One thing you should know about abstract photography is that there are no rules WHAT SO EVER and as our multi-module photography course teaches, photography, especially abstract photography is about following your heart as well as your head.
For this reason, abstract photography can be great for experimentation and help you grow and learn as a photographer.
When you think about abstract art, names like Jackson Pollock or Mark Rothko might spring to mind.
These artist’s paintings are often seen as difficult to understand and at the same time evoke the reaction from the viewer of ‘well my cat could do that’.
A lot of the time abstract art requires the viewer to create meaning within the work and as a result is very subjective.
For us, the term ‘Abstract’ in both photography and art means trying to create an image of something that doesn’t exist.
When looked at this way it seems relatively easy but at the same time profoundly difficult. How can you create an image of something that doesn’t exist?
In this blog post, we hope to inspire you to pick up your camera and create an image of something that you never thought was possible.
You can find out more about abstract photography by signing up to our online course.
Click to quickly jump/navigate to each section
Is it for me?
Getting to grips with abstract photography can be really fun when you’re just starting your photography journey.
Equally, if you’re an experienced photographer it can be a great way to try something new and see where it takes you.
Having the ability to see day to day objects in a new light can really help you be more creative in all aspects of photography.
As we have already mentioned one of the great benefits of Abstract Photography is that the rules of photography are there to be broken.
With product photography, for example, the aim is to most accurately represent an object with the aim of selling it to the viewer. In a similar vein with wedding photography, you want to create images that show a happy in love couple.
However, with abstract photography, the chains are off and anything goes. The goal really is to create something that the viewer looks at and thinks ‘what on earth am I looking at here’.
Something to consider:
Want to learn more abstract photography techniques? Smart is the world’s leading online photography course offering in-depth training, mentoring and classes to creatives of any skill level.
If you want to improve your photography then be sure to sign up to Smart today!
John Suler in an essay entitled Photographic Psychology: Image and Psyche, said
“An abstract photograph draws away from that which is realistic or literal. It draws away from natural appearances and recognizable subjects in the actual world. Some people even say it departs from true meaning, existence, and reality itself. It stands apart from the concrete whole with its purpose instead depending on conceptual meaning and intrinsic form….Here’s the acid test: If you look at a photo and there’s a voice inside you that says ‘What is it?’….Well, there you go. It’s an abstract photograph.”
We love this quote and it opens up so many possibilities creatively for photographers. Whilst some photographers might find this idea quite liberating we understand that some can be intimidated by it because it allows so much freedom.
There is no need to feel this way when experimenting with your photography. Especially when abstract photography will open your mind to so much creativity and challenge you in new and exciting ways.
So Where Do You Start With Abstract Photography?
Getting started with any new photography project can be the hardest part. Your brain might be filled with all kind of ideas but you can’t find the motivation to kick start your latest project.
This is why abstract photography can be so liberating for a photographer. There are no set rules to conform to and it encourages you to play around with camera settings, subject matter and post-processing.
Below we have a few ideas about what you can do to improve your abstract photography as well as tips for making better images with the resources at your disposal.
Tips for Better Abstract Photography
Creative Post Processing
There are so many options when it comes to editing your photographs that it is a really natural fit for enhancing abstract photos.
From changing the colour to altering the crop or orientation the possibilities really are endless.
Increasing the saturation and contrast of an image particularly if it is already vibrant can really increase the visual impact of your photos.
Experiment with Shutter Speed
Reducing your shutter speed is one sure fire way to instantly create an abstract image of anything.
This works especially well with fairy lights in a dark room. As you take a photo move your camera around with a slow shutter speed and you will create crazy lines of light.
The longer you have the shutter open on your camera the crazier your image can get.
Minimalism and Maximalism
Play around with reducing the number of things to look at within the photos you create.
Very simple images can be the best kind of abstract photos as they force the viewer to focus their attention to a single element.
On the other hand, having lots of things going on within an image can also be highly effective.
It is a good idea to play around with both extremes and find what you find most visually satisfying.
Repetitive patterns can often make great abstract photos. Look for repeating lines, shapes and texture whether in architecture or the natural world to create otherworldly photos.
Amplifying the Everyday
Having the ability to look at everyday items as more than what they first appear is really important in abstract photography.
Raid your kitchen drawers and practice at home as pretty much anything can be used to create an abstract image.
Experiment with how you can photograph a random object so that it looks like something completely new.
Get Closer than Close
By really honing in on the particular thing you are photographing you can reduce the number of distractions within your photo.
Looking at an object in a new light is half the battle to create abstract images.
Having a Macro lens can be really useful for getting up close and personal and distorting reality with your camera.
Experiment with shooting through objects in order to alter your subject. Coloured sweet wrappers can be great to add a new hue to your images and blur what you are photographing.
Equally, try shooting through clear glass or a light bulb and see what results you get.
Oil and Water
Water and oil are not friends and don’t play well together. Because water repels oil it can make for some interesting patterns and look great on camera.
Adding food die or using coloured paper as a background will further abstract your images.
Distort Your Light
By combining different light sources you can add real intrigue and mystery to your abstract photography.
Use torches or flashes to alter what is lit and what is left dark in your images. Controlling the light allows you to have the optimum choice over the shadows and light within your photo.
If you were to utilise some of the other techniques such as shooting through a filter with a powerful light then the possibilities are endless.
Everyone loves bokeh right?! Try setting your camera’s aperture at its widest setting such as f/1.8 and set the focus to manual. Now deliberately take out of focus photos of light sources and you’ll be amazed at the crazy results.
Any Camera Will Do
With abstract photography, you don’t need to get hung up on having an amazing camera. A mobile phone will be capable of capturing amazing abstract compositions.
Equally because we generally always have our mobile phones with us it means we can capture ideas all the time, whether at work or out shopping.
You can always revisit these places with your main camera at a later date if you think it is necessary.
In the era of film photography, a double exposure would happen if you either forgot or deliberately didn’t wind the film on before your next shot.
Many cameras now offer this as an inbuilt feature and there are apps for your phone which can also produce this effect.
This is a great way to build abstract images as you layer your images with multiple shots.
Some Abstract Photographers You Should Check Out
– Aaron Siskind
– Wolfgang Tillmans
– Thomas Ruff
– Penelope Umbrico
– Barbara Kasten
– William Klein
– Hiroshi Sugimoto
– Kim Keever
– Ori Gersht
– Ellen Carey
– Man Ray
– Aaron Siskind
– Jackie Ranken
– Edward Weston
– Adam Fuss
– Frances Seward
– Harry Callahan
– Angie McMonigal
– Ola Kolehmainen
What Have We Learnt?
There really are limitless possibilities when it comes to abstract photography.
What we want you to focus on is experimentation and having zero fear to try something that might not work. After all, there is no right or wrong way of doing it.
Abstract photography really is something that anyone can try, from a beginner who has never picked up a camera before to a seasoned pro.
The important thing is that it challenges you to see and think differently about the photos you are taking.
We hope that this blog post has inspired you to get your camera out and start taking abstract photos.
If you want to learn more about abstract photography and other photographic disciplines then you can sign up to our online photography course and begin your road to capturing awesome images.
- BBC Programme on Abstract Art – The Rules of Abstraction
- Definition – Mastering Abstract Photos