Abstract photography, otherwise known as non-objective, conceptual, or experimental photography, is a tricky subject. According to Wikipedia, abstract photography is “a means of depicting a visual image that does not have an immediate association with the object world and has been crafted through the use of photographic equipment processes or materials”.
So basically, abstract photography is image-making that doesn’t aim to represent reality but rather visually explores the components that construct conventional subject matter.
To seek out abstract photography in any opportunity, you must shift your focus away from describing the world in a literal way, focusing on line, shape, form, space, color, contrast, pattern and texture instead. These elements come together to create an image that explores the way you appreciate your visual environment.
Here are a few tips to finding opportunities for abstract photography, wherever you are!
Previsualization in photography is a skill where a photographer “sees” the outcome of an image before it is taken. By breaking down a potential image in your mind’s eye, you can dissect a scene, prioritizing the best possible visual results.
This is especially useful in abstract photography, where the outcome of a photograph sometimes isn’t immediately obvious.
Previsualizing will help you make the most of any potential photographic opportunity. Imagine encountering a fence for example. You could easily photograph the fence line and move on, but your photograph won’t be very engaging. Or, you could mentally analyze the fence’s structure, breaking it down into abstract categories (color, shape, line, pattern, etc.) to take advantage of the scene and exploit it to its full potential.
Macro photography is an especially unique form of photography, illuminating what often goes unseen to the naked eye. Provided you have a macro lens, extension tubes, or even a magnifying glass, one of the best things about abstract macro photography is that you can get an interesting result photographing just about anywhere.
Abstract macro photography is a great opportunity to focus on subtle details in a scene without being overly concerned about representing a specific subject. Focusing on abstracted aspects such as color and shape rather than the subject means you can explore the building blocks of an image visually.
Look for lines
Abstract photography focuses on the naked ingredients of image making, but sometimes this means a change-up in your photographic approach. One great way to tease out abstract photographic opportunities is to focus on a compositional technique. For example, focusing on lines will reveal opportunities you may have passed over before.
As one of the most basic elements of composition, lines are an extremely powerful tool in visual art. Lines that guide a viewer’s eye around an image (also known as leading lines) are a way to point towards a specific subject or highlight the geometry of a scene. They can also add a sense of urgency with straight, abrupt lines or lend a sense of calm or peace with softer, curved lines.
Concentrating on lines will reveal new opportunities in any environment, all you have to do is look.
Seek out texture
Texture in photography is one of the most under-utilized compositional tools. Exploring texture creates an image that people can “feel” in their mind. The feeling of touch appeals to a viewer’s understanding of the world.
By incorporating texture into an abstract photograph, you are connecting to an audience’s knowledge of how the world behaves under the sense of touch. And because most things feel like something, there are plenty of opportunities for textural abstract photography. Try looking for peeling paint, roughed up wood or dried leaves.
Color is all around us, it’s a universally powerful tool of communication. For example, psychologically, yellow has associations with joy and energy, whereas green is associated with nature and calm. It’s just the same in abstract photography.
Focusing on color investigates our associations with the environment around us. It transcends abstract subject matter to connect with a viewer on a psychological level.
Making color the center of interest in your photography will reveal new and unusual abstract subject matter too. Objects that may seem boring or mundane come alive with a bit of color, creating unusual and interesting abstract photography.
The scope of abstract photography is exciting and endless. Although it’s exact meaning is hard to define, abstract photography provides space for creativity and experimentation.
It’s the perfect excuse to shake up your photographic practice, all you have to do is look! Please share some of your abstract photos in the comments below.