Have you ever seen a photograph that has inspired a strong reaction in you, but you’ve not been able to decipher exactly what the subject is? It features definite shape and contrast, possibly color and texture, but still, the subject is elusive. This is abstract photography, and it’s a brilliantly challenging but fulfilling artistic medium that you will undoubtedly want to explore further.
What is abstract photography?
Abstract photography describes images that aren’t realistic or what we might define as “traditional.” Try as hard as you can, but you won’t be able to determine precisely what you’re looking at or what was used to create the photo. Abstract images are intended to provoke a response or inspire emotion, but they do so without having a discernible subject. An abstract picture might leave you feeling joyous or give you shivers down your spine without focusing on something specific.
What to Consider When Taking Abstract Photos
The key to abstract photography is considering the different balancing elements within an image. First of all, you should be thinking about shape, not subject. It’s about form over function if you like. Try to imagine an abstract photo as a wildly zoomed-out or zoomed-in view of the world.
Light and Shadow
Much of abstract photography is a play on light and shadow, so always look for the interplay between light and dark. You might find that the stark contrast between bright and dark makes the photo itself. But you might also find that shadow enhances the feeling you are trying to provoke in an abstract image; shadows can create an echo, or an outline, for example. Silhouettes can create beautiful semi-abstract images where you can just about determine the original subject, but it’s obscured sufficiently, so it’s not the precise focus of the photo.
With most genres of photography, clarity is the aim. Photos are meant to convey a clear message that is easy for the viewer to interpret. With abstract photography, you are at liberty to indulge in mystery. Your subject does not have to be clear and obvious. The content does not need to be immediately recognizable. Instead, you are using your image to provoke an emotional response, and mystery is the perfect vehicle for that.
An abstract image containing too many competing elements can confuse your audience. So aim to simplify your picture so that only the key elements remain.
Do not be afraid to experiment with post-processing abstract images. Black and white photography is the first change you should experiment with. This can help simplify an image, emphasize textures, and promote the contrast of light and shadow. However, there are a great many options open to you, from cropping and adjusting the contrast to applying split-toning effect or blur masks.
Balance of Opposites
Perhaps the easiest abstract photography tip to remember is to focus on the balance of opposites. Look for where vibrant meets subdued, where wet clashes with dry, where hard and soft combine, how light and shade interact, how dynamic and static balance and where warm and cool embrace.
6 Abstract Photography Ideas
If you’d like to try it, but feel that a few abstract photography examples or tips would help you on your way, why not try these?
1. Focus on the Everyday
You do not need to venture far to find the abstract. Look at the walls of your home. How do the textures interact? Head to your fruit bowl. What shapes do different fruits nestled against each other form? How do their colors interact with each other? Open your refrigerator. Do you maybe have some blue cheese in there? Study the veining of it. The patterns. The lines. The textures. The colors. It’s all ripe for abstract photography.
2. Engage With Composition
You can expose yourself to abstract photography quite quickly by engaging with different compositional techniques. Think about leading lines and how they divide and draw the eye through the frame. Consider negative space and how balancing your frame gives it a certain weight. If you’re interested in architecture photography, you’ll often find it an excellent source of abstract images, where you look for frames-within-frames, the interaction between lines and curves or the evidence of repeated patterns.
3. Macro Makes It Easy
One of the quickest and easiest ways to create an abstract image is to get very close to a familiar subject. Suddenly, something that was simple to identify may become utterly recognizable. Grab a macro lens and start shooting!
4. Try DIY “Filters”
Shooting “through” things can really alter our perception of what’s on the other side. You don’t need to use specific photography filters to photograph abstract pictures. Net curtains, textured glass, colored plastic and drinking vessels can all bend light and provide a layer of obscurity to abstract your subject and create unusual images.
5. Capture Motion
Things in motion can appear naturally abstract. So slow down your shutter speed and see how flowing or running water looks. Speed up your shutter speed to capture bubbles bursting.
6. Play With Your Camera Settings
It’s very easy to use your camera itself to create abstract images. Slow down your shutter speed to capture motion blur deliberately. Slightly defocus your lens so that edges are softened. Up the ISO to create lots of noise. Use a very large aperture to create only a sliver of the image in sharp focus. Abstract photos are sitting right in your camera.
Taking a photo without an obvious subject might feel as if it defeats the purpose of photography when images are about recording moments in time. But when you realize the power of abstract photography to provoke emotions and inspire feelings within people–while simultaneously creating something beautiful–it becomes a compelling form of photography that you can practice wherever you are and whatever you are photographing.