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Minimalist Photography

Lesson 8 of 27

Black and White the Classic Approach

Curtis Jones

Minimalist Photography

Curtis Jones

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Lesson Info

8. Black and White the Classic Approach
Learn to use black and white processes to improve your composition and simplify your message. In this lesson, we will cover the power of contrast, light, shadow, and shape to build striking, clean images.

Lesson Info

Black and White the Classic Approach

Yeah, there's something classic and timeless about a black and white photograph and a black and white minimalist photograph even more. So we're gonna go over a couple of reasons why I like to shoot in black and white, why I think it can be a powerful conversion or process for your simplified image. Things like contrast and light, shape and form lines. These things become easier to see when you start shooting in black and white color can sometimes be the biggest distraction. And one of the easiest ways to simplify your image is just to get the color out of there. But if you're shooting color or black and white, it's important to remember that contrast is still necessary. An easy way to start taking these minimalist images is to shoot in high key or low key. So high key image is an image that has a lot of brightness and very little dark and a low key images the opposite. A lot of darkness and very little highlight. And those high key low key images are easier to create in black and white...

. So here's an image of my friend will, he's kite skiing or snow kite ng on baffin Island. What I really love about this image is this stark, jagged line of rocks coming down this ridge and then this wonderful opposing line going the opposite direction up to his kite, and then we'll coming through this like sort of gateway here. And I really love how he's placed in the bottom and this kite is up high and I feel like it creates this wonderful triangle of balance and weight. And there's just something really classic and simple and clean about this shot in black and white. I like the shot in color as well. But in color I find that the biggest difference for me is that my eye goes up to the kite and because it's a bright, bright red, it's very eye catching and it does what it's supposed to do. My eye stays there. So instead of the line of sight, kind of going down into the kite and up to the kite and then back down again and creating that triangle. You kind of come down, go up to the kite and you sort of stay up there a little bit, or at least I do. So for me, the black and white just seems to be a better option for this one. Here's another good example of that black and white versus color scenario and this is a little snow feature up on baffin Island and this is formed by the blowing wind and there's just a light dusting of snow, creating this beautiful sort of powdered look on top and it's late day and you have this little bit of light kind of just peeking down and catching these little ridges in the ice and in color. It's quite nice, like I said, there is some good contrast here, but in black and white you can really see that that light and shadow dynamic and the power of that sort of that angular spike coming down, so it really highlights the shape and the form of that feature versus the color. Um so for me that black and white feels more powerful and more dramatic. Here's an example of power lines and this is just from walking around town. It's a good example of just how you can walk to the coffee shop and create a minimalist image. And we've got a little raven hanging out here. I really like the repeating patterns. I like the flow of the lines going from pole to pole, creating this sort of s I guess going through the frame or zed and so again, even though the background, the sky is quite monotone, it's a very light blue, it's fairly washed out. The black and white conversion for me does seem stronger those lines and those shapes and those patterns and the lines themselves Really seem to pop more off of the page vs This one. And it's subtle, but it's just enough that the black and white conversion feel stronger to me. Here's a black and white shot I took for uh an outdoor clothing brand and it's my friend Sarah and she's paddling her canoe up, in the opinion of boot and there's just beautiful cloud cover, very dramatic, super calm and relaxed on the lake. You know, there's this great moment of just sort of the water dripping off the paddle as she goes into the distance to the other shore. And for me it's very calm. It's very still. It's just this beautiful, quiet moment in nature with the power of like, you know, the weather kind of moving in onto sarah. That image in color is still quite quiet and calm and peaceful. But the fact that her jacket is this bright purple color, the boat sort of washed out blue, there's some green in the landscape here. Her paddle is like a yellowy orange and then you've got all this beautiful blue. So this image works really well in color to be honest. And because it was for an outdoor brand of clothing brand company color was necessary. They weren't really going to go with the black and white to put in their catalogs, but the black and white image or the conversion of black and white for me feels like a nicer minimal image one that I would prefer to print and hang on the wall for example, as compared to this one, here's my friend Travis taken as we were walking along the East Coast Trail in Newfoundland and we just went down into one of these uh seaside caverns and he just looked like he just struck such an amazing form against that big sky. And again it works. It's almost black and white. Already there's very little color in here, but there's just enough color on the horizon and kind of in the rocks and stuff to be a little bit distracting. The black and white conversion cleans that up and it becomes instantly more strong. There's no denying the power of this sharp shape coming down. You know that singular point of highlighting the middle, that strong dark shape of Travis going up and then the dark shape on the right side, framing everything against this beautiful bright sky in the middle. Again, we're almost there with the colour but black and white just takes it that extra step to create that much cleaner image. And here's an example of catching waves on the ocean. Again, as I was mentioning earlier about using longer exposure times too slow, all that texture and noise and craziness of the crashing waves down. And again, it's another example of how it was a pretty dark day overcast. There was some color but not a lot, but just enough that if you convert to black and white and get rid of that color, it becomes even less distracting and more simple and more powerful. I feel like this this just sort of has this like power wave smashing into the rock. Kind of feel the wave itself and the color of the sky here it gets lost a little bit. It's just not as as a impactful in the colour version. And here this image is uh it's a great little image. I love this shot from nunavut's and uh, we had a festival out on the sea ice and everyone comes out by snowmobile or by dog team or they ski out, you line it all up. It's just like going to a garden party somewhere and everybody parking their cars or their motorcycles, you know, in the middle of the summer. So everyone lines their snowmobiles up and there was this great opportunity to get all those snowmobiles receding into the distance, kind of falling off and just capped off with a single person here off to the right side. And the reason why black and white works here. If this was color, every one of these machines is a different color and they're all bright. You know, like there's something about snowmobiles, they have to be like bright and fast and just aggressively colored, converting at the black and white gets rid of all that noise that gets rid of all that distraction. And it's just the simple concept of a repeating pattern or repeating shapes, snowmobile, snowmobile, snowmobile, uh much more classic, much cleaner and a much stronger minimalist image. If you're curious at all about shooting in black and white, most digital camera brands these days give you the option of setting your camera up so that when you go out it will be in that mode. If you're shooting in raw and not in jpeg, you're gonna still retain all that color information. So when you bring it back and load it up on your computer, it will be there for you. But you have the option at least to see it in black and white at the time of shooting. So it's a really fun way of being able to play with shape and pattern and contrast light and shadow to create these clean, simple image is the same thing you can do with your phone. There's usually an option to shoot in the black and white or monochromatic mode. It's really simple. I suggest looking up your camera rand and just finding some tutorials online. Color to color can sometimes be the biggest distraction. And one of the easiest ways to simplify your image is simply pump, pump, pump. Sorry, kid.

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.