Since I began making pictures on film in the mid-nineteen nineties, I have been fascinated with abstract imagery. Back then, mostly it was by accident… an errant frame here and there, missed focus, motion blur, etc.
In the days of film, you truly never knew how your film was going to turn out. Light leaks, camera malfunctions, lab errors… these were all distinct, albeit not common, potentialities.
Now, I make a point to blur an image with motion, or purposefully shift out of focus, for effect and to convey emotion. It’s simply another useful tool by which to create something. Even a feeling.
Whether intentional or not, abstract photography can be powerful.
The world is full of incredible shapes, textures, and colors. As a photographer, you can remove the context of an image to allow the viewer to see something completely new.
If you are interested in trying out this way of seeing and shooting, here are some helpful ways to start.
Look for textures, patterns, lines, and shapes
In the world of nature, there are textures, patterns, lines, and shapes everywhere if you train your eyes to see them. For me, it takes an intentional action to begin walking slower and looking for these details. But once you dial in to that frequency, you may find it hard to stop!
Seeing minute details will allow you to create lovely abstractions. And you really don’t have to have a specific macro lens, though it can be helpful. The main point is to get down into the minutia. Get close with whatever lens you can. Leave all the distractions out of your frame and simplify what the viewer sees.
Use motion and manual focus to blur your subject
This technique is the most difficult to achieve at a high level, and it’s also my favorite! Use a slower shutter speed and experiment with purposefully moving your camera. Try up and down, left to right, swirling, etc. See what works and what doesn’t. Create new shapes and blended colors with what’s before you.
Aside from motion blur, set your lens to manual focus and start playing. It often works really well to shoot into the light when trying this technique. It will create shapes, and accentuate color, as I’ll mention in the next section.
Experiment with light
Backlight is my absolute favorite. And in combination with one of the other techniques, like motion blur or blurred focus, backlight can really come alive. As mentioned above, it will accentuate color and shapes, in this case lines.
With the advent and availability of drone photography, it has opened a whole new realm to the casual photographer to be able to experience perspectives only seen before by those with access to aircraft. Aerial abstraction is powerful when the light is right and the subject compelling. I’ve only recently bought a drone, so I have a way to go, but I’m loving learning and experimenting!
Again, shooting abstracts is a way to expand the way we see and convey feeling to our viewer. It is simply another tool in the toolbox of visual art and photography. Exercise this muscle by practicing the way you see, and I’m sure you will find it quite fulfilling and enjoyable.