Abstract photography is an interesting topic to talk about. From the early days of photography, between the 19th and 20th centuries, to today’s digital images created with modern cameras and computers, the boundaries of this art form have expanded dramatically.
Art purists have different opinions regarding what photos can be defined as abstract. Abstract photography, just like abstract art, is one of those genres that can almost seem trivial to approach and easy to obtain. Understanding how to do it well, however, takes a bit of thoughts and knowledge of photography in its basic form and rules. As I always say, you can’t break the rules if you don’t know which rule are there to break. And this is true for photography and its abstract form too.
If you want to know more about abstract photography, in this article I’m going to try to give a simple (definitely non-exhaustive) definition of it and I’ll show you some of the techniques available techniques to create stunning abstract images with your camera.
Related: Abstract Landscape Photography
What is Abstract Photography
As the name would suggest, abstract photography is an incredibly wide field. Depending on the way it is photographed, any subject can become abstract. As a photographer, you are only limited by your imagination and vision when capturing abstract photographs.
A lot of abstract photography is about looking at your subject from a different perspective, both figuratively and literally. For example, if you shot something from top-down, it is a change in perspective. This allows the subject to have a new purpose and interpretation.
The best part about abstract photography is that there are no set guidelines. There are no hard and fast rules about framing or composition. It comes down to you, the photographer, and what you find interesting and eye-catching.
Key Elements of Abstract Photography
Although abstract photography doesn’t conform to strict rules like other genres, there are a few elements that you must be aware of. Using these elements in the right manner will help you shoot wonderful abstract shots that catches the eyes of your viewers.
Mystery: Abstract photographs give a sense of intrigue and mystery to the viewer. this element of mystery is what makes them want to look closer at a picture.
Simplicity: You may think abstract photography is all about making a photograph look as confusing as possible. The truth, however, couldn’t be more different. Abstraction is all about removing the distracting and puzzling elements of a photo, so that the result is easier to interpret.
Angle of View: Choosing the right angle of view will help you eliminate distractions. The angle will also help you frame your subject in a complementary manner.
Composition: Although typical rules don’t apply, a structured and clear composition forms the heart of any good abstract photograph. You must put in a lot of thought into the placement and order of the various shapes and patterns of the subject.
Harmony: Visual balance and proportions form a crucial part of any cohesive abstract photograph. For instance, if you have several vivid colors in a photo, muted colors can help balance it out, so that they don’t completely take up the viewer’s attention and focus.
Lighting: Lighting can dramatize and give prominence to certain elements of a photo if used correctly. For abstract photography, using silhouettes and shadows is an excellent way to create intrigue and interest.
Abstract Photography Techniques
Here are a few interesting techniques that can help you capture abstract pictures!
Anything that moves can appear as a blur in a photograph. Long exposure can be used to reveal motion that is typically not seen in normal circumstances.
Camera blur: If you are shooting a subject that does not move, adding a motion blue with your camera (or during post-processing) creates wonderful abstract results.
Water: The most common subject that you can use for a blurred effect is water. Water is always moving and is something you can find everywhere You can try long exposure shots with waterfalls, rivers, rainfall, and many more. The results are always incredibly eye-catching and mysterious.
Trails of light: The other obvious subject of long exposure shots are light trails of vehicles, trains, fireworks, and other moving objects that have light. Set long shutter speed, and you can capture some incredible looking long exposure shots with light!
Clouds: Although clouds are essentially just water, they deserve a special mention because of the way they move. On certain windy days, you may even chance upon swirling cloud patterns, which make for wonderful shots!
Macro photography is one of the more popular methods to capture abstract images. It is quite natural since the macroscopic world is something that is foreign to our eyes.
Macro shots of numerous day-to-day items are an excellent way to start off in this genre.
Bubbles: Bubbles are amazing to capture random textures and patterns. In addition to the incredible range of colors that are seen in them, they are the perfect subject for abstract macro photography.
Flowers: Macro shots of flowers are also something you can try out to capture some abstract shots. Most flowers have intricate patterns and vibrant colors that are stunning when seen up-close.
Feathers: Feathers are another item that have very interesting colors and patterns. Their natural texture makes them a great subject for abstract photography!
Rocks: Textures found on rock are superb subjects for abstract photography. These textures are smooth, angular, geometric, and jagged. What makes it even better is that its nearly impossible to know how big or small the subject is, which adds to the abstraction.
Water: Water is a superb subject for abstract photography, and also works great with macro shots. Ice, snow, raindrops, and still water can produce incredible effects that can be captured with a macro lens.
Nature has several intriguing patterns that are perfect for abstract photography.
Sand Dunes are just a series of textures, shapes and lines. These sweeping patterns appear differently depending on the light. They are an excellent choice of landscape for abstract photos.
Nighttime landscapes are another great choice since they give a surreal feel. Keep your eye out for some abstract elements and details to help you photo stand out.
Telephoto lenses can zoom into certain details of landscapes and make them appear important. You can easily isolate shapes, colors, and textures with a telephoto lens, something that isn’t possible with other lenses.
Related: Abstract Landscape Photography
Portrait photographs can also be made abstract using the magic of post-processing.
Digitally manipulating photos to give unique effects will make even the most normal portraits become high-interest pieces. Adobe Lightroom is an incredible tool that can help you add amazing effects to your portraiture. Tiling, vibrant colors, and interesting textures are some simple ways to create abstract portraits!
Now that you have a much better understanding of the techniques and elements that constitute abstract photography, give it a try!
Stefano Caioni is a photographer from Sydney, Australia. Founder and editor of Pixinfocus, his passion for photography helps him explore new places and live new adventures. Thanks to photography he reconnected with the outdoors and was able to travel the world and take photos of some of the most beautiful places on Earth.