Shutterstock’s 2018 Creative Trends noted New Minimalism as a major oncoming trend. Here we explore minimalism with pro photographers to see what the trend means to them and how they utilize minimalism in their work.
“New Minimalism” was one of the top three Major Trends to make its way onto the Shutterstock 2018 Creative Trends report. In the last year, searches for electric colors and stripped-down compositions have skyrocketed. Minimalism dates back to the abstract art movement of the 1960s, with artists like Frank Stella, Agnes Martin, and Carl Andre, who preferred clean, geometric shapes to complex themes and motifs. But this year, New Minimalism has changed the game.
Modern technologies have inspired photographers and illustrators around the world to create innovative imagery with limited means. Right now, there are well over one million photographs tagged with the popular #MindTheMinimal on Instagram. The once-radical movement of Minimalism is officially mainstream. Let’s examine this trend and learn about some of the ways stock photographers are incorporating it into their work.
1. Why Minimalism Now?
These days, minimalism extends well beyond the art world. In recent years, the “minimal lifestyle” trend has emerged, and young people, overwhelmed by the extravagance of modern life, have chosen to downsize. As the world becomes more and more cluttered, best-selling books by authors like Marie Kondo continue to inspire the public to get rid of the excess and return to the basics. In the last decade, the minimalist movement has spread from smaller online communities into a wider sphere. These days, we are also more environmentally and socially conscious. Reducing waste and sticking to the essentials is more than a fad; it’s an investment in our future.
Image by July Prokopiv. Gear: Fujifilm X-E2 camera, Fujinon XF 35mm F2 R WR lens. Settings: Focal length Focal Length 35mm (in 35mm: 53mm); shutter speed 1/100 sec; f2.2; ISO 200.
Visual trends go hand-in-hand with cultural trends. We consume images that align with our beliefs and value systems, and photographers should be aware of this idea when creating minimal images. “It’s essential to our nature to go back to the basics,” Shutterstock Contributor July Prokopiv tells us. “With the variety of choices available to us today, we often don’t know what we actually need. Minimalism represents the balance that we all need in life and are subconsciously looking for.” The photographers Michiko and Justin Tierney, who contribute to Shutterstock under the name TierneyMJ, agree. “Our world will continue to become more complex,” they add. “And a longing for simplicity will continue to flourish both in the arts and in our lives.”
Image by TierneyMJ. Gear: Canon EOS 5D Mark III camera, Canon EF 50mm f/1.2 L USM lens. Settings: Shutter speed 1/160 sec; f10; ISO 160.
2. Minimalism in Stock
We consume thousands and thousands of images on a daily basis. In order to be successful, advertisers need to get their message across quickly. A minimalist photograph can be the perfect vehicle for brands to deliver messages in a way that is easy to understand. “People are overloaded with content, and they don’t have enough time on their hands to fully transfer all that information,” Ivan Zamurovic of Zamurovic Photography tells us. “The logical resolution to this issue is to bring the bare essential idea to the surface.”
Image by Zamurovic Photography. Gear: Canon 70d camera, Sigma 18-35 F1.8 lens. Settings: Focal length 35mm; shutter speed 1/200 sec; f8; ISO 100.
The French photographer Iriskass abides by a similar principle. Instead of organizing a shoot with a model and a full wardrobe, for instance, Iriskass might choose to showcase a single pair of sunglasses against an elegant and sophisticated background. Without the distractions of a full set, these pared-down photographs get straight to the point. A clean image is one that is easy to read.
Image by Iriskass. Gear: Canon 750D camera, Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM lens. Settings: Focal length 50mm; shutter speed 1/125 sec; f10; ISO 100.
“With the perpetual onslaught of virtual distractions, a distinct image, with a single bold purpose, can communicate more strongly than one muddled with ornamentation,” Michiko and Justin Tierney explain. “A minimalist image can express something more rapidly and more memorably because of its simplicity. These attributes of minimalism, which were considered avant-garde last century, are now in vogue in part because of their usefulness to advertisers. This is why minimalist images make good stock images.”
