Compelling Minimalist Photography (Examples, Tips & Ideas)

Creating compelling minimalist photos is more challenging than it seems. Learn the ins and outs of minimalist photography, plus tips, tricks, and ideas.

Minimalist photography is a form of artistic photography that delivers impact without all the frills of nonessentials.

You’ll notice that minimalist photographs are marked by a kind of beautiful simplicity that requires mindfulness and observation to fully take in and appreciate.

While the minimalist photography movement dates back to the ‘50s, it has grown in popularity among photography purists who believe in producing thought-provoking images without all the background noise.

In this article, I’ll cover everything there is to know about minimalist photography. So, let’s get started.

What is Minimalist Photography?


Minimalist photography is a style of art rooted in the determination to capture the core of a subject without excessive patterns, objects or subjects.

Fueled by a less-is-more philosophy, minimalist photography finds beauty and power in simplicity.

Minimalist photographers often spend a good amount of time carefully deciding how much context to include around their subjects.

For example, minimalist photos may leverage mindful amounts of white space and implement the rule of thirds for an exquisite composition without the grainy elements that add noise.

When Did Minimalist Photography Start?

Hiroshi Sugimoto

Minimalist photography is thought to have begun in the 1920s with French photographer Eugène Atget, but it really rose to prominence between the 1950s and the 1970s thanks to pioneers like Hiroshi Sugimoto.

This is when abstract art was in its prime, and some photographers and artists became fed up with the scholarly and occasionally snooty or elitist attitude related to this art form.

In response, photographers and artists began going back to basics — focusing on simplicity and minimalist photos.

This meant less color, texture, patterns and other distractions that could overwhelm viewers.

For this reason, a large majority of minimalist photos may be black and white with just a natural landscape as a backdrop to draw the viewer’s eye right where the photographer wants it, like on a single product or person.

Minimalist Photography: Key Components and Techniques

If you’re wondering what some of the key differences are between traditional photography and minimalist photography, you’re not the only one!

I’ll discuss some of the main characteristics as illustrated in the minimalist photos below.


Pink cloud in sky

Credit: Alex Andrews

Simplicity is the best word to characterize minimalist photos.

While some may wrongly associate that simple style with a boring one, the simplicity of minimalist photos demands a mindful, carefully executed approach with ample negative space to deliver a message without overwhelming stimuli.

Getting this minimal look can be as simple as a person standing against a white background or a simple capture of the sky and clouds, but I’ll break down some more interesting ideas and other elements too.


Car toy

Credit: Moose Photos

Careful composition is a must for any style of photography but is exceptionally important for minimalist photographers.

While following the rule of thirds is always a smart strategy in photography to determine subject placement, it’s even more important when shooting a minimalist photograph.

Appealing placement for a subject creates an easy experience for the viewer – allowing us to take in the subject without confusion or distraction.

Even if your subject is small, it can be more powerful with a thoughtful, minimalist composition – for example, of the distant sky or a bird sitting on a branch.

Curious how to achieve appealing composition while staying minimalist? Don’t worry – we’ll discuss some compositional elements for minimalist images as well. 

White Space

Girl with petals on face

Credit: Cottonbro Studio

A careful balance of positive and negative space is essential in achieving the clean, digestible photos minimalist photographers aspire to produce.

The positive space naturally refers to the space a subject takes up, while white space (also known as negative space) is the amount of space around your subject.

This white space prevents your minimalist images from appearing cluttered or overly busy.

Clean compositional elements with the right amount of white space are a cornerstone of minimalist photography.

This style of photography with all its negative space allows the viewer to concentrate on a subject vs. having their eyes race around the photo looking at all the competing subjects.



Credit: Darrel Und

Another pillar of minimalist photography involves the distance from the camera, also known as the depth of field.

A shallow depth of field with a crisp subject and a subtly blurred background garners the viewer’s full attention, so start by adjusting just a couple of your camera settings and widening the aperture.

Shutter Speed

Cityscape with colourful sky

Credit: Aleksandar Pasaric

Long exposure time is another important element of minimalist photography.

By decreasing the speed of your camera’s shutter, you can get a higher exposure that can elevate your minimalist photo.

This increased level of exposure brings more light to your photos, which will not only enhance them visually but also keep the subject as the focus.

