When Jenny Connors visited White Sands National Monument, she expected that quite the crowd would gather at sunset, and as a minimalist photographer, she was a little bummed. However, a heatwave struck the day she visited, and she and her husband ended up enjoying the evening vista alone. Surrounded by a deafening quiet, she watched — and photographed — the sun’s descent over the white sand that soon changed to gold, and then pink. A simple, beautiful shot of sand, sky, and light.
Minimalist photography is easy on the eyes, but it can be tricky to master. Isolating a subject and relying on your own technique to frame, light, and color the scene can take practice. You may even find yourself learning to look at scenes from an entirely new perspective.
I consulted Jenny Connors, whose gorgeously simple photos tell their own stories. “I guess I’m drawn to minimalism because life can seem a bit chaotic at times, and I love when you can just find peace in an image that looks clean,” she said. Here are some guidelines to improve your minimalist photos.
Shoot with a prime lens
Jenny is a big proponent of prime, fixed lenses.
She believes they provide you with a better quality of glass — it’s also much more engaging to move while trying to get the right angle, versus simply zooming in and out with a lens.
Her favorite is a 35mm. She likes being able to include more of the setting, especially if she’s traveling in a tightly packed city.
Photograph at sunrise and sunset
“I’m always thinking of light as my first subject, as the mood of a photo. That’s what I’m looking for initially,” she admits. “There’s an undefinable quality to light,” she says, remembering the sunsets of her childhood when her mother would comment on how golden it was outside.
Because minimalist photos are so simple, light is an important feature. Jenny loves living in a climate with four distinct seasons, and watches how the light changes every few months. “In the summer, I see it as gold and hazy, and at least in Chicago, it’s this very, very crisp, clean winter light that comes out,” she says. “I love the seasonality of light.”
Find a color palette
Jenny has tailored a lot of her travels around photographing hues. “I’ve found myself choosing locations to visit knowing that there’s a lot of color to photograph there,” she says.
She tends to photograph a certain palette: soft, muted, hazy pastels. She loves pinks and blues in water, sky, and architecture. One of her favorite places to visit is Chefchaouen, the “blue city” of Morocco.
Her photos are tied together by their common tones, generally featuring a more muted setting with a pop of color, which is an excellent method for creating interest in a simple photo.
Create interest with texture
Influenced by her mother — a master gardener — and by their mutual love of flowers, Jenny includes many florals in her photos, which add an additional layer of texture. She notes that if you look at a dahlia or a peony, it resembles fabric.
During a recent trip through South Dakota, she and her husband TJ drove along highways that were lined with sunflower fields. Knowing his wife would want to capture the stunning colors and the texture of the yellow blooms, TJ wordlessly pulled off at the next exit.
Jenny also suggests adding texture to a photo with water, or even a cloud-filled sky.
Frame a subject with space
It can be difficult to isolate a subject in a photograph to get a clean, simple picture. Jenny recommends focusing a bit more on the sky than on the foreground.
She often tilts her camera slightly up to free up the scene.
Find patterns of people
If you’re not an early bird, try to use crowds to your advantage. Jenny says that if there are a lot of people around, she’ll try to look long enough that a crowd starts to resemble a pattern, rather than a distraction.
For example, if you are shooting a beach scene and many people are playing in the water, view them as a repeating pattern to enhance the photo instead of a distraction. The same thing can apply if you are photographing a busy city or landmark.
Jenny suggests that while you’re walking around, camera in hand, be acutely aware of whatever is going on around you. “There are so many beautiful little scenes going on right in front of you,” she says. “You just need to notice them.”
Jenny Anne Connors is a Chicago-based creative who is constantly chasing light and adventure.
She has just returned from a three month trip around the western United States with her husband and their dog, and she can’t wait for the next coming adventure.