Composition – minimalism

Posted on 2012/01/20

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Planning series of posts over next while describing different compositional styles. But first, what is composition. Short definition of composition would be: Arrangement of artistic parts so as to form a unified whole.

Though this definition does not begin to convey complexity, breadth, or creativity that can be applied to photography it does have benefit of being short 🙂

Today’s topic is minimalism. This techniques attempts to reduce photographs to their bare minimum, often combined with arranging remaining elements into simple geometric forms.

Insect macro photography offers couple simple ways to do this. First is nature of close up photography itself – subjects and surroundings are small. It is natural that photographs include few elements. These are often simple in composition. Another is use of flash. Most macros require flash. This has effect of brightly lighting subject and obscuring background due to dynamic range of sensors or films. Depth of field also helps by obscuring backgrounds.

This is example of flash induced minimalism.
Lacewing Fly
Distance between subject (Lacewing Fly) and background is enough to make background quite dark. Another minimalist element is colour. Most of this photograph is either green or black (ish). Third is simple arrangements of subject and surroundings – Lacewing and grass blade.

Here is another example.
Caterpillar
This photograph shares similar minimalist characteristics to previous one; Dark background, simple colour scheme, geometric arrangement. Both examples are greatly aided by flash, Canon MT-24EX in these cases.

Below is photograph where background is no longer black.
Small Fly
Two new elements are added in this photograph. It shares sparse layout of previous images with added colours in both foreground and background images, and use of cropping to reduce size of subject. Both subject and background are given more colour, though background still maintains very simple look. This image was shot quite wide making subject, Fly, appear fairly small. Size does matter in minimalism!

Size is important in previous image and one below.
Damsel eyes
In each eye is focus and main subject is very small part of photograph. Small Fly and face of Damsel. Minimalist photographs allow for subject to be quite small and background furnishes stark mood.

All images so far have used fairly dark and simple backgrounds. This one is different.
Robber Fly
Again this has elements of minimalist composition. Simple background, low number of subjects (one), reduces colour scheme. Background in this case is light grey and also contains reflections of subject. Photograph was made by placing camera against window pane parallel to floor. Flash was also used to brighten subject against sky background.

To recap: minimalism is reduction of elements and their characteristics in photographs. Subject are be simple in form, colour, or small in size. Backgrounds are be single colour and tone. In other words simple.

There is no definable boundary between minimalism and not minimalism – it is continuum.

Hope this helps!

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Posted in: Composition