Why Is Minimalist Photography Important?

As noted earlier, the minimalist photography movement mostly stemmed from artists who grew tired of all the potential messages in abstract art.

This created an interest in a purer form of art and photography — one that encouraged photos with subjects that could be taken at face value as opposed to referring to something else entirely.

While minimalist photography may seem basic to some, its beauty comes from its limitless options.

For example, to some photographers, a minimalist approach means focusing on a single subject and its shape.

To others, it could be interpreted differently with a capture of patterns that fill a whole frame.

The exciting and refreshing part of minimalism is that it’s open to interpretation, which gives photographers the freedom to put their own unique spin on it.

13 Minimalist Photography Ideas

As stated above, the great part about minimalist photography is that it’s interpretive. What you focus on and where you place your subject is up to you.

The main objective is to let the subject shine and guide the viewer in a clear path.

So, let’s explore some tips for snagging minimalist shots!

Flip It

Window in pink wall

Credit: Vlado Paunovic

For some, the rule of thirds can feel limiting. But don’t worry!

If the composition doesn’t feel right, simply giving your image a horizontal flip during the editing process may be your solution. 

This flip will create a leading line that organically guides the viewer’s eye, which is especially important in minimalistic photography.

For more on how and when to flip, check out this article from Click Community.

Keep Moving

Daisy against blue sky

Credit: Amelia Cui

If you’re struggling to find a way to isolate your subject even after widening your camera’s aperture, move around until you reach a perspective that works.

Think outside the box: coming down to the ground and crouching may give you the interesting angle and perspective you need without any distractions in the frame.

Lean on Contrast


Credit: Jack Hawley

As is the case in any style of photography, contrast is a key element in portraying the mood you want and ensuring the subject stands out from the background.

The contrast should align with the overall aesthetic of the photo, yet feel bold enough to add interest to the scene.

Regardless of whether you’re partial to black-and-white or colorful photography, you need to use color intentionally in minimalist photography.


Person holding mirror

Credit: Cottonbro Studio

Typically, minimalistic photography spotlights a still subject against a simple background, but what about when your subject is a person?

If you’re shooting a person in a simple setting, I highly encourage you to promote interaction between your subject and their environment.

Have your subject lean on or peer out of the windows if indoors or have them wrap their arms around a tree or sit among the colorful leaves if outside. 

Other fun ideas can come from what I’d call built-in props: jackets, hats, gloves, glasses, shoes and more.

Whether your subject is an adult or a child, you’ll get amazing still and action shots of them adjusting their beanies, holding their umbrella or simply holding eye contact with your lens through their glasses.

Showcase Shadows

Light and shadow flowers

Credit: Jill Burrow

If you have a photo shoot on the horizon, but don’t yet have a setting in mind, I’ve got you covered.

Start by exploring nearby buildings during the afternoon – you’ll find interesting shadows at every turn being cast by buildings, trees, signs and more.

The exquisite shapes of shadows bring a fun element to minimalist photography that will help your images stand out.

Sketch It

Sketch of woman

Credit: Maddy Freddie

Another useful tip in bringing the minimalist photography ideas you have in mind to life involves starting with a sketch.

Whether you have a detailed vision in mind or a more general idea, drawing the scene can help you cement your idea and gather more inspiration.

Rely on Symmetry

Wine glasses

Credit: Ramakant Sharda

Symmetry is a primary facet in most art forms, and minimalist photography is no exception.

Symmetry can help create a sense of completion and harmony within your images and is easy to achieve when your point of interest is in the middle.

While this tip may conflict with the general rule of thirds that’s been drilled into your brain, having your subject at the center works perfectly when it’s supported by symmetry — something typically seen with vertical lines in architectural photography.

Explore Geometry

Green sticks

Credit: Karolina Grabowska

Another basic rule of thumb in minimalist photography is to explore geometric shapes around you.

Inside, you can look to classic shapes like the rectangular frame of a painting on your wall or the circular shape of the mirror in your bathroom.

With each room you go to, you’ll uncover more shapes to experiment with.

And if you venture outside, you can look at the outline of a nearby building, a long boxy van, or even the starry shapes in the evening sky.

More outdoor shapes in nature worth looking into include fence lines, garden beds, rooflines and more.

