This article was updated in December 2023 with contributions from Jaymes Dempsey and Charlie Moss.
Abstract flower photography can stop you in your tracks. But unfortunately, when it comes to abstract flower photography, you probably don’t know where to start. What equipment do you need? What techniques do you use?
The world of abstract flower photography can seem distant and difficult. But in my view, it’s no harder than any other genre of photography. It can be a lot more rewarding, though. You just need to know how to get started.
In this tutorial, you’ll learn the fundamentals of abstract flower photography. You’ll learn about the required equipment, as well as several key techniques for getting powerful abstract images. When you finish, you’ll be ready to go out and start applying these tips immediately.
Sound good? Read on.
What is abstract flower photography?
Abstract flower photography is all about capturing flowers as you don’t normally see them. It’s about photographing flowers in a way that the viewer doesn’t immediately recognize the flower.
That is, an abstract floral focuses not so much on the flower itself, but on parts of the flower: the curve of the petals, the color of the flower center, the play of light on the stamens.
To do powerful abstract flower photography, you have to stop thinking in terms of flowers, and start thinking in terms of shape, color, and light. This isn’t complicated. It’s easy to do, once you get the hang of it. The tips I share below will help you to do just that, so keep reading.
The best equipment for abstract flower photos
To get beautiful abstract flower images, you need two things: a camera and a close-focusing lens.
The type of camera doesn’t matter. These days, essentially all cameras are capable of capturing stunning images. In abstract flower photography, it’s the lens that counts.
So what lens do you need?
Any sort of macro lens will do. I’ve taken excellent abstract flower images with cheap, sub-300 dollar lenses. I’ve also used my much more expensive Canon 100mm f/2.8L lens.
And if you don’t already own a macro lens and you don’t want to invest in one, you can always grab close-up filters, which allow you to capture high-magnification images using the lenses you already own.
(What are close-up filters? They’re essentially a magnifying glass that screws into the filter thread on the front of your lens. Note: When you buy a set of close-up filters, you need to know what lens you’re going to use them on. This is because you buy them according to the filter size of that lens. I suggest picking either a standard zoom or a prime lens in the 50mm to 100mm range and purchasing your filters for the thread size of that particular lens.)
The thing is, abstract flower photography isn’t really about sharpness and perfectly rendered detail. It’s about composition, light, and color.
A tip worth mentioning is that the shorter the focal length of a macro lens, the closer you need to be to your subject to get life-size images. So, for instance, 60mm macro lenses can be a problem when you’re trying to get a close-up of a rose and you keep casting your shadow on the petals by accident.
You may have also heard that for abstract flower photography, you need a tripod.
I would disagree. I don’t use a tripod for abstract flower photography, myself because I find that it’s too limiting. I need to explore the flower through the lens, change my composition, take a few photographs, and change my composition again. You can’t do that with a tripod.
Tips for creating beautiful abstract florals
Have you got your camera and a close-focusing lens? If so, you’re ready for some quick and easy tips for stunning abstract flower photography.
1. Shoot on cloudy days
If you’ve done natural light macro photography before, you’ll know that you can get beautiful macro photographs at a few different times of the day. First, when it’s cloudy. Second, during the golden hours: just after sunrise and just before sunset.
For abstract photography, I recommend that you only shoot on cloudy days.
On cloudy days, the light is even, resulting in colorful, deeply saturated images. And in abstract photography, color is key. In fact, out of all the images featured in this article, all but one were taken on a cloudy day.
Once you become a more experienced abstract flower photographer, you can start to experiment with other types of light. But until then, stick to cloudy days. Your results will speak for themselves.
2. Get close. Really, really close!
In abstract flower photography, you cannot just take a snapshot of your subject. Your goal must be to show the viewer something new, something unexpected.
The way to do this is to get close. Really, really close.
As I said above, you must think in terms of shapes, color, and light. The way to start is to magnify your subject.
