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Minimalist Photography

Lesson 7 of 27

Choosing Gear to Create Minimalist Photographs

Curtis Jones

Minimalist Photography

Curtis Jones

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Lesson Info

7. Choosing Gear to Create Minimalist Photographs
Whether it’s a telephoto lens, a neutral density filter, or a tripod – the right gear can sometimes make a huge difference between a busy picture and a powerful photograph. In this lesson, we will review the equipment I use most often and why, when creating minimalist images.

Lesson Info

Choosing Gear to Create Minimalist Photographs

right? Yeah. Whether you use a telephoto lens, a neutral density filter or a tripod. Sometimes the right gear can make all the difference between a busy picture and a powerful photograph in this lesson. We're gonna review some of the gear that I most commonly used to create minimalist images. Let's start off by talking about filters. And quite often I'll use these neutral density filters to help extend my uh my exposure time or to slow the shutter speed down. And often that is because I'm trying to remove texture from water or from the sky, clouds, waves, fast moving water and waterfalls. So, an nd filter like these. These are BMW, I think I've got like a six and a 10 and also a polarizer. Sometimes anything that limits the amount of light getting into your lens can be used to help eliminate distractions. We're gonna go over some examples of that. The other thing that I really rely on quite a bit as a telephoto lens, um it's probably the number one thing uh in the field that I do to he...

