The natural tendency for a beginner photographer is to try to show as much as possible in their photos. They want to show everything that they're experiencing at the time. Under the right conditions, a wide-angle shot like that has its place. However, often, the better shot is the one that shows as little as possible. This technique in photography is called minimalism.
Because Less Is More Powerful
Minimalism centers around the idea that less is more powerful. In minimalist photography, the technique is to use as few elements as possible to construct the image, often reducing it down to just one key element.
Stripping the photo down to the bare essentials not only provides for a cleaner, less cluttered image, but it also makes the elements that you do include that much more powerful, that much more part of the story — or the only part of the story. It gives the subject more weight, more attention, and often more detail.
I don't recall where I heard it first, but someone once said: "No one knows what you left out of the photo." This is the key point of minimalism, to only show what you want to show, and to show it in its best, most powerful form.
In the following shot, the sunset wasn't the greatest, and I was watching the groups of people walking out to the lighthouse on the long pier. This one guy all by himself caught my eye, and I captured the photo below. I wanted to convey the loneliness of this one man, by himself, on the half-mile walk out to the lighthouse.
Minimalism can evoke curiosity and wonder in the viewer. This technique is often used to create abstract photos. By getting closer and showing only what you want to show, you can often make the image abstract or semi-abstract. It can make the viewer wonder or think about what they're looking at. It draws them into being part of the image.
Another aspect of minimalism is that it can be used at times when the lighting isn't optimum for a standard field of view photo. If the sky is white or dull grey, a wide shot of that tourist location with foreground and background elements isn't going to look that great. Take, for example, this shot of a location that many, if not most of you have seen before:
With my back pressed up against one leg of the arch, I pointed the 17mm lens up to get as much of the arch as I could without getting any of the ground elements in the photo. There's almost no difference in the color version of this image as compared to the black and white version; that's just how gloomy it was. I was almost giddy when I took this photo, because I had planned for it, but I had envisioned a blue sky and white clouds. When I arrived, the sky was cloudless and overcast, almost white. After taking the photo, I think it actually makes the image better, as it's even more minimal and abstract than I envisioned.
Helps You Concentrate on the Subject and the Background
Minimalism has other benefits also. By eliminating or minimizing as much as possible, you are forced to concentrate more on the subject and the background.
When I shoot a subject, I know that I want to shoot the subject, so I don't concentrate on it first. I first concentrate on my background. I position the camera so as to get the best background that I can. Of course, you do have to consider the subject angle during this process, but often, moving just a little bit can greatly change the background. Also, consider if you want the background in focus or not.
Minimalism also forces you to pay closer attention to color, contrast, shadows, textures, patterns, and lines. Minimalism can also free you from the standard angle that others may shoot a subject from, as seen with my Gateway Arch photo above.
Forces You to Implement Pleasing Composition
Minimalism encourages you to implement a pleasing composition. Unlike a composition that has multiple elements that can be placed in numerous locations, a single subject often lends itself to just a couple of possible compositions.
Consider balance when using minimalism. Everything in the photo will have more visual weight. Watch the dark areas and light areas and the amount of the image they cover. Consider the balance of the subject to the background, which can either make the subject stand out more or make it blend in. Each can greatly change the mood of the image when the subject is so isolated.
Negative space in a minimal composition can greatly influence the mood of the photo, often adding a feeling of isolation, loneliness, or an indication of the great expanse of space or the relative size of the subject.
Filling the frame with the subject can also aid a minimalist composition by revealing details normally not seen at a normal viewing distance or making the subject larger than life.
Minimalism can also help or guide you in creating an image that tells a story. In December, before we got any lasting snow here in Michigan but while it was still pretty cold, I was at the lake hoping to get a nice sunset (which didn't happen that night). I observed four girls rollerblading on the pier leading to the lighthouse. It wasn't the normal thing that you would see this time of year, but it made for a great photo about them enjoying their time out with friends regardless of the weather. It made for a great story that despite the weather, they still got to skate in December.
So whether it's subject enhancement, mood creation, or indication of scale, minimalism can greatly improve your photos. I wouldn't say that you always want to go for absolute minimalism, but in the right situation, it can be just the little touch that your photo could use.
When constructing your photo, decide if each element is necessary or not. Ask yourself what each element adds to the photo. If it doesn't add to the photo, try to eliminate it. Avoid items creeping in on the sides of the frame. Eliminate unwanted items using focal length, positioning, composition, focus, or exposure. You're in control of the photo, make it a great one.
What kind of minimalism techniques do you use?