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Abstract Photography: 5 Tips for Beginners

by Harvey Cheyne
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For those looking to expand their photography skills beyond mere documentation, abstract photography is a wonderful way to elevate your photos into art. Abstract photography is a photographic style that lacks an identifiable object or subject. Much like abstract art, the key elements of abstract images are an arrangement of formal elements that convey a feeling, mood or expression.

For amateur photographers, abstract photography is an easy practice that, with a little experimentation and observation, can transform the ordinary into something beautiful and aesthetically transcendent. These are a few tips and techniques to get you started in the art of abstract images.

Composition

Composition is one of the most important tools in the abstract photographer’s kit. Since there is no “subject” to look at, the arrangement of shapes and color in the frame is what makes the image interesting. Pay close attention to the objects and lines in your picture. Are they balanced? How is the viewer’s eye led around the picture? What lines do they follow? Does it feel captivating or mundane? If it feels dull, try rearranging the objects in the frame or shifting the position of your camera to get a different view.


Learn the basics of abstract photography and more with photographer John Greengo. Watch now.


Motion/Blur

Blurry photos are often considered mistakes, but in the world of abstract photography, they are a valuable stylistic technique to achieve that abstract quality. An easy way to create compelling, impressionistic photos is to use “Motion Blur” to your advantage. Manually set your “Shutter Speed” slower (anywhere between 1/30 and 2 seconds), then move your camera or the subject while taking the picture. Suddenly, a colorful object will transform into a paintbrush that follows your movement. Try rotating your camera in a clockwise motion for a swirling effect. Or try moving it towards the subject for a radial, “zooming in” effect. Experiment with lights at night for luminous, streaking effects. Test different “Shutter Speeds” and different types of motion.

Abstract photography

For another technique, lock your camera on a tripod, grab a flashlight and set your “Shutter Speed” anywhere between 2 and 10 seconds. Have a friend stand in front of the camera and move a flashlight through the air. The resulting photo will show light trailing the flashlight’s movement. Try longer exposures and different colored light for Jackson Pollock type images. It’s literally painting with light!

Close-up

Sometimes- to find amazing subject matter for amazing abstract photographs, take a closer look. A whole new world of abstract ideas including textures, shapes and patterns will emerge when you put your camera nearer to your subjects. This will quickly strengthen the visual impact of your abstract works.

Abstract photography

Start by exploring everyday objects and nature close-up. The grooves of tree bark or dried mud can look like otherworldly canyons, blades of grass might take on the shape of a dense forest, and soap bubbles transform into galaxies. Try filling the frame with one small part of an object, study its lines and form. Can you make an interesting composition out of it? Is it even more interesting the closer you get?  You’d be surprised at how beautiful something as simple as a leaf can be if you get close enough.

Abstract photography

An investment in a “Macro Lens” will allow you to get even closer, increasing the potential to find abstract imagery in the small. But if buying or borrowing is not an option, detaching your lens from your camera body and holding it against your camera backward is an easy alternative.

Distortion

Shoot through objects that twist, stretch or obscure the visual field — try transparent objects like glass cups, prisms or wet windows. Experiment with holding them at different angles and different exposures. Shoot into reflective objects like mirrors, hubcaps or even puddles. Using makeshift lenses like these can distort and refract the world into some pretty unrecognizable and stylized images.

Context

Take things out of context. Abstract photography is as much about what you don’t show as what you do. Focus on only the shape or pattern of something rather than trying to capture the whole thing. Focus on the surface of the water rather than the whole river. Focus on scratches of the wood rather than the whole table. If you are taking a photo of a factory building, focus only on the smokestacks. All of a sudden you have an abstract study of light and form.

Abstract photography is an easy artistic practice with a limitless creative reward for anyone looking to expand their photographic vocabulary. Experimenting with these abstract techniques will not only lead to great photos, but will also help develop your observational skills and make you a better photographer. So grab your camera and get shooting!


Learn the basics of abstract photography and more with photographer John Greengo. Watch now.


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Harvey Cheyne