lp declutter and shoot past distractions. So if you're out there and you see uh something that you like, you find that anchor that's really calling you, but you can't seem to shoot around or past all of the clutter. If you have a telephoto, This is a 70-200, you can go bigger, but even like 85 or 70 might get you that little bit of distance that you need to shoot past the distracting post or a tree branch or a parking lot. Another way to shoot past distractions and helpfully get past all that clutter. If you can't afford a big telephoto, you need that extra reach. Pick up an extender like this. This is a cannon two times extender. I have a 1.4 as well, but they're really great. Uh fairly inexpensive ways to extend your reach and shoot past all that noise. Look for lenses with a fairly wide aperture fast lenses that allow you to have a shallow depth of field are going to help simplify your image by just removing distractions with that nice fall off. That comes naturally with the lens like that. It also helps with the foreground as well. So if you're gonna shoot an image with a telephoto lens, for example, If that lens is pretty fast and you're shooting at like 2.8 distractions like tree branches and things that you may not be able to completely remove will be blurred quite nicely and just hopefully be soft edges that lead you into the frame and then you get to your central point of interest fall off into like loose detail on the back. So I've been talking a lot about the telephoto lens and shooting past distractions. But if you have a really clean scene in front of you That is just calling out for more space, then that's when I'll go to like a 16-35 and I'll usually shoot somewhere between 24 and 35 with this. I don't want to go too wide, but the scene is clean and you've got big skies, an epic perspective and you want to really hammer home scale and things like that than the wide angle lens can do a lot for you as well. Of course, if you're gonna go out and shoot these images with longer exposures and using filters and things like that, you're really gonna want a stable tripod. I have a couple of different tripods, some travel versions and some more sturdier ones for like the wind and when I'm not quite going so far away from home, ideally you just need to find a tripod you're going to use and you're not gonna leave in the car. And the last little thing I'm gonna throw in here is your phone. I use my phone all the time to find new compositions. It's just so easy to have it on you. When you're out walking about town, you're noticing plays of light or shape or color and things like that. It's a really great way to just grab that shot quickly and then go back, get your camera if you really feel like there's something special there and re explored and investigate again later. It's also great when you're out on trips and you're going to a location for the first time and you just want to get a good lay of the land, not be burdened with all your gear, taking your phone and walking around and just having that sort of, that creative limitation to shoot a clean, minimalist image with your phone sometimes is a really great way to force yourself to start seeing these images. Let's jump into a few examples here to just kind of go over what I'm talking about. This first one is of an iceberg and grates cove in Newfoundland. And what I liked about this image on this morning was that amazing red sky at sunrise. It's about 3:34 a.m. Something crazy in the middle of the summer. And We have this beautiful shape, this iceberg, this crazy, gnarly point on the horizon, against that red sky. And that's what I wanted to concentrate on. Now. The telephoto that I had on the time was a 200 and it didn't really get me enough throw enough distance to shoot past the distractions of the water in the foreground. These bigger waves and all that texture. So I decided to put some filters on and shoot it again at a longer shutter speed. And by doing that you can see that all of that distraction in the foreground has kind of gone. That big crashing wave isn't so much an issue anymore. It's been relaxed and calm down. There is still a little bit of texture in the foreground but I don't really mind it. It's just interesting enough and it prevents it from being this sort of just dark black block at the bottom. So you have your iceberg really nice contrast. He's silhouette, beautiful sunrise. You've got a little bit of movement in those clouds by pulling the exposure like that so the clouds are drifting and panning across the sky there. And then you've got this nice fuzzy blurry water with just enough details. So it doesn't become just another big black block at the bottom. Here's another example of that shooting again around the coast of Newfoundland, uh taking in some of the lovely ice formations that happen on the rocky seaside. And I was just watching the water comes in and out um, and sort of just dancing and kissing this little bit of ice here. And so I shouted a few times. I thought that maybe I wanted to get like high action that morning, like a nice big crashing wave, super sharp in detail. But when I get out there, I found out that actually the more interesting compositions were all of these little micro landscapes and uh the play of light and shadow and capturing that water coming in really fast and sharp didn't quite seem to feel right. It wasn't sort of that quiet energy I was looking for. So again, I just through a filter on and slow the shutter down and got that nice sort of wash of water coming in. Here's another example I wanted to throw in. This one was taken without a filter and I just wanted to show you that with a tripod and no filter and fast moving water and like playful light, like a sunset or sunrise. Sometimes you can still create some pretty nice, abstract, minimalist, simple images. Here's one from Banff Alberta and there's a train that usually runs through here and I was shooting the lakes, these vermilion lakes and I mean the vermilion lakes have been shot a lot. They're quite popular with tourists and for good reason, it's a beautiful location and initially I was drawn to the light on the trees and I took a couple shots. But the train was a bit distracting and the water itself, there was quite a bit of wind so there was some white caps and things like that. There was a lot of texture in the water. So again throwing on a filter and slowing the shutter speed down allowed me to smooth out all that texture and get that train to just be a blur. So it's a suggestion of movement instead of a literal train. And sometimes that's really nice with these, these simple concepts and minimal concepts is to include a little bit of abstraction in there and suggestive ideas instead of literal interpretations. So these next two images are an example of using a wide angle lens. I was out at Cape Spear in Newfoundland and I had hiked over to a location that had a slightly different view than what the normal is to go over there by these lighthouses on the coast. And I hiked opposite of that, back towards town. And uh, I was really impressed by this cloud cover coming in at sunset. I tried a couple a telephoto because I wanted uh at first I thought the important thing was going to be the lighthouse. So I tried to rack in and zoom in and get that lighthouse with some clouds. But as you can see here the cloud cover right above the lighthouse isn't that interesting. All the interesting cloud is way up here. So telephoto zoomed in wouldn't really have got me much in the way of interesting clouds for the shot. So I decided instead to try with the wide angle. And then I also, after a couple attempts decided to do landscape composition instead. Um, and really bring all that nice movement of clouds in. Again, using a uh, an nd filter, calms the water down, creates all this nice energy in the clouds, gives it some dynamic lift. And uh yeah, it very much is about cape spear but it's an untraditional uh composition. Here's an example using a wide angle lens uh in a little area called Black Head. It's one of my favorite spots to go in new Zealand. It's close to my house and I found these little sea caves at low tide and you could go into them and shoot out and using the wide angle lens actually helps build this frame. So I get to use all this negative space up here because of that wider um perspective. And you know, it was a perfect foggy day so that helps with all the details and the sky and horizon. And then using a longer shutter speed and a filter to slow that water down to take all that texture out. And then again mirroring the top frame in the bottom half here of the cave. It really helps us hone in on and zero in on the middle where I want the I to go all the attention to be on these waves and that that beautiful wash water that's coming in and out. I wouldn't have been able to get this shot with a telephoto lens. It was shot past all of that framing which in this situation I don't consider distraction. I actually think that it helps uh focus the eye on our subject. Here's another wide angle shot from a little town on the island called Disco Island in Greenland. The town's called Qatar's Wok. And there's this beautiful black sandy beach. All these little bits of icebergs wash up on and you can go out there and if you get a nice wide lens and get low to the ice, you know, you can exaggerate the shape and the size of that ice bit and then with the right conditions in the sky and a slightly longer exposure, you get the waves as they come in and pull out and you can create these uh more epic sort of like images that can invoke a sense of scale and drama. Again, we have an image in Greenland here and this is shot wide of this beautiful waterfall that was falling through this volcanic valley of rock and it just looks like Jurassic park. And what I really liked about this image was the waterfall and how it just the power of it falling into the pool below. And so the wide angle while it's nice and actually kind of clean, wasn't really cutting it as far as what I wanted the viewer to focus in on what drew my attention in the first place. So this is an example of using the telephoto lens to really zoom in on what I, what I was really interested in and that was the waterfall itself falling into the pool below. And again, I decided between a different couple different crops and a different tries. I decided that I liked the horizontal more than the vertical. So this is another attempt. But even this wasn't quite zoomed in enough because I found that the sky up here was a bit distracting and there's a little bit too much information in the walls. So I ended up basically doing this, which is a tighter crop. This is the same images here. Uh, it's not, it's not that I have a bigger zoom. I just cropped it imposed to, to get rid of that distraction up there, that bright sky and really just focus all the attention in the middle here on this beautiful waterfall. Again, using a longer exposure with a filter and just having this beautiful black negative space with just hints of detail to keep the eye interested and all the attention going towards the middle. I'm throwing this in in the end. I wanted to mention the use of a drone for taking minimalist imagery and it's becoming more and more popular and it's fairly new for me as well. And I was really lucky to go out while I was in the north just recently and be able to do some drone photography of my friend Torsten and his dog team. And there's a whole lesson coming up a little bit later about that. But I just wanted to mention that using a drone is a great way to change your perspective. That top down bird's eye view is amazing at cleaning up landscapes, at cleaning up scenes. So if you, if you're interested at all or if you have a drone already, I'd encourage you to go out. Uh, check regulations, make sure you can fly it safely and then just see what it looks like from the top down. You'd be amazed at the shapes, the patterns, the forms, and how clean things can be from the top. Uh, and that's, that's all I want to say about that right now, But there's a class coming up a little bit later that goes through that all in detail. Whether you're using a telephoto lens, a neutral density filter or tripod. Sometimes gear makes the biggest. Yeah. Mm. Whether you're using a storing cat, whether you're using a telephoto lens and a new mantra, whether you're using a telephoto lens, a neutral density filter or a tripod. Sometimes the right gear can make a big difference in getting a minimalist shot. That's not what I want to say, a busy photograph and a powerful Yeah.

