Minimalist Nature Photography

Last year I wrote a blog post about Abstract Nature Photography, and as I was putting it together I found myself trying to decide if the photos were more Abstract or Minimalist. In fact many of them were both, and that got me thinking about a follow-up post to share my favourite Minimalist nature photos along with a little discussion about what the term means to me.

A large ice berg drifts in the sea off the coast of Greenland, on a hazy, misty morning.
Misty Disko Bay

Not many of these photos would genuinely be considered 'Minimalist', as per the wider artistic movement. But they're all certainly inspired by the principles of minimalism, and are intended to lean in that direction - whilst at the same time portraying the feeling of the landscape or animal featured.


Keep It Simple

I like tidiness, order, and lack of distraction in all things, so I find minimalism very appealing; both artistically and in life, generally.

What is Minimalism? For me it's about removing all unnecessary elements, leaving only what is needed to say what you want to say, or do what you want to do.

abstract minimalist landscape photo of a mossy hillside in the Icelandic Highlands
A Slice of Iceland

In hindsight I'd have liked more space around this ice berg. As it is, there's perhaps more here than I'd say is technically minimalist. But it's an image inspired by the principles of minimalism. There's no great dynamism to it. It's simple, peaceful, and features a relatively monotone colour-palette.

An ice berg floating in the the blue water of Jokulsarlon Lagoon
Tranquil Ice Berg

This is a photo I took back in 2017, but hadn't shared until now, as I wasn't sure anyone else would feel the same satisfaction from it as I do. It's a newly ploughed field, on chalky hillside farmland. It's another one which is as abstract as it is minimalist, and I find the symmetry of it and the slowly varying tones very pleasing.

abstract photo of a recently ploughed field
Minimalist Farmland

Using silhouettes massively reduces the complexity of an image, and distils it to something much more minimal. This can be further reinforced by leaving a good amount of negative space around the subject. Closer up this would be quite a dramatic image, as the stag roams the area, bellowing during the rut. But the minimalist approach conveys that narrative while also leaving room for the subject to breath; embracing the large areas of emptiness, which brings more calm to the image as a result.

sillouhette of a red deer bellowing on the horizon of a hill at sunset
Calling Deer on Horizon

Mist

Mist is often the landscape photographer's best friend, on account of it's ability to simplify an image. To me, simplification is a crucial aspect of minimalism. I like all my images to be as visually simple as possible. Here that's achieved with the misty mountains of Bavaria.

faded blue mountain layers on a misty day
Bavaria Blues

Same trick here too, in the aptly named Blue Mountains...

layers of hillsides in the Blue Mountains National Park, Australia
Blue Mountain Layers

Here the trees are more in focus; a little more literal in presentation. But with the simple geometric lines and blocks of pastel colours, this remains a minimalist image in my eyes.

minimalist landscape photo of a hillside forest on a misty sunrise
Misty Forest Layers

Closer-in still, this is a pine woodland near my home.

detail of tree bark, with a misty pine forest behind.
Pines

Low-Key

I have a thing for using low-key lighting to simplify an image. By obscuring distractions with shadow, it's possible to reduce a portrait to only the essential features of the subject.

atlantic puffin in dark surroundings
Low-Light Puffin

This is a low-light depiction of a very recognisable species, and to reduce the image further I've excluded as much as I can, retaining the minimum required to convey the essence of this animal.

low-key photo of an african elephant trunk and tusks, against a black backdrop
Ivory on Black

Using back-lighting against a subject in shadow is another great way of achieving a minimalist photo. On this occasion it's an Atlantic puffin which creates one simple line down the middle of the image.

outline of a puffin in low-light
Puffin Minimalism

Again, this back-lit photo retains only the essential outline of the animal. In this case it's the recognisable outline of a kangaroo, from Australia, in 2017.

outline of a back-lit kangaroo
Kangaroo Outline

High-Key

Like dark images mask the detail of the shadows, high-key photography masks the distractions from highlight areas. Only about a quarter of this image has anything in it, and what is there is counter-balanced by the negative space. I took this photo in 2015, using a frozen lake to provide the bright background.

close-up of a black swan, with a red beak, against a white background.
Black Swan

This is a photo of a red kite that I took in 2021. Again, it's not the most dynamic shot - the intention here is to capture something that doesn't scream for attention. Something that sits nicely in the frame, and doesn't create too much of a complication. It's pretty easy to capture birds against a bright background like this as the sky in the UK is generally a perfectly bland shade of grey.

black and white photo of a red kite flying in the sky.
Red Kite

This last one is a favourite of mine, and one that almost nobody else seems to like. But I'm sticking by it. Visually this is a photo about graphic minimalism. There's almost nothing going on, and the elements in the photo are primarily comprised of strong geometric lines. Yet, to me there are all kinds of metaphoric and emotional readings of it too. Ravens are steeped in folklore, and I find the view of this individual, calmly perched on one of several dead trees leaves the image open to further interpretation. It's one of my all-time favourite photos, and the minimalist nature of it is a big part of that.

black and white photo of a raven perched on a dead treetop against the grey sky.
Raven and Dead Trees

-

George


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