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How Practicing Abstract Photography Can Influence Your Photography


Also known as experimental, non-objective or conceptual photography, abstract photography depicts imagery removed from the immediately identifiable subject matter. Gaining momentum at the hands of photographers like Alvin Langdon Coburn and Paul Strand, practicing abstract photography explores the bare bones of image-making.

Abstraction has performed a critical role in pushing the boundaries of the photographic medium. In this article, we’ll look at ways in which abstract photography can inspire your creative approach to all photographic genres.

Practicing abstract photography slow shutter speed

f/18.0, 1/25, ISO 400, Canon 5D Mk II with a Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM lens

Focusing on detail

One of the most predominant ways to create abstracted imagery is through isolation.

Isolation in abstraction involves zooming in on detail, creating a study of subject matter that may otherwise go unnoticed. Through isolation, context is replaced with an emphasis on intimate detail. By elevating detail, the unnoticed subject matter is given a new visual significance.

Abstraction places a great deal of importance on details. As a result, many abstract photographers develop a strong sense of detail in any situation.

Naturally, an eye trained for subtle details proves useful in other facets of photography too. It allows a photographer to pinpoint interesting elements of a scene with greater efficiency.

By practicing abstract photography, the photographer becomes attuned to the visual weight of unique subject matter. This translates to deeper, more engaging photography as a whole.

Image: f/7.1, 1/400, ISO 100, Canon 5D Mk II with a Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM lens

f/7.1, 1/400, ISO 100, Canon 5D Mk II with a Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM lens


Abstraction expands on our understanding of the photographic medium through re-invention.

Of course, experimentation is not limited to abstraction. However, abstract photography emphasizes alternative approaches to subject matter. This stimulates creative thought which then flows through to other areas of photography.

Alternative processes, in-camera techniques, image manipulation…abstraction emphasizes the expression of fresh creative possibilities through constant experimentation.

Photographers like Andrew S. GrayWolfgang Tilmans and Barbara Kasten all push the boundaries of photographic art. Their work, and the work of countless other abstract photographers, is proof that practicing abstract photography expands the creative horizon of photography as a whole.

Practicing abstract photography experiment

f/1.8, 1 second, ISO 100, Canon 5D Mk II with a Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II lens

Creating something unique

Abstract photography is highly subjective – every photographer approaches abstraction from a unique perspective.

This means that individual emotions, experiences, and ideas are embedded in abstract visual responses. The more you practice abstract photography, the easier it will be to identify abstract subject matter that fascinates you. It will open up more and more opportunities to hone your skills.

There is no right or wrong way to create your own abstract photography.

In fact, you may not even need a camera.

Because of this, practicing abstract photography provides a free space to forge a unique aesthetic that inevitably carries through to other facets of photography.

Practicing abstract photography blue unique

f/4.0, 1/40, ISO 500, Canon 5D Mk II with a Canon EF 24-105 f/4L IS USM lens

Pressing the reset button

Adhering to the more formal qualities of photography can sometimes culminate in creative fatigue. Abstraction tends to relax the grip of the photographic convention, adhering instead to the instinctual responses of the photographer.

This means that practicing abstract photography can provide a much-needed reset button for photographers suffering from creative weariness.

Abstraction beckons the photographer to capture subject matter that resonates on a personal level. Satisfying lines, intriguing textures, ephemeral colors…Practicing abstract photography reconnects a photographer with the basics of photography and creativity.

Practicing abstract photography color

f/2.2, 1/800, ISO 100, Canon 5D Mk II with a Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II lens fitted with a 36mm Kenko extension tube

Honing in on composition

Although lacking in objective subject matter, abstraction still relies on the principals and elements of design to cultivate imagery. Elements like form, line, color, and texture are as relevant to abstract photography as they are any other genre. Likewise, precepts such as the rule of thirds or leading lines can also shape the way an abstract image is digested.

Practicing abstract photography coaxes out reflexive responses to image-making, revealing gaps in compositional knowledge and introducing new approaches to subject matter.

Compositional instincts honed within the bounds of abstraction spill over to other types of photography too, revealing practical insights into your own image-making process.

Practicing abstract photography composition pattern

f/4.0, 1/15, ISO 1250, Canon 5D Mk II with a Canon EF 25-105 f/4L IS USM II lens


Abstract photography is sometimes approached with confusion or trepidation. However, in practice, abstract photography is often a liberating and invigorating undertaking.

Though lacking in specific subject matter, abstract photography operates on creativity, critical thinking, and personal growth. Without the freedom that abstract photography affords, photography would be a much more rigid and prescriptive undertaking.

Abstract photography encourages a focus on detail, experimentation, and skill. It can also be a welcome respite from creative fatigue. Availing itself to the unique inclinations of the individual photographer, practicing abstract photography builds on the foundations of the photographic process.

Share with us your abstract photography in the comments!

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Megan Kennedy
Megan Kennedy

is a photographer and writer based in Canberra, Australia. Both her writing and photography has been featured in numerous publications. More of Megan’s work can be viewed at her website or on Instagram at MK_photodiary.

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