Tom Leighton’s Contrails Explores the Concept of Drawing with Smoke

All images by Tom Leighton. Used with Creative Commons permission. 

Minimalist photography, at its most basic concept, does involve stripping a scene down to it barest elements. The focus is often on a monochromatic palette, a simple synchronicity of shapes, a sprawl of patterns, punchy contrast, or a singular subject. Or, it could be a combination of any of these elements. However, it’s not as easy as shooting something that looks “simple” or empty enough. In his set titled Contrails, London-based photographer and printmaker Tom Leighton shows us how to achieve a clean and minimalist look yet still have a clear and interesting subject.

As the title suggests, this black and white set showcases a selection of contrails, which Leighton described as “a series of work exploring the concept of drawing with planes.” While that’s as straightforward as things go, it’s also worth noting that it was also done beautifully and excellently.

Indeed, if we look at the series as a set of drawings, each photo is almost like a very detailed chalk sketch of airplanes and their smoky trails. Almost, because the amount of detail gives it away as a photo (or photo-based digital art, if you want to nitpick), including the partial moon and the planes themselves. There’s nothing to distract the viewer from the billowy pillars and streaks of smoke — not even a hint of color. This clear focus on a specific subject makes this set essentially a great example of impressive minimalist photography.

This is just one approach that is possible with minimalist photography, and one way that Leighton uses the craft for his project. Also guided by his background in digital art and fascination for fictional urban environments, he uses minimalism to create his unique photographic representations of popular cities like Tokyo, Los Angeles, and Hong Kong.

Do check out Tom Leighton’s website and Behance portfolio to see more of his work.