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Abstraction in photography is about capturing a subject or scene conceptually.

One effective way to accomplish this is by taking your photos in a way that makes the structure of an object less recognizable. This separation from the physical places more emphasis on line, form, texture, color and other metaphysical aspects of the scene.

One method that's often easy to use in “removing the physical” is to shoot through an object. You can employ this technique to distort or disguise the “real” forms of other objects or by simply taking advantage of the light passing through your subject.

In this lesson, we'll explore some of the ways that shooting through objects can help you create abstract photos from everyday settings.

Objects to Shoot Through

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There are a virtually unlimited number of possible objects to use, from photo filters to objects as simple as the broken glass in the opening photo of this tutorial. Note how it adds a random pattern of light and shadow while reducing the background objects to interesting areas of light and color.

Window panes, glass brick walls, fences and more can be used to establish patterns and distort objects in a similar fashion. Sheer fabrics can soften edges and add color casts. Water can be a very interesting choice. Even shooting through the subject itself, such as a leaf or flower petal, can reveal the forms and textures hidden within.

Examples

By now, you're probably thinking about how some of the objects nearby could be used. While you're thinking about it, let’s take a look at some examples of abstract photos that were created by shooting through various objects.

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As the image above illustrates, you don’t necessarily need to be underwater to enjoy the effects of shooting through it. The refraction and reflection of light caused by water can create wonderful, dynamic patterns against a bright background.

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The image above is an example of shooting through the subject itself to create an abstract. The strong backlighting de-emhpasizes the “real” form of the leaves and although a viewer will still know they are leaves, the focus is more on the intricate lines and subtle overlapping forms.

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The texture created by the raindrops on the window in the image above add visual interest, as well as the colorful bokeh created by the shallow depth of field. Both effects work together in this image for a very successful abstract.

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The image above shows how even a simple sheet of fabric can deliver a texture-rich and visually dynamic abstract by taking advantage of its translucency.

Final Thoughts

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Creating abstract images isn’t difficult if you grasp the concept of removing the emphasis on “real world” forms.

One simple way to achieve that is to shoot a scene through a transparent or translucent object to break up or distort the recognizable shapes. Some subjects can be abstracted by shooting through the object itself to reveal the lines and textures that lie within. Still others offer translucent properties that can color and model light passing through them for interesting abstractions.

Lesson Summary

  • Shooting through objects can help create abstract images by altering what we recognize as physical shapes to emphasize metaphysical properties.
  • There are a great number of common, transparent or translucent materials that can be used as “filters” to shoot through.
  • Many translucent subjects can be abstracted by shooting through them against a strong light source to build abstract compositions with their inner features.
  • Sheer and semi-sheer materials can be shaped and molded to build abstract forms with light as it passes through them.

Assignment

The assignment for this lesson is simple: find a translucent object through which you can shoot your photos. Doing so helps distort the reality of the scene, giving you plenty of fodder for an abstract image. Focus on color and light, patterns and textures, and see how each can be enhanced by blurring the lines by shooting through another object.

Further Study