Composing for Better Minimalist Photographs
we could do a whole class just on composition, but for the purposes of this class, I wanted to touch on just a few key elements that I think are important to keep in mind when you're going out to create your minimalist images. When you strip so much away, it becomes that much more important to understand where you place your subject in the frame and in relationship to one another. So this is just to get you guys thinking about things like rule of thirds leading lines and the importance of being intentional about where you put the subject. Okay, let's jump right in with this first shot. And this is a self portrait that I took, any Luli sat Greenland, and this is a wonderful little town that is known for having basically hundreds and hundreds of icebergs. It's a unesco World Heritage site and in Disco Bay here there are just literally hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of icebergs floating around coming off the Greenland ice sheet. I've just set my camera on a tripod. I've I've gone into...
the frame here. So if we look at the image according to the rule of thirds, we have the top third here, which is a nice yellow sky, nice, empty, beautiful space. We have the middle third here, that has the main interest of the image, which is myself coming into frame, this wonderful dark V. And then the iceberg here on the other side on the left, and then we have the bottom half that kind of mirrors the other side of the top. So the dark side of the image, the foreground and the tundra which is into silhouette. And what I really like about this image is here on the right third in the middle. We have one important subject, which is the human element, which I was saying before carries a lot of weight. So it can be smaller than our second important subject, which is this iceberg which is much larger than the human element, but kind of needs to be to balance that weight ratio of importance are second images of a diesel tank up on baffin Island in nunavut and this is like one of the fun things you guys can do if you're gonna go out and look for minimalist images is start with architecture or buildings and structures and things. It really oftentimes offers an easy entry point because you already have usually a nice clean clear sky behind it to shoot against. But what I really liked about this image was the spiral staircase that was going up from bottom right and kind of winding its way up to the very top of the image in the middle. I love the repeating patterns of the staircase going all the way up. What really helps this image is that it's almost perfectly divided right down the middle, oil tank or diesel tank and staircase. And then over here you got all this negative space. A lot of places in nunavut's, you can go and you have the opportunity to include Ravens in your final frame because they're kind of everywhere. So if you spend enough time waiting and looking for the opportunities, these birds will often fly into your shot and if you notice them out playing or whatever, you can kind of frame it up and just wait for it to happen. And that's what happened here. I already knew that I really like the spiral staircase, I like the diesel tank and I knew I wanted to come straight down the middle. My original plan was to divide the shot and then just have empty negative space on the left side. But once I noticed that the Ravens are out there and they're playing around and such, I quickly recomposed the image to include the little raven. And that I think actually helps quite a bit because it does balance it out a little bit more with that having that little bit of interest down in the bottom left. What I'd like to show you guys here now is the same. It's not the same image, but it's the same subject represented three different ways compositionally. And again, I've over laid the rule of thirds here. And this is a really good exercise uh that you guys can try with your own images uh and a crop tool in light room or something similar just to play with that balance again of where you place the subject in the frame. So compositionally. This first image I've got the these fishermen in Greenland again once again beautiful like golden, almost like metallic ocean at sunset. And it's very very clear. I believe that this is where I want you to look. I want you to notice the fisherman, this beautiful silhouette against the golden ocean. And intentionally I've cropped them and place them down in the bottom left so that all the visual weight is down there. But then you're you're I kind of gets a chance to wander around the rest of the frame and taking all that beautiful golden color. And this is a good example to what I was saying before how negative space can actually be textured and it can be colored. It doesn't have to be white or black. And that's just the end of the story. It's very textured, it's very colored but as long as those colors are all the same or very similar and the textures are very similar and it's not like your eyes jumping from difference. The difference the difference then yeah, it's useful and it's great negative space. So in this next image I've just changed the crop and this time I've decided to make the boats even smaller. The fishermen smaller, I've centered them so that they're very much in the middle of the photograph there surrounded by the golden ocean. This to me