LOCATION trumps all when capturing MINIMALIST landscapes. The more REMOTE the location, the more CREATIVITY it inspires. Here’s how to make the most of what’s not there
It’s possible to produce minimalist images almost anywhere with the right lens and a strategically composed shot. There are three main destinations, though, that lend themselves to this style of photography:
Deserts: Divine and expansive, creative options are limitless when shooting ice fields, salt flats or rippling sand dunes. For me, it’s the lack of people and human intervention that piques my interest in desert landscapes.
Mountains: Laden with minimalist opportunities, mountainsides are wondrous places for capturing unique images when you frame the shot clear of distracting elements.
Coasts: Long exposures tend to work to great effect here. Pop in a lighthouse or striking rock formation and you’re onto a winner.
A compelling focal point will help draw the viewer’s attention. Take out any elements from the scene that add little or no impact and make the primary subject the only subject. The following work well:
Tree: A classic contender when you locate an isolated tree to convey a lonely or solitary mood.
Jetty: Ideally paired with a long exposure, a jetty will project a solid leading line as the viewer stares out across the water.
Building: Anything from a brightly coloured barn to a rustic shelter, mountain hut, windmill, or church.
Person: A lone person in a natural stance can add scale and narrative to your storytelling photograph.
Minimalist landscape photography dovetails well with various other techniques, so cherry-pick any of these in combination for significantly more impact:
Long exposure: Astonishing results from long exposures include flattening the sea and blurring the clouds blown across the horizon. Situate the camera on a tripod and expose your shot for at least 5 seconds, to smooth out the water, and 30 seconds to see soft cloud movement. The flattened water will then mirror the sky, adding more depth to your image. Start with an aperture at f/11 to pick out the foreground detail, ISO 100 to optimise the dynamic range, and a favourable shutter speed to ensure the clouds and sky aren’t washed out. Check the histogram, too.
Harmony: Keep the same colour palette within the picture. Play around with warmer shades or go for cooler notes. Better yet, pick one colour and experiment with different hues.
Silhouette: A sunrise or sunset sky will always help when shooting a silhouette. Landscape features will be in front of the sun and so appear darkened as you shoot towards a coloured sky.
Contrast: Stay picky with a couple of colours for a more decisive outcome. Black and white photos lend themselves well to high contrast due to their
Minimalist photography is the art of subtraction. Try to remove as many undesirable elements as you can; it will open up the image. An uncluttered setting will make an excellent starting point in deciding what you want to showcase. These composition tips will help you develop your own minimalistic style:
Rule of thirds: This technique refers to splitting your image visually into thirds using your subject matter to divide the picture. It’s usually used as a tighter crop, but you can apply this principle to wider compositions, for example: one-third land, two-thirds sky. Keep to these same proportions and an unassuming focal point to stay minimal.
Expansive compositions: You want a vast open space to prevail here. Position the focal point at the bottom of the image in the left or right third of the frame, and keep the subject small. The majority of the frame should remain uncluttered. A backdrop with some texture can enhance the overall effect.
While the lens is as crucial as the minimalist landscape itself, it all comes down to location, location, location.
Long focal length: Converse to the wide-angle, the long focal length gives you greater scope to shoot from a distance and zoom in on the scene. The trick is to ensure you don’t compress it too much. Indeed, it’s worth iterating the importance of selecting a section of the horizon that captures your intrigue without bringing in more elements than are necessary. A lens with a long focal length lends itself well to urban settings, which are often distracting, yet parts of the skyline can be targeted within your frame for that magical minimalistic result.
Wide-angle: Perhaps my preferred weapon of choice for shooting minimalist landscapes, the wide-angle lens enables you to create that essential open space. Namely, when you open out to wider focal lengths, there’s no need to conceal any busy elements creeping into shot. Using something like a 16mm, you’ll need to make sure you can position yourself close to the main subject.
When capturing a minimalist image, try approaching your subject from different perspectives.
Worm’s eye: This is where you look up in shooting a limited part of the horizon line, making the sky the largest part of the frame.
Bird’s eye: This contrasting view is from a higher vantage point, peering down. The more elevated you are, the more extreme the effect.
Framing: In this scenario, the landscape itself need not be a blank canvas, as long as the frame surrounding it provides plenty of negative space to give an overall sense of minimalism.
It’s actually easier than you’d think to shoot a pleasing minimalist landscape. The plainest captures are often the most compelling; less is always more. When you’ve located the right scene, honed in on a strong focal point, and have the right lens attached, a minimalist image can have an overwhelming impact. What will surprise you while shooting this genre is the stunning simplicity captured in phenomenal proportions; I know it does me.
Jason Spafford loves all things adventure travel, where the perfect end to the perfect day is throwing down a sleeping bag and setting up the tripod somewhere in the wilderness. That, and a cuppa. With an infatuation for chasing light in big open spaces comes the pursuit of photography, which has been his passion for 30-plus years. Through his work, Jason aims to engage folks with nature’s backyard while promoting the preservation of wild places. His internationally published portfolio captures two decades of adventure travel, landscape, and commercial photography.
Follow him on Instagram (@fourwheelednomad) or see www.fourwheelednomad.com for more photographic adventures and inspiration.