Five Techniques for Creating Impressionist or Abstract Photography


Whether you are new to photography, or have been photographing for a while, I’m sure you’ve gone through times when the ideas weren’t flowing, and inspiration was nowhere to be found. This happens to all of us. So how do you find ways to stay inspired and get the creative juices flowing again? Try abstract or impressionist photography. Finding inspiration isn’t about stepping outside of your box, it’s about stretching your limits, and abstract photography is the best way to learn to see things in a completely new and different way.

1 Look for shapes Irys by Eva Polak

Abstract and impressionist photography leave things to the imagination and help you concentrate on texture, form, and colour. Instead of making everything look real, I invite you to use bold colours, shapes, and lines to make exciting images.

So let’s start exploring the creative process of abstract photography. Here are five easy techniques that will help you to learn new skills and get your creative juices flowing.

1. Look for shapes, patterns and textures

As you go about your daily activities, notice the shapes around you. Your house is full of interesting shapes, patterns and textures that can be used to make abstract photos. Look closely at different objects around you and consider whether there are any reoccurring shapes or themes within the object – then use them to your advantage. Lines can be used very effectively in a photograph, as the eye will tend to follow a line through a shot. Look at the undulating pattern the wave makes (see below), as it breaks into shore. In the city, look for patterns formed by the buildings. Discover different textures in flowers arrangements in the park (see photo above).

1 Look for shapes Waves by Eva Polak

2. Look for reflections

Reflections are one of the best ways to create abstract and impressionist photography. If you look carefully, you’ll see they are everywhere. As you walk around, look for smooth surfaces. Think about how you can use reflections to capture a viewpoint that you simply couldn’t have shot otherwise. Pay attention for colourful reflections in rain-soaked streets, they will create shimmering images with an impressionistic quality. Also, still lakes and rivers can create some wonderful reflective surfaces. When a surface is textured or shaped, unusual and interesting reflections can appear.

2 Reflection Seagull by Eva Polak

2 Reflections Rainy streets by Eva Polak

3. Defocus

Pulling the lens out of focus is a quick way to give a scene an impressionistic look. Use Aperture Priority mode that allows you to set your lens to the widest aperture (small numbers such as f/2.4 or f/4). This is critical because you want a very shallow depth of field. Switch your lens to manual focus and start looking at things through the camera. Turn the focus ring until everything is blurry. Try varying the focus on the same scene to find out how much blur suits your subject best.

3 Defocus Lonly  by Eva Polak

3 Defocus Swimmers by Eva Polak

4. Pan your camera

Panning is a fun technique to learn, and although it takes some practice, it is relatively easy to get started. You can pan running people, bicycles, cars, or just about anything that is moving. Once you have your subject, set the camera to shutter priority with the shutter speed between 1/10th and 1/60th of a second. As your subject approaches, focus on it and start tracking with your camera until you are confident that you are moving in sync with the subject.

4 Pan your camera Flight by Eva Polak

The trick to a successful camera-panning image is in finding a suitable subject. Strong vibrant colours are ideal, and lines through the frame will keep the colours distinct and separated. Apart from panning moving subjects you can use this technique to create beautiful seascapes and landscapes. The subject distortion will emphasize horizontal lines when panning horizontally, and vertical lines when panning vertically.

4 Pan you Camera  Wattle Bay  Eva Polak

5. Zoom

A zoom burst, or zoom blur, is another technique which is simple, fun, and easy to achieve. It involves changing the focal length of your lens (zooming in or out) while you take a photo, causing the shot to blur from the centre outwards, as if the scene is bursting towards you.

5 Zoom Water lily by Eva polak

To use this technique you’ll need a DSLR (or mirrorless camera) with a zoom lens. Set your camera to Shutter Priority. A shutter speed of 1/10th of a second is a good starting point. Compose your photo as you normally would, then just zoom the lens as you press the shutter. The key to success with this technique is to get the amount of zoom burst right. Experiment with zooming speed and direction.

5 Zoom Autumn Leaves by Eva Polak

Spend some time with each technique to discover its full potential. Photograph a lot and often. Don’t judge what you do. Analyze your images and try to improve upon them. But, most of all, have fun!

Tips to remember:

  • Keep an open mind; abstract photography is about seeing the potential in things that other people miss.
  • Spend time exploring everyday subjects and scenes; it’s surprising how many interesting abstracts you will find.
  • Look at familiar things from unfamiliar angles, and you will see them in a completely different light.
  • Forget about what something really is and concentrate on its shape and colour.

