Minimalist in photography means: Only left the essential elements inside image

When capturing street scenes there could be so many scenes that go to inside of our frame. Though captured multiple elements could lead to produce more complex and stronger stories, most of the time those elements would turn into bad distractions.

Melbourne, Australia, 2018

Like in the photo above, I quite like her style and face expression as main subject, but due to the fact that I also captured many of other people inside frame, she could not become a stood out subject that able to create a strong story. Audience’s eyes would get distracted by other people’s faces easily because they have no relation story with the girl.

To create a strong subject inside photos we need to create a main point of interest that able to pull the viewer’s eyes instantly, and the key to do it is by make a photo that has as least distractions as possible. There are some ways to do it such as:

Get close to subject

Indonesia, 2018

Get close to our subject, fill the entire frame with it, let no distraction have place in our frame. Use wide lens (like 35mm or wider) when want to shoot close, because usually these kind of lens have short MFD (minimal focus distance). Also, with wide lens we can create more intimate feel compare to longer lens (i.e: 85mm lens) due to distortion effect (distortion here becomes an advantage that help make more dynamic look of subject).

Framing our subject

Indonesia, 2018

Frame your subject, separate them from any unnecessary distractions out there. Learn to see scenes from behind of a thing, then use any openings like window, hole, or slit to isolate our subject. It could be sound tricky at first, but if we pay attention enough actually there are so many things around us that can work as frame.

Melbourne, Australia, 2018

To get more creative shoot, we also can create a frame using building’s shadow. Make sure we shoot at golden hour time to get the most effect from shadow. To know if we are at golden hour time, look at our own shadow, if it get pretty long or tall, then it is an optimal golden hour time (usually one or two hours before sunset).

Frame the shadow (as main subject) with other shadow. Melbourne, Australia, 2018

Pay more attention to any shadow that has square/circle/triangle form, use it as a frame, then do the fishing technique (we wait at the same spot for a while, waiting for the right subject enter our frame) to execute the photo.

Black and white

Bali, Indonesia, 2017

By removing colours from our photo, we will let audience focus more on forms inside photo. If shape or geometry or texture is the main element to create story inside photo, always give black and white effect a try! In the photo above I removed colour distractions from sky, cloud, water and sand so viewers able to focus on the main subject (that two silhouette of person) instantly.


Indonesia, 2018

Silhouette will help to remove minor detail (people’s face or building’s texture), and let viewers focus more on geometry or macro detail of subjects/objects.

Using silhouette effect and sky as clean background. Indonesia, 2018.

Currently I love to shoot silhouette because the minimalism effect it produces. Audience will easily digest the story in our photo instead of looking around across the frame try to make connections between elements, while actually some elements only work as distractions. Pay a serious attention to gesture and geometry when shoot silhouette because they are the main key to tell stories. (Read more about silhouette here)

Find a simple background or clean surface

Indonesia, 2018

Find background that has least to none distraction inside. No complex colours mix, no complex pictures, no other elements that has strong presence as much as the main subject.

A silhouette by reflection from reflective glass

Try to pay more attention to clean surface like plain wall, plain pavement/road, or sky. Also worth to note that clean surface could exist in form of reflection from reflective window/glass. To create a strong visual effect, search background with contrast colours (red, green, blue, yellow, or black and white) and subject with unique gesture or shape.

Special notes:

When we  are shooting, pay more attention at corner of our frame instead of centre area. Yes, most of the time centre area is where our main subject exist, but they always be there unless we moved our camera. The true distraction elements usually appear from the corner area.

Singapore, 2018

Like in the photo above, the main subject is in the centre, we easily notice it. But the problem comes at the corner of the frame, there are two heads of other people (and one of them get  badly “mutilated”) that simply become distraction. Bokeh (I shot at f2) is not a great help as we still notice these two distractive elements easily. Cropping will not help this image as well because if I want to eliminated these 2 heads, then I can not get good composition of my main subject (I can not get the full image of the umbrella). This is an image that I want to like it but simply fail because of the distractions. If I were the audience, I will think the photographer is a bit “lazy” as he did not check his corner frame accurately and take down the strong point of main subject by include these two distraction elements.

Selective subject

“Pair Relationship”. Bali, Indonesia, 2017.

Only capture subject(s) that able to create story line inside of our frame. Do not try to get all person/objects around the scene into our frame unless they have strong relation with main subject or story that we want to tell.

That is all about my tips to minimize distraction in our photograph. Always remember that we want to shoot the main subject as the main story, anything that unrelated to main subject or story line are simply distraction unit that we need to minimize or remove.

Keep shooting and stay inspired,

Nico Harold