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Minimalist Photography

Lesson 4 of 27

Learn to See Visual Clutter

Curtis Jones

Minimalist Photography

Curtis Jones

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Lesson Info

4. Learn to See Visual Clutter
With examples from his travels around the world, Curtis will identify scenes that contain distractions that muddle the composition. Learn to see these disruptions so you can explore how much information to keep and how much to take away from the image before it loses impact.

Lesson Info

Learn to See Visual Clutter

mm. Learning to see. Visual clutter is another very important concept in creating minimal images, removing distractions and simplifying your frame is going to bring that subject to the forefront by learning to see the clutter and the distractions. You're gonna be able to start extracting it and getting it out of your frame. When I speak about clutter, I'm talking about fences, cars, people, telephone poles, color itself various and opposing textures. Anything that jars the fewer out of your frame and takes them away from your backdrop and your subject. Many objects make great minimalist subjects. So it's more important to concentrate on that space that surrounds the subject and making sure it's free of distractions. Let's look into some examples of what I mean by visual clutter and how to remove it from our frames. And I got a few sample shots here with all similar subjects and how I went about cleaning up the frame and then eventually honing in on that one subject with very few or no ...

distractions. Our first image here is of two first seals in Antarctica. This was just after landing. We had just got out of the zodiacs and we were kind of roaming around and exploring a bit. It's not instantly obvious what it is. I want you to look at when you're looking at this photo. I've got, you know, a person up on the top left here, on the ridge line, there's some icebergs in the far background, there's like a lump on a rock and that's actually one for seal on the left side. And then there's another dark lump on a rock to the right side. That's another first hell! So it is a photo of two for sales in Antarctica, but it certainly isn't clean and it's not obvious what it is I want you to look at. So we're gonna start removing some of those distractions. I'm gonna show you what I was doing. I was moving around, I was changed perspective using different kinds of gear, like playing with wide angle and telephoto and really trying to clean this thing up. So here's the second image and you can see that already, it's much cleaner. I've gotten rid of a lot of the distractions in the first one. You know, there are no exposed rock. The human is out of the picture. So our eyes are drawn there because like I was saying that human element takes a lot of weight just automatically for us. There still is some interest going on in the background. We've got a bird up in the top here, We've got that nice iceberg in the distance and it's not a bad image at all. It's clean, but as far as stripping it down and getting to the basics and the essence of this image, which is to fur seals in Antarctica. I think we still have a little ways to go. Here. We are now getting even closer to that idea, it's much more obvious that I have to first deal side by side. You know, there's not much going on in the foreground and not that much going on in the background anymore, There is still some detail there. So this, you know what, This is a really clean image. I still don't know if I would categorize it as minimal. Um, and even maybe the final image, I'm gonna show you wouldn't be for some people what they would consider to be a minimalist image, but it's certainly going to be a lot cleaner and a lot more minimal than this one. And that's this, This is the final image. So for this, I got really low, I used a very wide aperture so I could blur out that foreground and the background. I made sure I shot against almost a clean, perfectly stark white snow bank. So there really is no distraction in the background, very limited amount in the foreground, basically just enough to give you a sense of depth. So it's not super flat. And then your eye goes instantly to this first fur seal who's posing quite nicely for us. And that perfect sort of opposing angle of the second fur seal that really pairs well with the with the first having them basically branch out opposite of each other like that compared to our first image when we first hit shore. This is much much cleaner and much more minimal. Here's another example of removing clutter, recognizing visual clutter and distraction. So we this is Mongolia, this is in the Gobi desert, the singing sand dunes or the Hunger and L sand dunes and in the South Gobi. When you first arrive here, it's this beautiful oasis of sort of a lush green valley with hundreds of horses and camels and flowers and there's a little river that runs through and then these beautiful, like massive, never ending sand dunes. It's one of my favorite places on the planet. But when you first get out it's a little overwhelming. There's so much visually to take in. You don't really know what it is, you want to focus on what it is you want to shoot. Were there doing a workshop and guiding a workshop and I wanted to take a picture of one of our participants, kind of walking into the dunes and going off on that voyage of Discovery to find his or her, shot her one shot of the of the sand dunes. I instantly after recognizing my subject, which was going to be a person, I started trying to frame that subject and using the dunes to kind of tell that story. Second shot has less clutter less distraction. You know, the person is a little more obvious. I still don't know what it is, but birds keep flying into my frame and you do have a very clean backdrop with those dunes. There is some texture. Uh and the grass has has a lot of details. So it's not, it's not great, but it is less cluttered than the first. And then I played around with using the telephoto lens, so only really cropping in on just the participant in their camera. There's a little bit of distraction in the foreground with the flowers, but I didn't really get the sense of story here about them going into the dunes and exploring. So I pulled back again and I set them against the clean dunes. It's much, much cleaner on the top half, still somewhat distracting in the bottom half. It's easier to identify what I want you to look at, which is that person. But I still have a ways to go. And then here's the final image and we've got them going in. It's a slightly different time of day. So here's an example of waiting for a better time of day as well for like more interesting light to really emphasize those patterns and those shapes, creating a lot of space in the sky. And then having our key element, which is the human taking a ton of the focus and the weight in this image, right at the very bottom. But he's clean and he's sharp. That silhouette is perfect in my opinion. Um and this is a much cleaner, much more minimal, stripped down version of any of these at the beginning. Another example with puffins on the east coast of Newfoundland and Canada, you show up at this place um in El Liston, this tiny community, it's a beautiful spot. It's a great location to watch puffins or to photograph puffins. And when you first walk out there, it's basically this, it's just a mess of birds on a slightly off shore island. They're everywhere. It's a matter of starting to see all that clutter the clutter being mostly the birds at this point and trying to extract just a single bird or two from that flock of that mess and really hone in on them. Quite often. It's easier to wait for them to come to shore and kind of like just sit on land and, and they're quite calm and engaging and they don't really mind people that much, as long as you're respectful and keep your distance. So I was using a zoom lens here, but you know the puffins just relaxing and doing its thing. So I decided to get low again kind of frame them against a clean sky and remove the distraction of anything else that was going on clouds or other birds. It does start to help eliminate some of the distraction on the land with the grass as well, but they're still in the mid ground there toward the bird. All those little flowers and other grasses is distracting. So I started to try to play with positioning um putting them against darker backgrounds, shooting past all that grass with a with a wide open aperture again and eventually got to this one which is very, very stripped down again, It's clean and it's simple, it's the puffin against the sky and that's it. It's a story about colour and expression and there's nothing really to distract you hear from what I want you to see which is the puffin. And then eventually I worked that scene even more so and got what I feel is like a very strong portrait of a puffin and he's just against like a piece of like an outcropping of rock, basically. And the light was hitting him very beautifully. Used the 72 200 waiting for my moment. And there's nothing going on in this image except that puffin and his expression, he just looks so academic and beautiful and yeah, I just think that there's a really clean, simple image, not as minimal as this image, but in my opinion, is still a nice clean image. And my my preferred image of the series from that day. So it's not always that the minimal image is gonna be, or the most minimal image is gonna be the most interesting, either or the one that you prefer.

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

Student Work

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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.