I was going to write an article today about minimalist image making.
Landscape imagery with the “less is more” approach, is one of my
favorite forms of photographic art, but what about subjects that
are….well, just minimal? A bird, a single flower blossom, who knows?
Maybe just minimal in appearance. Maybe a minimal number of items in the picture frame. One verses five. Photography that is stripped down in its approach. Wildlife pictures that are not just about one animal, but where the animal almost looks
Everybody including me, understandably searches for wildlife images
which include multiple subjects. Two birds or mammals. A flock of
birds or a herd of antelope. The more or less you include, will change
the mood of the image. Whether there is edge to edge animals in the
photo, or there is a pair of bonded critters, or just one lonely
subject, will help determine not only what your photo says, but what
mood or atmosphere it conveys.
The four images below, which contain in order, Tree Swallows, a White
Pelican with Black Skimmer gulls and ducks, a gaggle of four Trumpeter Swans, or
five Pelicans in flight, all represent birds cohabiting an area if not interacting, all provide viewers one sort or another, of the essence of “the flock”.
The next three images of a Ring-billed Gull, a Swainson’s Hawk and a
male Red-winged Blackbird, all tell a different story. They are about
the singular personality, and the lone habits of one bird.
Anyone who has seen gulls has seen both groups of gulls, and lone
gulls soaring looking for food for themselves.
A hawk sitting on a post waiting for a fateful mistake of a mouse or a
ground squirrel. He/she might be looking to feed some babies, of maybe
it is serving its lone purpose of survival. Either way, the picture
creates a different mood for us. We can only imagine.
This early spring photo of a male Red-wing Blackbird, is likely that of a bird among others of his ilk, who is operating alone, in an effort to become “a couple”,
who will then help repopulate the world with more of his kind. He is
working alone, to become a part of a family group.
If I made an image later in the summer, of him and his mate, and their
six babies, not only would the minimalist mood of the image change,
but so would its purpose.
This soaring Bald Eagle, with an out of focus hillside behind it,
reeks of solitude. One eagle against the world.
This hunting American Bittern has a similar, but a slightly less
lonely feel to it. This marsh grassland, seems less forlorn-ed than the
habitat of the eagle.
Still, it is minimalist as far as simple numbers are concerned.
This image is both busy and minimal. It is lonely. The crashing surf
and the morning light are subjects in and of themselves. They display
action and color, yet it is that solitary gull that tells the story. Me against that surf.
When you remove detail from a scene, and render, through the use of
color, form, and implied movement (ripples in the water), it becomes a
“stripped down” version of life as we know it.
When I first decided to include flowers as a part of this subject, my
first idea was to begin with fields of flowers, and work my way down
to single flower shots in which those blossoms were small in the
picture frame. You all know I have the imagery to do that, but I
decided showing a few to one, was more difficult, so then more
rewarding to do.
The first two images include a photo of four Shooting Stars and a pair
of early morning dewy, New England Asters.
The juxtaposition of the flowers in the two images, is quite
different. The black background with the brilliantly lit (the morning
sun) Asters of being on the same parallel, sends a different message
than does the crisp, sharp lead flower, with the soft out of focus
blossoms of the Shooting Stars. The Asters look like they are company
for each other, but the first Shooting Star lives in a more important
world than do the others.
Either way, they are not alone in the world.
This flower is in its own world, but it fills the picture frame with
flower and with pollen. It does not emote loneliness. Edge
to edge photos, rarely have the feeling of being alone .
One flower with a dark background, becomes more
mysterious. It carries with it, its own flavor or mood.
Now one flowering thistle, with a bright background, carries with it
more hope and cheer.
The first image below of a dewy plant, is simplistic. Just the same,
its broad left to right expanse covering the entire picture frame, and
its twenty three (or thereabouts) drops of dew, make it not a picture
There’s a loner to be found in every morning meadow, and this blade of
grass with its single drop of dew, conveys a more stripped down
version of the previous subject.
One lone section of an old bridge, standing against the waves and
winds of lake Michigan, is simplistic in its concept, but furious in
its need to succeed against those menacing storm clouds. It is maximum
and minimum at the same time.
The true essence of a stripped down minimalist photo, can be found in
landscape photos like the one you see below. I’ve always thought,
that even this image could stand to have those two trees removed with
only the barn roof showing. That of course could be accomplished easy
enough when editing, but I’ll let it stand and provide the minimal
(stripped down) mood that it produced for me when I made it on film.
Busy or simple are both valid ways to accomplish view worthy images,
but the pass less traveled is often the less is more concept.