Abstract Photography

You are feeling constrained by taking typical pictures. The ideas for portraits, landscapes, or the dreaded selfie have run out.  Yet, your creative side beckons to be released. It is time to move to the artistic style of abstract photography.  These tips will have you mastering abstract techniques while opening your imaginative side.

1. Put Your Camera in Motion

It sounds simple. At the same time, it is counter to what is taught. Motion creates streaks of color, taking familiar shapes and making new ones. Merely moving your camera at the right time will open a whole new world of creativity.

How to Create this Effect

The experts at Digital Photography School suggest reducing your shutter speed to 1/10 of a second or slower. Accomplish this by using Shutter Priority mode or adjusting the aperture through a program or program mode. Then focus on your subject and snap the picture while moving at the same time.

Since your exposure is more prolonged, make sure you have shaded conditions. Too much sun will overexpose the image and drown out those desirable colors that create an interesting abstract picture. Overexposure will also remove outlines and create a matted effect.

Finally, move the camera at different speeds. The motion’s pace impacts the image, the length of the streaks of color, the shape of objects, and the richness of color. Great examples can be seen in the Get Crafty photographers video series.

With this technique, you will create a sense of speed and add dynamics. The streaking colors will place the viewer in a surrealistic world with unpredictable, yet eye-catching shapes and forms.

2. Put the Subject in Motion

This statement could sound misleading as it is usually the object that is in motion already. Think of a car or train. Subjects in action create a different style than having the camera in motion while your focus remains stable.

The Effect on the Photograph

With the subject in motion, this creates two desirable effects. One, it gives a sense that the object is moving. More streaks of colors or shapes given off by the subject enhance the illusion of speed. This video from the Art of Photography provides useful insight into this technique.

Secondly, objects of vibrant color but are not the central focus in a standard photograph can go unnoticed, such as a license plate or a taillight. Placing the subject in motion will add to the rainbow of colors when before they were stagnant. Smashing Magazine has fantastic examples.

Having the subject in motion adds visual highlights and gives life to what is considered mundane objects. This will provide the viewer with a new perspective. It will also add a new dimension to the composition.

3. Don’t Allow the Viewer to Become Grounded

Traditional photography creates a frame of reference, providing the viewer with a sense of up and down, left and right, and distance. It creates a more authentic and real feel to a photograph.

The Purpose of Surreal Photography

In this type of format, the photographer is capturing the surreal. Abstract pictures should challenge the viewer. As Expert Photography states, they should give no such clues to its size or angle, keeping the viewer guessing about their relationship to the subject.

By moving closer to the subject or by purposefully blurring part of the picture, it tests the viewer by not allowing them to become grounded. Digital Photography School recommends the use of a zoom lens to create this effect. 

The entire idea behind abstract photography is to provide the viewer with a different perspective on the world around them. Denying them access to a sense they use to provide the context, is a great way to create an abstract image.

4. Look for Textures and Patterns

Having a whole world of possibilities can be overwhelming. The limitless amount of subject matter can freeze a photographer. To prevent this from happening, stop looking at the subject matter as a whole.  Instead, look for textures and patterns within everyday objects.  Find the features that make something special and interesting.

Where to Find the Best Patterns

Nature provides these in many different forms. The patterns and textures created by bark on a tree or a leaf can make for effective abstract subject matter, as seen on photographytalk.com

By moving in closer and spotting the designs within these subjects, you will find abstract possibilities beyond the whole. It can also provide a unique aspect of combining interesting subject matter while not allowing the viewer to get a frame of reference. Professional photographer Michelle McGrath has many beautiful examples of how these principles are applied.

Our brains look for symmetry. Yet symmetry does not always present itself in our world.  Looking for patterns and textures, and making them the focal point of a composition, is a great way to provide symmetry and move into the abstract world.

5. Get Close Up

Macro or close-up photography has become even more popular. The tremendous macro lenses that are now available on the market make it easier.  Along with this improved technology comes the increase in the number of applications to use it. Abstract photography is also a beneficiary of these improvements.

Macro Photography and the Effect of the Extreme Close-up

Macro photography allows for extreme close-ups. Enhanced technology now catches details of objects that escape other camera lenses.  With this augmentation comes many opportunities for abstract pictures and the effects can be startling, as seen in these examples from Photography Life.

Subject detail that was out of our reach, such as the intricacies of water droplets or insect eyes, because previous lenses fail to show the detail, has become attainable, creating a whole new world to photograph. You can find an informative tutorial at Spencer Cox Photography.

Our eyes are not gifted to see such detail. Having a tool like the macro lens provides the viewer access to a world that is not available to us under everyday circumstances and gives the photographer another opportunity to go into the abstract universe.

6. Look for Shapeshifters

There are not many subjects that can change their form, but nature does provide a few.  The most well-known one is water, and its properties make it a desirable subject for abstract photography. 

The Evolving Subject & its Ability to Create Abstract Imagery

Water, especially in motion, as seen in these examples on Photocrowd, can provide a fantastic subject or backdrop for abstract photography. Not only can it take many forms, ranging from a droplet to a waterfall, but its reflective qualities create an array of options for the use of light. Its ability to be stagnant, move slowly in a stream, or rage like the ocean, are all perfect for creating those otherworldly photographs.

Shapeshifting subjects are not limited to water. Sand, gel, and oils, can be used in unique ways to bring out their special qualities, as seen in this video by Digital Camera World.

