Abstract Photography Tips

Get arty with your photography and shoot some abstracts.

24/01/2014 - 00:00

Abstract photography is great. It’s great because all that knowledge you have accumulated throughout the years regarding composition, exposure and focusing can be collected up and thrown out of the window.

Abstract photography concentrates on texture, colour and pattern above all else and is designed to stimulate the senses on other levels to how you’d normally perceive a photograph.

What a person considers to be abstract is subjective to your own perceptions of the theme. A picture of a river on a slow shutter speed with the water blurry can be considered abstract due to the unnatural recording of the water.

Shots like that are easy, the difficult part of abstract photography is creating an image of something that you don’t necessarily see what the subject is, while still creating an appealing shot. It’s very easy to get the latter wrong and difficult to make an excellent photograph in this style.

A lot of abstract photographers concentrate on everyday subjects, photographing them from different angles that we wouldn’t normally see. It takes us out of our comfort zone and leaves more to the imagination.

The great thing about this technique is that there’s no technique. There are a few basic rules that can be followed to get started, but after that it’s all about seeing an interpretation and recording it successfully, so that it stimulates an emotional response in the viewer.

Successful abstract photographs will fill the frame. Abstract images tend to look better if they’re tightly framed and a lot of photographers play on this idea by taking pictures of subjects that
make you guess what they are. Close up photography is a favourite genre for abstract photographers because they can interpret a subject from various angles while still eluding to the actual subject matter.

Colour is an important part of abstract work and dominates a lot of photographs. Many photographers look to use colour in harmony and it’s rare that an abstract shot will have contrasting colours in the same frame. That’s not to say the frame should be packed with similar colours, but harsh contradictory colours such as orange and blue need using with care.

Colour filters can be used but it’s best to use them cautiously. However, as the subject in the frame isn’t easily recognised, you may want to take your abstract futher by adding a colour filter to give the overall image a red or blue colour. A polarising filter cut down on glare and make the abstract colours even more saturated.

Patterns are everywhere, especially in nature and abstract photographers pay a lot of attention to patterns. From random patterns such as highlights on rippled water, to the converging parallels of roads, tractor tracks or train lines, or a mass of black umbrellas in a rainy city.

Contemporary architecture can play a large part in this area of abstract photography as the clean lines, sharp corners and sweeping curves add dynamics to the photograph.

Lack of pattern is also looked for by abstract photographers, such as a gap in a line of people, some CDs stacked vertically in a horizontal pile.

However, it doesn’t mean that form and order are the main components of abstracts. A mass of lines at oblique angles in a tangle of chaos will appeal just as much. There are no rules and that’s why people love it so much.

Texture can be a wonderful thing and with the right lens, anything can be created into a wonderful abstract piece, from the surface of a piece of sandpaper to the individual hairs of a fur coat. Texture doesn’t even need to be nice. Shards of broken glass leading along a wall or peeling paint in an
abandoned building will all provide the texture, either constructive or random.

Learning to take abstract photographs will only come with time. Some may be appealing, some may
not and if you show them to anyone, you will get a mixed response due to the sheer subjectivity that this genre garners.

You need a lot of imagination, a keen eye for seeing things in a way that no-one else does and a lot of patience.

It takes a lot of practice to master the art of abstract and the sample images on these pages are considered safe. Depending on what you’re wishing to photograph will depend on the equipment you use and how you use it. Photographing a raindrop will require speed, accuracy and patience while photographing a red sweet in a bowl of yellow sweets takes an imaginative eye and preparation.

Forget what aperture, shutter speed or ISO your camera should be on. Set it to what the camera says it should be, take a picture and change it. Don’t worry if it under or overexposes or if the white-balance doesn’t get it right. This all adds to the elements of abstracts and if it doesn’t work, change
something and take another shot.

Panning is a great way of conveying a scene without sticking to the regular formula of picture taking. This isn’t the same as normal panning shots that are taken at racing days where the subject
is sharp and the background out of focus. The technique is called drag photography and the whole subject will be out of focus.

Try it in a forest, perform a vertical pan on some trees and see it come out like an impressionist painting. Use shallow depth-of-field to create a similar effect by sending the background out of focus. Moving items in a panning shot will be blurred and add to the abstract effect.

Also, look at subjects in a different way. Squat down or stand on a small stool for a fresh viewpoint. Take a photograph and play with the aperture or ISO. If your camera has coloured filters, try them and see what they do.

Related Photos


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Abstracts are fun but not every 'what is it' type image makes a good abstract.


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Some of my abstracts "shouldn't be"

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