Image by TierneyMJ. Gear: Canon EOS 5D Mark III camera, Canon EF 50mm f/1.2 L USM Lens lens. Settings: Focal length 50mm; shutter speed 1/160 sec; f10; ISO 160.
Minimal images are also well-suited to stock because they are adaptable. A diverse set of clients can use the same minimalist photograph in a wide variety of contexts. “It’s good to start with the idea and think about how broadly it can be applied to different purposes,” July Prokopiv advises. She executes her concepts while keeping her buyers in mind, and she avoids adding any extra elements that might make an image unusable.
Image by July Prokopiv. Gear: Fujifilm X-E2 camera, Fujinon XF 90mm f/2 R LM WR lens. Settings: Focal length 90mm (in 35mm: 135mm); shutter speed 1/80 sec; f3.2; ISO 320.
“There is always space for clients to implement their ideas,” she adds. She means this both figuratively and literally. By using negative space, she gives buyers more freedom to use her images in different ways; for instance, she offers them the option of adding their own copy. “Let the photo breathe,” the artist suggests.
3. Tips for Minimalism
Indigo Photo Club
Image by Indigo Photo Club. Gear: Nikon D850 camera, Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/2.8E FL ED VR lens. Settings: Focal length 135mm; shutter speed 1/250 sec; f11; ISO 100.
Minimalism isn’t easy. “In a sense, it requires more effort to do less,” Michiko and Justin Tierney observe. First and foremost, a minimal photograph or illustration must have a clear story or concept behind it; otherwise, it will fall flat. “I think that the biggest mistake is to work without an idea,” Evgenij Pavlovich of Indigo Photo Club says. Ivan Zamurovic echoes this sentiment. In his view, minimalism serves only as “a way to bring out a great idea”; minimalism itself cannot be the central theme of the image.
Image by July Prokopiv. Gear: Fujifilm X-E2 camera, Fujinon XF 35mm F2 R WR lens. Settings: Focal length 35mm (in 35mm: 53mm); shutter speed 1/100 sec; f4.5; ISO 200.
Editing is important. In order to limit any extra distractions in her minimalist work, July Prokopiv sometimes draws a sketch first; if certain elements don’t make it into the sketch, they are not essential and do not need to be included in the final image. Even if you think your photograph is done, look again. There might be something in there you can remove to make your message more powerful.
“There is a traditional Japanese art called ikebana, or the art of flower arranging,” Michiko and Justin Tierney explain. “One of the first things you learn in ikebana is how to prune a flower — to trim its branches and stems to allow it to express itself more clearly. When it comes to completing an image, we think hard about removing extraneous elements to make sure we’re not ‘gilding the lily,’ and we try to allow the concept to shine through uncluttered.”
Image by Zamurovic Photography. Gear: Canon EOS 70D camera, Sigma 18-35mm f1.8 Art lens. Settings: Focal length 25mm; shutter speed 1/200 sec; f8.0; ISO 100.
When editing, however, keep in mind that simple doesn’t mean boring. “I could end up removing too much, and the concept will evaporate,” Michiko Tierney warns. Ivan Zamurovic agrees, stressing, “It’s very important not to cross the line between spontaneous and forced in minimalism. If the image is too bare, it becomes banal.”
Image by Katya Havok. Gear: Canon 7D Mark II camera, Sigma 17-50mm f2.8 EX DC OS HSM lens. Settings: Focal length 38.0mm; shutter speed 1/250 sec; f9.0; ISO 200.
At their best, minimal images are playful and fun. Shutterstock Contributor Katya Havok, who has a flourishing following on Instagram, never takes things too seriously. “I think people are a little tired of heavy and overloaded photos and need lightness and brevity,” she tells us. She often merges the minimal trend with another trend she’s noticed: bright, neon, 1980s-inspired color. By incorporating wacky, off-the-wall hues and props, she ensures that her images are never monotone.
New Minimalism is all about using your imagination and experimenting with the frame, so whether you’re using bold colors or unusual props, remember to keep it modern. At the same time, think about how image-buyers can use your images to achieve their own goals. It might look simple, but when it comes to minimalism, it’s important to stay on your toes.
Top Image by Iriskass.