Experiment

The Secret Window
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Minimalism is a 20th century art movement and style that stresses the idea of reducing a work down to the minimum number of colors, values, shapes, lines, and textures. The topic is highly subjective (as most topics of art are), and open to interpretations. Minimalism can generally be summed up by the phrase “Less is more”, and some of the best examples of minimalism are nothing more than a stripe of paint on a canvas.

What prompted my to write about this topic? A fellow photography blogger, Antonio Marques, is hosting a “Minimalism in Photography” group project. I'm a fan of interesting projects, and I thought this topic would be a great opportunity to learn some new things and share my findings. I'm constantly on the lookout for new ways of challenging myself and improving my photography, and it turned out that this little experiment is shaping up to be more than just that. So here's how I went about this project.

Gated Entry
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Before I even started thinking about taking photos, I did a little research on the topic of Minimalism. Words are great, but I wanted to see some images to start giving me an idea of the different flavors of this topic. I just started using Google Desktop, and I found a couple of gadgets that pull photos from Flickr. One of these gadgets allows you to type in keywords, and it shows a slideshow of photos with that keyword. So I typed in “Minimalism”. For several days, I've had minimalist photos flashing before my eyes over in my sidebar. There are some really great photos that came up, and I got all kinds of ideas on what minimalism in photography meant.

If you're not using something like Google Desktop, you can also just go straight to the source and do a Flickr or Zooomr search. I find that going through other people's photos is a great way to find new inspiration. It's really amazing what you can find on these photo-sharing sites.

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Rather than going back through my existing photos and looking for something that appeared to be minimalist, I decided to go out and get some new material. I headed into Del Mar on Saturday morning with the sole intent of capturing minimalism. This was a tough exercise for me because I've never really focused on the topic before. As I stepped out onto the sidewalk, I kept repeating to myself “simple, minimum, shapes, lines, colors, empty space, look up, look down, walk slow…”

My mind was in a different place than usual, and I started seeing interesting compositions hiding in the most unlikely places. I walked up and down side streets and back alleys searching for simple geometries that I could compose. I found myself taking photos of the weirdest things: sign posts, benches, handrails, dumpsters, walls, stairs, etc. I must have looked like a total nut job standing in the middle of the sidewalk pointing my camera at mundane objects. Oh well, I got my photos.

It didn't take long before I had a pretty good set of photos in my camera. The more I got into it, the more opportunities I started seeing. I even doubled back on a couple sections and found totally new stuff. In total, I spent less than 2 hours taking photos, and now I'm itching to get back out and try some more.

Del Mar Blues
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I spent a little less time processing these photos than usual — maybe one hour each. My time to edit was reduced for several reasons, mostly because of the simple nature of the material — I had less to work with. The other reason my processing time was reduced was because I had a notion of what I wanted to convey with the images: simple. This doesn't mean that I processed all of them exactly the same, and they still have their own unique flare.

I noticed that it's a whole lot easier to work with masks when you have nice clean lines and blocky colors. This is probably where most of my time was saved, since much of my masking is often done by hand. In the end, I'm not disappointed with how they turned out, but I may end up going back to a couple of them for another round of work.

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I went into this project not knowing much about minimalism. I've come out with a hunger to learn more and experiment with my work. It's very addicting, and you start looking at things differently. Once you train your mind to pick out the simple shapes and compositions, you start seeing a whole different place. You can almost always find simplicity even in the most chaotic scenes.

If you want to learn more about minimalism in photography, get out with your camera and try it! There's not better way to learn it.