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Eva Polak is a photographer, artist, author and teacher, and is well known for her enthusiasm and passion for impressionist photography. She is an author of three books which are outlining ways to use your camera for painterly effect. Eva has had three solo exhibitions and has participated in a variety of group exhibitions. Her photographs are in private collections in New Zealand, Australia and Europe. As an educator, Eva has passed on her knowledge and experience to keen photographers through a variety of workshops.

  • Dan Cassat

    Perfect timing on this article! You’ve given me good starting ideas for my next adventure.

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  • Eva Polak

    I’m so glad Dan. 🙂

  • Thanks for the great article! Unusual techniques! I really like the defocus idea though!


  • J Public

    Thanks for the tips. Something else I’ve found entertaining is attaching the camera to various cord & rope combinations and keeping the shutter open while it swings (e.g. pendulum) or twirls around.

  • Maggie G

    I enjoy looking for opportunities to add a bit of abstract to my photos. Keeps it interesting

  • Eva Polak

    You are very welcome NVeal

  • Eva Polak

    So true Maggie.
    Love your work 🙂

  • Eva Polak

    If you brave enough to do it with your camera.

  • Eva Polak

    Nice work Jean-Paul!

  • Eva Polak


  • I love the ghostliness of this image

  • Thanks Darlene!

  • Thanks Eva!

  • Bruce

    4th of July fireworks

  • Eva Polak

    So different and effective!

  • Bruce robertson

    4th of July

  • Anna

    It’s been a terrific autumn for this sort of photography.

  • Abstract photography has become a favorite of mine. A little imagination can sometimes go along way. He is what I have done using simple strips of paper and using Lightroom.

  • glenn smith

    Enjoyed your article with some great advice. Lots of fun

  • Eva Polak

    Thank you Glenn

  • Eva Polak

    Yes Autumn is a great time for abstract photography. Full of colour! 🙂

  • Eva Polak

    Great work Frank!

  • Thank you very much Eva. I enjoyed your article.

  • Rob

    I personally prefer a more crisp photo, but I fully understand the impressionistic aspects and what they can bring. One trick I like for more static images is to make a composite of the blurred/zoomed or panned background with a still in sharp focus pasted in front.

  • Christine Majul

    I have found that things in nature can be made into an abstract like this log I found on a beach in Bremerton, WA. I just focused closely on the root system and made an abstract out of it. Unless I told you it was a felled log, you would never know it. I have used that as a wall hanging just because of the colors and the shapes.

  • Eva Polak

    Oh Wow! That’s a perfect example of abstract image Christine!

  • Eva Polak

    Thank you for the tip Rob. There is so many ways to express yourself through abstract photography. Here I only presented 5 simple techniques. I think the most important part is to try this kind of photography and find the aesthetic that you like. 🙂

  • Christine Majul

    Thank you Eva, it was just begging t be taken as the whole log at so many angles and possibilities for abstracts.

  • Judith Laguerre

    I really enjoyed this article Eva! I love how out of the box techniques inspire such creativity.

  • I actually tried this last weekend for the first time and had so much fun I can’t wait to do it again! 🙂

  • Eva Polak

    Great work Judith!

  • Eva Polak

    Wow, beautiful!

  • Eva Polak

    Yes, Great spot!

  • Thank you Eva! <3

  • walwit

    In this kind of photography, Is there any way to qualify a picture as good or bad? or is purely a subjective matter, because I like very much some of the images in this post but others -if they were mine- I’d have deleted immediately.

  • Eva Polak

    This is a great question walwit!
    All art is subjective, but you already know what you like and dislike.
    You need to ask yourself a question: what is it in these pictures that you like? Then study your own images (don’t delete them immediately). How can you improve them to bring more of the qualities that you like? This can be: improving composition, using different light, improving a technique, changing an angle, and so on. Impressionist photography is like any other photography, just different aesthetic.

    I think in this style of photography there is a lot of images done without any other consideration but technique. And I feel that’s why lots of photographers are disappointed with their results.
    If you are interested learning more just visit my site You will find there lots of free resources to help you create impressionist/abstract photographs that you are happy with. 🙂

  • Very cool

  • Thank you very much.

  • Thank you, glad you like it.

  • Joy Ziemnick

    A floor of rusty brown leaves and mostly bare trees..

  • Sourabh Bandyopadhyay

    “Motion Picture”….

  • Eva Polak

    Nice work Sourabh!

  • Judith Laguerre

    this photo has flow and great movement. very cool! 🙂

  • Joy Ziemnick

    Thank you, Judith.

  • Debbie Langer Borato

    So tranquil….did you pan these?

  • Dave FrySnr

    Ive just discovered this form of photographic art, never again will I worry about an out of focus photo. This photo is of our local marina using Light Room for a few more effects

  • Colin Edwards

    I am so pleased to find someone who can spell properly e.g. Colour and not color.

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