Hokkaido Minimalism

Evoking feelings of serenity, peacefulness, and tranquility within, minimalist photography has always been a passion of mine.

It comes as no surprise that I was truly excited to be going to Hokkaido, Japan in the winter time when minimalist landscapes were found around every corner. This blog post won’t delve into the popular minimalist trees of Biei—those trees are detailed in this blog post here.

Trees on a hilltop.

Minimalism photography is largely based on keeping things simple. With no need for distracting elements within a photo, composition plays an important role in this genre. Our focus on patterns, textures, shapes, and lighting bring more focus to the subject that is presented in a uncluttered way.

4 Trees.

Sometimes duotone or monochromatic images tend to be coupled with minimal photography but it’s far from a requirement. In fact, many of my photos below are in colour—you just may not notice it, which is part of the beauty of the Hokkaido winter landscape.

Black on White.

Naturally, grass, shrubs, and trees were a major focus here in Hokkaido, so it was exciting to see the variety and the patterns that they made in the field and on the hills. In the following image, I put the lone tree in the bottom corner of my image so that I can get the grass and fence line to act as a leading element guiding our eyes to the tree. My intention was to have the grass on the hilltop divide the snow-covered hill with the white clouds from the right of the image all the way to the left. The fence and shrubs then lead our gaze toward the lone tree completing this image by moving our eyes from the left to the right.


The next two images were taken in the same area. The snow-covered hill was scattered with several different shapes and sizes of trees that in my mind made for a unique frame. The trees are haphazardly placed with no obvious patterns. The varying colours and sizes of each tree separated from one another by the pure white snow creates a dramatic presentation of what is normally a simple hillside with trees.

Mix ‘n Match.

This second image further plays on the above by incorporating the curvature of the hilltop, which leads our gaze to a forest of larches.

Tree Curvature.

This next image may not be so minimal in nature, but I decided to include it here as an exercise in composition. Here I noticed a mixed forest with different layers created by the varying tallness of the trees stacked one behind each other. The larches in the foreground start tapering off from left to right, which opens up the middle layer of conifers—especially on the far right, exposing the trunks of the coniferous trees. The final layer of trees not only contrast in colour to the conifers in front, but if you follow this treeline from the left, it naturally leads our eyes back to the gap in the conifers since I intentionally kept an open space at the end of this layer of trees.

Gap in the Trees.

One of my goals as a photographer is to show the viewers how I felt while I was standing there. It’s not an easy task, and sometimes it’s just outright impossible to do. No matter how I take an image, sometimes it just can’t equate to being there, sensing audio cues, physically feeling the actions, and seeing things through your peripheral vision.

This next image I believe is victim to this. The out-of-the-blue snowfall came quickly and heavily. As I turned my head to the left, it was as if I was suddenly blinded. I couldn’t make anything out and was on the verge of disorientation as there was no frame of reference as to where I was.

I’m standing at the bottom of a hill here. The only way you can tell this is by the ascension of the forest on the right. It seems like it’s floating in air. The base of the cabins mark the hilltop, which extend from the cabin to the very far left of the photo. The snowfall was so heavy and thick that it literally blurred the line between the hilltop and the clouds.

What a moment to be standing there. This unreal sensation lasted for a few minutes before the clouds started parting ways, shining a little light through them, exposing the distinction between it and the hill.

Floating Cabins.

I hope this small glimpse of minimalism in Hokkaido, Japan has been some sort of inspiration to some of you. Minimalism can be found in all corners of our world—you just need to be able to spot them when they are in front of you. I’ll end off with one of my favourite minimalist photos from Hokkaido. This line of trees sandwiched by white snow and white clouds put emphasize on this line of birch and conifer trees. The white trunks and orange and red leafs complement each other giving this image some minimal pop of colour.

Single file trees.

Minimalism photography may not be for everyone, but I hope this blog post has inspired some of you and has shed some light into how I approach this unique genre.

If you have additional tips that I did not mention or any questions, please let me know in the comments below.

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