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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.

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Eva Polak

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.