The blog of photographer Kim Ayres

Minimalism Photo Challenge - and Episode 48 of Understanding Photography with Kim Ayres

Minimalism, and the use of Negative Space are terms that crop up periodically in photography, and I was recently asked what the difference is.

It seemed like a good topic to discuss on the podcasts so in the first part of last night's episode I go into a bit of detail and show examples, and then I set a Minimalism Photo Challenge for next week, open to anyone who wants to join in.

In brief, negative space is any part of the image that isn't the subject. It could be an area of wall, or paving, or sky, or sea – something the subject is placed in, but is there only as background to help give shape to it.

Now while that sounds like it's a bit of an afterthought, if used well, it can greatly enhance, or even change, the mood of an image.

Minimalism is a style of composition where things are cut back to the bare minimum. A single leaf on a pond, a curved line in the sand, or an apple on a large empty table are all examples of minimalism.

So in order to emphasise the sense of simplicity, a minimalist image will often employ large amounts of negative space.

If it's not something you've played with much before, then it's quite a fun thing to get into with your photography, as it forces you to look at things in a different way.

So I've set a Minimalism Photo Challenge for next week's podcast. The subject can be anything you like, but what I would also like from you is to know is why have you chosen what you have – what grabbed you about creating that particular image?

However, if you find you're struggling, then you can still submit a photo you're having difficulty with - just explain the problem and I can include suggestions and ideas in the podcast too.

Stick your photo either into this event page in the Discussion section, or into the Understanding Photography with Kim Ayres Facebook Group

Try and get it in before the end of the weekend, or by Monday (8th March) at the latest. Anything that arrives on Tuesday runs the risk of not being included in the podcast.

You can use a phone, tablet, point-and-shoot or DSLR (or mirrorless).

And then, make sure you tune in on Tuesday 9th March at 7.30pm (UK time) where I'll go through the photos, and give comments and feedback, and hopefully we will all become inspired by some of the submissions to go and try out new things with our photography.


Changing the subject somewhat, the painterly photo I created of my daughter, Meg, for last week's podcast received a lot of attention when I put it up on Facebook and Instagram.

Now while that kind of reaction is always satisfying, I was somewhat surprised when someone made reference to Vermeer's painting, "Girl With A Pearl Earring".

And then someone else did the same.

And another.

And another.

In fact I've had a least 8 different people say that photo of Meg reminds them of it.

And yet, apart from the fact that it's a portrait of a young woman, they are nothing alike – different expressions, different clothing, different colour palette.

But that didn't stop more than half a dozen responses referencing Vermeer.

However, when I thought about it, I realised this actually proved the very point I was trying to make in last week's podcast, which was if you use the tropes of a particular painting style in your photo – the lighting, the composition, the texture, etc, then people will automatically connect the dots and exclaim just how much your photo looks like a painting.

And in this case, it wasn't just the fact it looked like a painting, it looked like a 17th Century Dutch portrait. So people's minds latched on to the most well known portrait of that period and place.

No one said it reminded them of the Mona Lisa, because the style wasn't 16th Century Italian.

Once I realised this, I allowed myself a wee smug moment...

Meanwhile, here's the full podcast from last night.


0:00 - Welcome, what's coming up, greetings and comments
5:04 - Introduction to the idea of Negative Space
15:50 - Introduction to the idea of Minimalism
33:27 - Introduction to the Minimalism Photo Challenge
37:38 - When a photo gets mistaken for a painting it looks nothing like...
45:00 - Critique of images submitted to the Facebook Group, "Understanding Photography with Kim Ayres"
1:39:20 - Coming up next week
1:41:00 - End

If you found this interesting/useful/entertaining, then please consider supporting these podcasts and blog posts via

Also consider subscribing to my YouTube channel - – to help me build the numbers.

And, or course, if you would like to submit a photo for feedback, or just ask a photography related question, then do join my Understanding Photography with Kim Ayres  Facebook group and I will put it into the following podcast:


neena maiya (guyana gyal) said...

Live and learn!! I've learnt something about negative space today, reading this. I know it will come in handy one day.

I'm fascinated with how you've managed to make Meg's photo look like an old Dutch painting. On another note, isn't it interesting how the girl with the pearl earring looks modern, with her scarf, her earring, the bronze coat?

Kim Ayres said...

If only you watched the podcasts, Neena, you'd know all about how to create a photo that looks like an old Dutch painting :)
And you'd find out even more about negative space and minimalism!
However, I appreciated that unless you have an obsession with photography (see next post), then sitting through a couple of hours of me waffling on isn't going to be at the top of your priority list :)

neena maiya (guyana gyal) said...

I'm thinking more in the way I see as a writer, Kim. But I'm also interested in the way artists / creative people see.

How I wish I had time to learn more about photography, but what with writing, trying to promote my book, and doing aaaalll sorts of things for my mum...sigh...

At least the podcasts are there when I do need them.

I tell as many people as possible about you work, to share with those interested in photography. Goodness knows if they do...Guyanese tend to be apathetic when it comes to sharing info. about creative work. The arts don't mean much to them unless they can consume. Makes me sad.

Kim Ayres said...

Neena - after I'd replied to your last comment, I started to think about the idea of minimalism in writing - how some people strip back what they want to say to the bare minimum of words, while others will fill the space.
And I was reminded of the quote - cited top various people from Churchill to Mark Twain to Blaise Pascal - "If I'd had more time I would have written a shorter letter"
It's that idea that minimalism takes time and skill.
I also ended up having a bit of a conversation with my son about minimalism in his area of expertise as a graduate mechanical engineer.
Thank you for recommending me - always appreciated!
Is your book available physically yet, or only as a download?

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