Being able to take the same subject, but photograph it in alternating forms is a wonderful way to create an abstract image.  Viewers are reminded of the many different ways a subject can present itself, and creating images of each of these forms in changing light allows them to venture into the surreal.

7. Invent a Subject

Being a skilled abstract photographer sometimes requires you to create something new.  In this case, look for the possibilities in simple household objects. Use items like paper, string, tape, and coat hangers; fold, bend, twist, and warp them into the perfect subject matter for abstract pictures.

Everyday Objects that Can Become Abstract

Outdoor objects like leaves or twigs, garage pieces like nails or wires, and kitchen fare such as food can be molded and conformed to create excellent photographic opportunities. In the Creative Photography video series, this topic and some fantastic examples are available in more detail.

We are conditioned to see objects in a certain light. Most items we come across garner little attention. By taking objects that we pass over every day, and photographing them from new angles and different perspectives, the viewer will be introduced to a new world that was right in front of them.

8. See Things in Black and White

While we see the world in color, and most of our photographs reflect this vision, do not rule out the use of black and white as your medium. The contrast in whites, grays, and black offers terrific clarity to many objects or can create mind-bending shapes and contours that will not always be picked up by color.

In addition to creating defined outlines, black and white photography can enhance textures, highlight areas, and place focus on parts of a subject lost in color photography.

Black and White and How the Simple Creates the Surreal

As can be seen in these examples from Monovisions, black and white simplify a subject, bringing to the surface its real character and essence. While color creates candy for the eyes, it can also be distracting. Abstract photography, using black and white, allows the viewer to see the forest for the trees.

Superb examples of the use of black and white are also available in the street photography of Frank Andree. His use of light and shadow demonstrates the range of abstract photography in black and white.

The idea behind black and white and its application to abstract photography are at the basic level.  It forces us to see the world that is contrary to what our senses provide it on a regular basis.  It places us in a universe that lacks variation, which in turn, forces us to see a new one.

9. Make Your Camera Burst

In traditional photography, we learn about apertures and camera speed. We knew that after setting the focus and object range, we were finished with adjustments.  Once put in place, everything must remain as is. Abstract photography frees us from these parameters.

To create an abstract masterpiece, we must think that way as well. In this method, settings are not fixed but moved at the moment the picture is snapped. The Shaw Academy has created a tutorial on some of the best methods to achieve this effect

Using a Zoom Lens for Something Other than Close-ups

The best example of this method is known as a Zoom Burst. Standing in place and adjusting focal length while coordinating it with the shutter’s release can create stunning abstract photography. This technique will blur the surroundings while at the same time bringing a single subject into focus, producing a surreal world. Great examples can be found at the Visual Art Photography website.

Photography accessories are designed to give us access to certain effects. Bringing an object close-up or creating a wider frame are typical examples.  Yet creating an abstract photograph requires different thinking. By changing the approach of what these accessories were designed to do, we can gain access to an exciting world of visual arts.

10. Go for a Spin

Photography, above all else, should be fun. Nothing adds more of an element of fun than the technique of spinning your camera.

Though, similar to the Zoom Burst, the spinning creates an entirely different effect.  In Zoom Burst, the blurred lines are straight and move toward the subject. The subject remains in focus while creating the abstract impact surrounding it.

What the Spin Does to a Subject

In spinning, the subject is part of the abstract image. It bends the image, creating a sense of motion. The trick is to skew the subject enough to create an abstract effect without warping it so much that it is unrecognizable. 

The most effective way is to spin the camera on its axis while keeping shutter times between .5 and 15 seconds. Hold the camera in your hand when using this technique. The results can be dramatic and take a mundane subject and give it new life.  Photo Genius uses spinning with significant effect.

To get the desired result, you must experiment. Differing the subject matter will alter the effects.  Petapixel also has some fine examples of this method.

As children, we would spin to purposefully make ourselves dizzy. It was a way to warp our perspective of the world. This effect brings us back to those attempts and works just as well.

11. Choose Plastic

It is a material so common we rarely notice it. Objects such as plastic cups and utensils, rulers, phone cases, and even the bag your bread comes in are all plastics.  There is nothing unusual about it until you use a filter. Yet once you apply this apparatus, the results can be spectacular.

Photoelasticity and Bending Light

The technique is called Photoelasticity, and it is a unique way to stretch your abstract photography muscles. The plastics used in household items have stress points that bend light.  This light is not visible to the naked eye, but it becomes visible in a dazzling array of colors with the use of polarizing filters. The University of Washington provides a thorough study of this phenomenon.

The bending light creates a dazzling array of colors. It also rotates the richness, creating highlights in different areas. The pictures seen at Photo Extremist are fine examples.

Many photographers will only utilize lenses to access the abstract. Yet filters can be used with every bit as dramatic an effect. When considering methods, keep an open mind to the technology that is available.

Choosing a Technique

It is important to recognize that in abstract photography, there is no right and wrong.  It has no parameters, making it the most freeing of photographic art forms.  

The abstract world strives to create a different perspective. Utilize everything in your arsenal.  Change the angle, move your camera, move your subject, bend the light, change your settings, use various techniques, and above all, don’t adhere to strict old-fashion photography mandates.  To make images that are outside the normal, think outside the box.

If you found these tips helpful, let us know.  We value your opinion and want your thoughts on the information we provided. Leave your comments below. 

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