- Abstract Photography Techniques
- These Breathtaking Drone Photos Turn Landscapes Into Abstract Masterpieces
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"Art is not what you see, but what you make others see." - Edgar Degas
"Fill a space in a beautiful way." - Georgia O'Keeffe
"In whatever one does there must be a relationship between the eye and the heart." - Henri Cartier-Besson
"I shut my eyes in order to see." - Paul Gauguin
Abstract art has existed in many forms throughout the ages. Painted abstract art can vary from a slightly altered vision of a realistic view such as the impressionism of Van Gogh’s Starry Night or Monet’s idyllic scenes to a seemingly randomised series of drops and splatters such as a Jackson Pollock canvas to an extremely vivid capture of reality such as a soup can from Andy Warhol.
Abstract photography ideas can also vary over a wide range. Many ideas for abstract photography take cues from the world of classic and modern art paintings. Other abstract photography ideas are unique to the art and craft of photography itself, taking advantage of modern technology and processes.
Abstract photography subjects exist everywhere, sometimes we simply need to see the scene in front of our lens with a different set of creative thoughts. Here are some abstract photography ideas you can try out for yourself.
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Patterns are everywhere We can use patterns found naturally or create our own for abstract photography subjects. The Golden Spiral or Fibonacci Sequence composition technique is tailor made for abstract photography, such as a close up view of a sunflower.
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Lines may be straight or they can be non linear such as highlighting the lines on a person’s face by careful light placement and exposure when taking abstract photography portraits.
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What do a human body and a mountain stream have in common? They are both great places to look for curves to use in abstract photography. Figure studies or nude photography can isolate curves in order to create an abstract image.
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Photography is literally defined as “drawing with light,” and light tends to create shadows in real life. We can make the shadow itself the subject of our abstract photography or add it in prominently to other styles of photography for an abstract image.
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We create high key images by lowering the contrast of a scene and exposing to accentuate highlights. We can find it occurring naturally and alter exposure to take advantage of it, or we can cause it ourselves with light placement such as we might do in romantic portrait photography.
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Chiaroscuro is a lighting technique used to increase contrast and is often used for dramatic portraits. Think Rembrandt lighting to get the idea of how it works. Any subject, a portrait, a building, a flock of seagulls, can be made into abstract photography by applying this technique, especially if applied in extreme measure.
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A prime example of chiaroscuro is exposing for a silhouette view of a subject. Figure studies can take advantage of this as can other subjects. Just think of objects not usually represented in silhouette and use that subject for an abstract photography image.
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Reflections can occur in glass, polished surfaces, or water. Textured reflections add distortion that can be enhanced or minimised for an abstract look. Combined with other effects, you can find reflections in unexpected places, such as the eye of a portrait subject or a chrome bumper on a classic car.
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This method seems to really work well with lights or a scene with very specular highlights. You move the camera with a relative slow shutter speed. A circular motion along the axis of the lens is a fun variation.
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Implied motion can cover a lot of variables. Anything that stops an action in progress can imply the motion without actually showing it and result in an abstraction. High speed strobes or capturing the peak of action accomplish this method.
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Anything higher contrast than the chiaroscuro method described in low key imaging will appear quite abstract. You can employ this for abstract photography portraits. Or use your skills with the Zone System for black and white abstract photography, perhaps limiting the image elements to only high and low zones with no midtones. You might need to adjust during post processing to make it really obvious.
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Color contrast and color composition make interesting subjects on their own. In wildlife or nature photography, cropping in on a particular aspect of the subject can yield amazing images. Things such as a bird feather, a fish scale, or a piece of produce become abstract areas of color when viewed close up
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There are multiple ways to make this happen. Use a color filter, post process into a color tone, add color gels to the lighting, or simply look for a one color subject.
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Selective color effects are usually made in post processing. You turn everything except the single color main subject into black and white. You could also do this with lighting, but the effect will probably be a bit more subtle.
Black and White
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A black and white image can be abstract in a lot of ways. It can be high contrast, low contrast, focused on shadow and light or patterns, or simply an unusual view of an otherwise familiar subject. You can set your camera for recording a B&W file or change a RAW file or JPEG in post processing.
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High Dynamic Range produces images that can either appear completely natural, look radically different from reality, or anywhere in between. You will need to use post processing to get the full effect of HDR even if your camera has an HDR setting.
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Lens choice can turn a subject into an abstract photography image. The heavy distortion of fish eye lenses make many items look odd, especially when used very close up. There are also post processing options for changing an existing picture into a fish eye effect.
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The extreme foreshortening of very long telephoto lenses can become very abstract in appearance. Adding in selective focus techniques can exaggerate the effect.
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The world of macro photography is open to almost anyone with a DSLR or mirrorless camera and their kit lenses, though you may also have a specialty macro lens or lens filters (AKA diopters) for very close focusing. Closing in on a subject or smaller elements of a subject can create an abstract feel.
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Everything said about macro photography applies even more so to photomicrography, the practice of extreme close up photography. Magnification ratios of 20 times lifesize and greater will reveal aspects of the subject that are not able to be seen with the naked eye. The very nature of these images are abstract to our normal perception of objects.
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Since we do not see in 360 degree vision with the naked eye, a 2D representation of a full or even partial panorama will appear as abstract.
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Also known as pseudo solarization, this effect changes colors and light and dark by either predetermined or adjustable amount, depending on which program is used for it. It mimics a real chemical reaction to sunlight of film and paper based emulsions.
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Remember those old color color negative films? You can use your post processing program to change your color images by reversing the colors in a way that mimics those old strips of negatives.
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Fun ideas for abstract photography can be made with a flashlight on a dark night. You open the shutter and then either point the light at parts of the view or actually walk through the scene while holding the light.
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Point your camera at the celestial north or south poles and leave the shutter open for about an hour. Viola! Instant abstraction that looks like a heavenly Spirograph. You can also simply do long exposure night photography and let the stars streak in the sky without centering on Polaris or that fun blank spot in the southern hemisphere.
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While processing into a B&W image, you can adjust for a faux infrared rendition. Alternately, you can use a camera adjusted to record in actual infrared. The B&W infrared image changes things in interesting ways, such as green leaves turning bright white and a clear sky turning black. Color infrared has even more variables.
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Another motion effect with long shutter speeds is to zoom the lens focal length during the exposure. This causes an interesting streaking and multiple image effect that looks quite abstract.
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Abstract photography doesn’t have to change reality to something unrecognizable, you can slightly alter reality to end up with abstract photography images. Extreme depth of field and selective focus can alter an image just enough to qualify.
Have Fun With It!
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The whole purpose of abstract photography art is to exercise our creativity, to see how we can adjust the world around us to fit into our ideas of art. Try out some of these ideas and have fun with it!