seems more grounded. It seems more peaceful, more calm. If you compare that to the first image again like it does feel calm but because all of the interest is down in the bottom left, your eye is constantly wanting to go down there. So there's a little more attention then something like this where it's very balanced and in the middle compare that to this final image where I've included a little iceberg as well. And there are even like little uh I think there are some Siegel's and some birds out there. But here again, you can see using the rule of thirds, I have the top third with our point of interest, which is the iceberg, I have the middle third being nice and clean this time, nothing in there to distract. And in the bottom third I've got our fishermen in the boats. And the other thing that really works well for me is that balance of having the iceberg. It's not really on the intersection point and neither are the fishermen, but they're in the frame relative to one another. They're almost in the same spot opposite which, which is a really nice way to kind of balance these minimalist shots. This next image is a little penguin in Antarctica and I went down the first time I was in Antarctica. I went there and I intentionally really wanted to try my hand at getting some really nice minimalist shots down there. I've never been there before and I thought it would be make an incredible location to try minimalism and it turns out there is a lot of great opportunities for that, just like in the north. So here's one of the images I wanted to show you from that antarctic trip if this little penguin guy here and he's just hanging out by himself next to some crevasses. And what I really liked about this shot is that while I have included a lot of negative space, I'm also really relying on a leading line that curve aske that gap coming down and pointing us right into the penguin. And it's not that necessarily needed that for you guys to see the penguin in the shot, but it does again help the I flow down there and it balances it out so that once it's down there, it doesn't necessarily stay down in the bottom left corner. You know, we're allowed to kind of like float around and gravitate up towards the top in the space for a bit back down to the line and then ri comes back down to the penguin compare that to. So I just took the same image in Photoshop that crevasse out. And now you can see this is much more minimal, very, very stripped down penguin guy is still here in the bottom left. But again, ri goes down to the penguin, it kind of stays there. And so I prefer this first one over the second one. But someone else might have a different opinion. This is another example of using kind of a leading line, these repeating rocks going all the way back to this little bird here. Um lots of open space on the top that's mirrored in the bottom except for that one line going in with the repeating rocks. Um with lots of like, again, intentional space between each rock. I tried different angles on the same little pond, but this was the only one that kind of had that nice separation of rocks at the right distance between each rock, to really give me that that minimalist clean field. And then this final image here is uh in Greenland and it's just shooting up at one of these massive icebergs that I've been talking about, really simple idea. Dark skies, big crazy iceberg. But what I really liked about this was this one line, this one striking line coming down and again, waiting, just noticing the activity of birds and waiting for this one bird to kind of fly into frame and follow that line of direction. The line of sight and back up kind of swooping with the flight path of the bird and her. I I hope my intention is the eye kind of goes back up into the sky is a little bit of texture and back down to the line again just creating this sort of like circle pattern. One other thing I'd like to point out when we're talking about minimalism and compositions is that negative space can be really useful if you're shooting stock photography or doing agency work or editorial work for magazine covers and things like that. A lot of art directors and graphic designers and layout artists are gonna want a lot of space for their text, for their titles, for other graphics and images that might go on these things. So if you if you're at all interested in creating images for that line of work, I would highly recommend starting to include lots of negative space in your shots. Not every shot is going to have to be that, but it's really important at least give people the option so that they can see how they can use your images and space and include their own font and Brandon labels. So that's just a little bit about composition. Like I said, it's it's not too in depth or detailed. I just wanted to cover the rule of thirds, balancing using that grid system in the rule of thirds and then leading lines and kind of repeating patterns and stuff like that to show you guys how you can start using that in your minimalist images. Mhm.
Short on time? This class is available HERE as a Fast Class, exclusively for Creator Pass subscribers.
AFTER THIS CLASS YOU’LL BE ABLE TO:
- 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.
ABOUT CURTIS' CLASS:
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.
WHO THIS CLASS IS FOR:
- 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)