Class Description

Short on time? This class is available HERE as a Fast Class, exclusively for Creator Pass subscribers. 


  • Understand and apply the fundamentals of creating strong minimalist compositions.
  • Use negative space with intention. Establish mood, control balance in your frame, and elevate your subject from the visual clutter.
  • Avoid common traps that can lead to flat or boring minimalist images.
  • Explore how much information to keep and how much to take away from the image before it loses impact.
  • Understand common gear and technique choices that complement the minimalist style.


Do you ever wonder why certain photographs linger with the viewer long after they see them? Why sometimes the smallest point of interest makes the biggest impression? How so much “nothing” can feel so compelling in a scene? Minimalism photography techniques can add a powerful storytelling element to any genre, they can evoke emotion, and bring balance to your frame. Using Baffin Island in the Canadian Arctic as his backdrop, this class will outline Curtis’s approach to creating stronger images with a minimalist mindset.

Learn to use the creative techniques of minimalism to intentionally account for every inch of your frame. Discover how to minimize clutter, work with negative space, and master visual balance to boost the overall impact of your compositions. Working in a clean visual style students will learn to look for strong anchors, shapes, and lines while eliminating visual distractions. Curtis will share his experiences and images from some of the world’s most remote destinations to help kick-start your journey toward simplified, cleaner photographs that capture the essence of our world.


  • Beginner and intermediate photographers interested in outdoor and landscape photography.
  • Photographers who want to understand and create with elements of minimalism to help capture the strength and essence of your subject.
  • Photographers looking to create cleaner, simplified images that leave an impact on the viewer.


Adobe Lightroom Classic (8.4.1)
Adobe Photoshop CC (20.0.8)

Ratings and Reviews

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This is a brilliant course which I can highly recommend. I have done some Minimalist photography but still found the lessons very interesting. I enjoyed the discussion on colour vs. B&W. My favourite part was to learn how long it takes to plan a shoot, wait for the right conditions, even change the subject if the initial idea doesn't work and see the other images taken during the shoot before (or after) the final image. The presentation is excellent - love the cat :-).

Bradley Wari

Great Job! Great course! loved the bloopers, had a few laughs. I really enjoyed how he showed a little of how he worked the scene of a few of his images. showing multiple images and how he got to THE shot.

Deb Williams

Great class, good length and easy to follow along. A fantastic way to challenge yourself to look at composition differently and a course full of useful tips to try out.