Take that macro lens and crank it up to its highest magnification setting (which should be 1:1, if you have a true macro lens). Then get close to a flower. Look through the viewfinder of your camera, and just move the lens around.
What do you see?
You probably won’t immediately notice a stunning composition. I spend a lot of time looking through my lens without taking any pictures. There’s a lot of experimentation involved, and that’s okay. Which brings us to my next tip:
3. Use a shallow depth of field
The depth of field is the amount of an image that is actually in focus.
Images with only a small amount of the subject in focus have a shallow depth of field. Images with a large amount of the subject in focus have a deep depth of field.
Depth of field is controlled by your camera’s aperture setting, also known as an f-stop. A low f-stop (f/1.4 to f/5.6) gives you a nice, shallow depth of field.
On most cameras, you will be able to choose your f-stop. For abstract flower photography, I usually keep it in the f/2.8-3.5 range but feel free to experiment a bit depending on your creative vision. Just keep that depth of field nice and shallow.
Why do I recommend having so little of the image in focus?
In abstract photography, you must photograph flowers so that the viewer doesn’t immediately see the flower. You must work in terms of light, color, and shapes.
By using a shallow depth of field, you emphasize those elements and take the focus off the flower itself. You shift the focus to the shape of the flower, the color of it, and the light falling on the flower.
4. Composition is key
Since abstract photography often takes a subject and then makes it unrecognizable, all you have left is the composition and colors. That means you need to start thinking about how to mix shape, lines, form, textures, and colors to express emotions or tell stories. You cannot rely on recognizable and familiar objects anymore.
There are many compositional rules out there to study and put into practice. I have always found it helpful to spend as much time as possible looking at other peoples art (both in galleries and online) and trying to understand what makes a composition pleasing. You don’t have to know all of the rules of composition by name. But having a sense of how the position of elements in the frame and the color wheel work together to create interesting compositions can be a huge help when shooting abstracts.
If you are shooting digital, don’t be afraid to capture multiple images of the same scene. Test out different compositions; for instance, try placing the main focus on different parts of the image (including blurry foreground elements) and see how different aperture settings look.
5. Look at the shape of the flower
As I mentioned above, it’s essential that you think about light, color, and shape.
Out of these three elements, I think that shape is most important in abstract flower photography. This is because flowers have naturally interesting shapes: sinuous curves, perfect circles, radiating lines.
The photographs are there. You just have to find them.
For instance, flowers tend to have such beautiful, soft petals. You can use these to your advantage in your photography. Think about the petals, not as parts of a flower, but as twisting lines. Try to see these shapes moving about through the flower.
Carefully set up a composition that uses these lines. Keep it simple—one or two lines is all you need.
Only once you’ve composed deliberately, keeping the shape of the flower at the forefront of your mind, should you take the image.
6. Use manual focus
I recommend turning your autofocus off. We’re going to be working with some really shallow depth of field and that means your camera will often lock the focus on to something you don’t want it to.
Instead, you can use your body to move the subject in and out of focus. Carefully lean a fraction closer or further away, and you’ll see different parts of the images go in and out of focus. It takes some practice to get the hang of, but after a while, it’ll feel really natural.
If you’re a little unsteady and struggle to get the right part of the image in focus, try shooting a burst of three or five images and select the best one later. You can also use a tripod if you want to (if it is a very still day with no wind). However, I find that a tripod can often hinder creativity when you’re trying to think fast and look for new and fascinating angles and compositions.
Abstract flower photography: final words
Capturing beautiful abstract photographs can be an intensely rewarding experience.
Make sure you have the right equipment. Then, if you shoot on cloudy days, get super close, use a shallow depth of field and, above all, think about the composition, you’ll be well on your way to taking stunning abstract flower photographs.
Have any more tips for abstract flower photography? Share them in the comments!
Table of contents
- ADVANCED GUIDES
- A Beginner’s Guide to Abstract Flower Photography
- CREATIVE TECHNIQUES