Tips for Photographing Abstracts

Narrow in on the thing that makes your subject so interesting

When something captures my attention, but doesn’t have the right formula for a grand landscape (subject, background, light) I stare at it for awhile and try to determine what was so interesting that it stopped and made me look.  Then I focus in on that element and subtract out the rest.  For example, these three images are of rock patterns on a beach in Point Lobos.  We walked down to the beach on a cloudy overcast day.  It was tough shooting conditions for grand landscapes, but these rock patterns were really interesting.  I zoomed in on them, used Topaz Labs software to convert to a colorized black and white, and then selected three to form a triptych.

 Capture movement

At first these were “happy accidents”, now I intentionally move my camera or slow down my shutter to capture the blur of a moving subject.  I have been most successful when blurring my subjects lines moving in one direction, or helps to focus attention on the color.  For example, slowing down my shutter allowed me to create this image of seaweed moving under the surface of turbulent ocean waters and this image of sardines swimming in an aquarium.  Moving my camera up and down allowed me to create this abstract of a bamboo forest.

Get close

Peter is excellent at capturing the critical elements of a grand landscape.  For some reason, I cannot seem to manage all those different components so they create a focused and emotive composition.  I tend to do better with my 70-200mm zoom or my macro lens.  They allow me to get close, see things I wouldn’t have focused on otherwise, and create a unique view of the world.  I have difficulty making a good image of a rose; I try to capture the color and soft waves of the petals.  When I focused in closely, I was finally able to capture what I saw.

Focus on color and/or shapes

Distilling the subject down to it’s essence usually results in a focus on color or shape; and sometimes if you’re lucky both.  A great example is this abstract of the balloons at a balloon festival.  There were hundreds of balloons being inflated at the same time on a field that was acres and acres.  It was hard to capture this awesome experience from the perspective a grand landscape.  I decided to zoom in, and try to capture as many different colors and lines as possible in one frame.  In this image I have captured portions of six balloons – it would have had a much different feel if I had zoomed out and tried to capture them in their entirety.    I think this image of food coloring floating in water is a good example of combining color, shape and movement.  Lastly, is an image of a dew drop on a flower.  The soft focus and close range, really emphasizes the purple/green color combination and the shape of the dew drop.

Use symmetry

I discovered this by playing on my iphone.  Whenever I had a shape I liked, that wasn’t really an interesting subject I would duplicate it horizontally, vertically , and sometimes combine both ways.  The image below is of the airport ceiling in the Santa Ana airport.  I liked the shape and lines, but, its an airport ceiling.  When I created horizontal symmetry, and changed the hue/saturation, I started to get an interesting abstract that honed in on the shape and lines.

Look for reflections

I love reflections.  Whenever there is a shiny surface or a body of water, I stop and stare.  Peter usually knows it’s going to be awhile so he finds a diversion.  I call these “visual echos”, something real has been echoed and distorted.  This abstract is of green trees reflected in water; next to it is an image of the scene so you can get a sense of how I narrowed in on the reflection.

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