Abstract photography offers a real test of a photographer’s skill, creativity, and imagination that sets it apart from other genres. There’s nothing quite like coming home from a photo shoot knowing you’ve nailed every element – the camera settings, the lighting, the composition, as well as capturing the specific mood or expressing an idea. However, anyone who’s tried abstract photography has also probably experienced the disappointment that comes when a technical error, bad composition, or misjudged lighting spoils a shot.
Both technically and artistically, there’s always plenty to think about when creating abstract images, but if you can go into a photo shoot armed with a few ideas, the job gets a lot easier.
Today I will show you a few tips and ideas that are guaranteed to produce great abstract images. I’ve been practising these ideas in hundreds of photoshoots, and now you can take great abstract images too!
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Think about colour association
Colour plays a huge part in the look and feel of your abstract photographs. Look for ways to associate the colour of the subject with the surroundings, and with the message or idea you want to create.
Look for complementary colours (red/green, blue/orange, or yellow/purple) to achieve vibrant compositions or analogous colours for a more quiet and relaxing mood.
Look for reflections
Look around and you’ll find shiny surfaces everywhere.
Puddles, windows, mirrors, lakes and wet surfaces can all be used to liven up your composition by including a reflection of your subject. Think about how can you show the reflecting surface, the reflection, or both, creatively.
Pay attention to the background
If you break down an abstract image into different parts, then the two main elements are typically the subject and the background, and these should be regarded as equally important. No matter how carefully you craft the lighting and how creative you will be with your subject, if the background looks a mess then the shot is going to be ruined. If in doubt, keep it simple with a plain backdrop. And if you can’t do this, look for ways to minimise a busy background, or use it to lead the viewer’s eye towards your subject.
One of the compositional tools that is especially useful for abstract images is the use of leading lines. Look for natural lines in your scene that are straight or curved. These lines can be used to draw the viewer’s eye through the frame and towards the focal point of your image.
Frame with confidence
An interesting frame can make your images more dynamic, so don’t be afraid to crop, or position the subject right on the very edge of the frame. There are no rules when it comes to framing your image – it’s all about whether the image feels right to you.
Keep it simple
If you’re ever stuck for an idea, the best course of action is to keep it simple.
The strength of abstract image lies in its simplicity, so don’t try to show off too much with flashy techniques and visual tricks. Concentrate on getting the basics right: mood, expression, lighting, and background.
Use shallow depth of field
When it comes to creating an abstract art, one of the easiest techniques to use is selective focus.
To do this in-camera you need to create a shallow depth of field. Open the lens’s aperture as wide as it will go (to the lowest f-number, such as f2.8) for minimum depth of field. Another factor is distance; the farther things are from your point of focus, the more blurred they’ll be. If you want your background to be more blurry, move both the camera and the subject further away from it.
A technique to expose the same frame twice or more has long been used to create beautiful images. Some digital cameras enable you to create the effect with a multiple exposure mode. Check your instruction manual to see if this possible on your camera.
Alternatively, you could blend two or more images in Photoshop or similar software.
Use a zoom blur effect
A zoom blur effect can create a sense of movement and drama in your images, as well as drawing the eye straight to the focal point. Using a zoom lens, twist the zoom barrel during the exposure to create streaks of blur. For the best result, frame your subject centrally and use a shutter speed of around 1/10 sec.
If you don’t have a zoom lens you can use Photoshop’s Radial Blur filter (filter > Blur > Radial Blur) set to Zoom to add a similar effect to your image.