Play with Patterns

Citrus fruit patterns

Credit: Aleksandar Pasaric

Searching for simple, repetitive patterns is another helpful tip in minimalist photography.

Obviously, you’re not looking for a wild mix of patterns that can inundate the viewer, but rather a uniform, simplistic pattern like a minimalist wallpaper or a series of coat hooks with a single coat hanging on one of the ends.

You could also capture your child from an upward angle standing out among the crisp, square tiles of your kitchen floor or the clean shapes of the pattern on your living room rug.

This kind of light pattern play can bring order and neatness when creating your images.

Use Lines

Cable cars

As I mentioned earlier, lines are crucial elements in photography that help guide the viewer’s eyes.

So, naturally, you’ll want to establish leading lines that neatly match the edges of your photo to draw the viewer’s attention to the subject.

Squaring off your photo is really about avoiding things like distortion or odd perspectives that can complicate an otherwise clean, minimalist image.  

Try A Tasteful Pop

Red sweater white flowers

A pop of color can add an exciting flair to any room, work of art, and of course – any photo.

While you may see a wide range of bold colors competing for the spotlight in high fashion or street photography, you shouldn’t in minimalist photography.

A single vibrant color can be used to stand out among a neutral background, which can be done manually like adding a fuchsia set of high heels to a beige rug or something with higher drama against a black building or interior wall.

You can also observe this out and about without even trying!

Go out to a desolate road and take a photo of the yellow lines signaling traffic flow against the black pavement.

Other options include capturing a stop sign in a more remote area with just a pasture in the distance or a single store sign on a white building.

Mix Things Up with Your Subject

Three people standing on rocks

Credit: Cottonbro Studio

If your subject is a person, you have a lot more directional freedom in your minimalist photography.

You can direct them to be as in or partly out of the frame as you like, so choose a beautiful, isolated setting in nature and start shooting!

You can add some interest to your minimalist photo by highlighting just one of your subject’s arms pointing out to the distance as your shot, or have them lay down and get just their upper half as they lie in a field of flowers – imagine all the texture in that landscape!

Switch Up Your Style

Water droplets

Credit: Gabriel Peter

Whether you’re shooting landscape, architecture, portrait or traditional still-life photos, you can enjoy a minimalist approach in any style in everyday life.

If you’ve already taken some cool shots of buildings in an urban environment, grab your camera and try your hand at food photography with the bare essentials around your home.

This can be as easy as placing a bright red Gala apple, a bed of leafy greens or a string of red grapes on a white plate.

If you’re more interested in fashion, pull that vibrant power suit out from the closet and take some self-portraits in front of a blank white wall or an empty space that provides plenty of negative space because you can be the only interesting subject you need!

The options and ideas for creating are truly endless.


What is minimalist street photography?

A stark contrast to the hustle and bustle of moving subjects in invigorating street photography, minimalist street photography isolates a subject.

For example, while you may see a vibrantly dressed person on a busy Brooklyn alley in street photography, minimalist street photography would more likely focus on simple subjects with appropriate negative space, such as an abandoned building or a dramatic portrait.

Who started minimalist photography?

There’s no one answer here, but some of the pioneers include minimalist photographers such as Hiroshi Sugimoto, Grant Hamilton, Ed Ruscha, Eugène Atget and more.

Which lens is best for minimalist photography?

As I discussed above, a wide aperture is important in minimalist photography, so your lens and focal length must be considered.

For this reason, a 50mm lens is my go-to for minimalist photography.

Final Words

There’s no doubt that minimalist photography, despite dating back to the 1920s, has risen in popularity over the years – especially with the creation of the annual minimalist photography awards.

This attitude shaped by letting the photos speak for themselves gives viewers the ability to locate the essence, or sense, of a subject without visual distractions.

Whether you’re looking for a new photography style to experiment with or simply want to diversify your portfolio, this article will help you master the ins and outs of minimalist photography with ease.

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Shotkit Writer, Product Tester & Instagram Manager

Jeff Collier is an experienced film photographer who enjoys experimenting with modern digital photography equipment, software and apps. He’s also an ex-world champion triathlete and avid cyclist, clocking hundreds of km each week in the beautiful Tweed Valley of northern NSW, Australia.

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