Getting started with abstract photography: 5 helpful tips

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Always wanted to try abstract photography but don’t know where to start? In this article, we cover useful tips to help you get started with one of photography’s most fascinating genres.


What is abstract photography?

Abstract photography is a genre that focuses on subjects without context. This often results in confusing images without the photographer providing relevant details.

Images tend to be part of a whole, like a macro image or even a vast landscape captured from the sky which, for example when cropped into a square, gives it a whole new identity and purpose.

Abstract photography draws attention because it is something distinctly different from our normal viewing experiences in the real world. In fact, if the photographer didn’t create an abstract image, there’s a good chance it would never be seen by anyone at all.

Just like other abstract art forms such as painting, abstract paintings can evoke feelings and thoughts, but we as viewers are challenged to associate the work with something ordinary.

Examples of abstract photography include elements such as geometric patterns, layers, textures, colors, shapes, shadows, and lights. These elements can be arranged in traditional or unorthodox compositions. The most important thing is to think about these elements when you start exploring abstract photography.

In short, abstract photography is a disguised piece of reality arranged in a way that can be called a work of art. Here are a few tips for getting started in this genre.

1. Abstract photography camera settings

As with abstract photography itself, there are no hard and fast rules for camera settings in abstract photography. In fact, for some creations, camera settings may not matter at all. But it would be helpful to discuss camera settings for beginners who need a starting point.

Whether you plan to use one photo or multiple photos in a single work of abstract photography, it’s best to approach camera settings on a subject-by-subject basis. When you photograph people, your settings can be very different than when you shoot an abstract landscape image. We’re talking about the basic camera settings that every photographer needs to understand.

However, if you want to take complete control of the photographic process, you should use manual mode. This mode can be used for any subject and allows you to manually change the aperture, ISO and shutter speed, among other things. It is always the best option when you have time to properly photograph the subject.

2. Look for patterns

Patterns are probably one of the best subjects to start with in abstract photography as they are in abundance in our daily lives. Patterns are everywhere, on our walls, floors, ceilings and buildings. You can even find them in living things like trees and animals. Patterns are so plentiful that they are sometimes easy to miss.

For example, take the above image of a close-up of a simple patch of shaggy carpet. Many of us would guess that it’s either a rug or an animal’s hide. However, if you enlarge the image in an image editing program such as Photoshop, it can take on a new identity.

This is the same image but with the image resolution increased from nearly 5,000 pixels to 15,000 pixels. We then trimmed it to find an interesting patch. It already looks more abstract, but we can take it even further with a few adjustments in Photoshop.

We added three adjustment layers to the same image, a Hue/Saturation, Color Search and Curves layer. We could also change the color drastically for an even more abstract result.

For the final image we added a Color Fill adjustment layer with Red and changed the Blending Mode to Linear Light. The image differs drastically from its original. And it’s definitely an abstract image. We’re talking about using the Linear Light blend mode to dodge and burn in Photoshop.

Of course, that leads us to our next tip: photo editing software.

3. Use advanced photo editing software and edit on your computer

In abstract photography, you can take photo editing to the extreme or do without it altogether. Many beginners would stay somewhere in the middle, where advanced photo editing software can either enhance something straight out of the camera or creatively transform your abstract images into entirely different creations.

Photoshop is just one of many advanced photo editors that can help you create your abstract photography. If you don’t like Photoshop, we introduce you to the best paid Photoshop alternatives that are just as good for creative photo editing.

There are also advanced creative photo editors like Luminar AI and Luminar Neo. We examine each Luminar program to determine which might be the best version for you.

Whichever photo editor you end up using, just make sure the features are more advanced and feature-rich than what you would find on a smartphone. You’ll find that editing on your computer or other large-screen device is much more effective and rewarding.

4. Get the right lighting

This applies to any type of photography, but it’s worth repeating for abstract photography: use favorable lighting conditions to capture the best image. This may include shooting during the golden hour or using artificial light sources. In any case, avoid low-light situations whenever possible, as well as ceiling lights indoors.

Whatever the subject, abstract photography is best served with proper exposure. Make sure you have enough quality light unless your intentions are different and you are aiming for a specific effect.

We talk about the exposure triangle and how it can greatly improve your photography. That doesn’t mean your images have to be bright, it simply means that your camera’s sensor has enough light to provide a high-quality image free of noise and chromatic aberration.

5. Learn about abstract photographers and artists

We mentioned that abstract photography consists of elements such as geometric patterns, layers, textures, colors, shapes, shadows and light – anything that is a physical feature can be a subject for abstract photography.

These are the elements worth studying before setting out to create your own abstract photography. Additionally, studying artists creating abstract art and photography can be enlightening just by seeing what is possible.

Why?

For one thing, you’ll be amazed at what’s possible in the world of abstract art. For example, an artist like Johnny Stevens shared some of his abstract photographs of rust on his website. Once you’ve seen some of his work, you’ll probably never look at Rust like this again.

The same applies to many other subjects. A quick image search reveals numerous possibilities. Try “abstract shadows” or “abstract landscape photography” and see what pops up.

YouTube is also a great resource for learning about abstract photography. In this video, the presenter not only talks about the artists, but also about the art movements to which they belonged during their lifetime. It’s worth checking out before picking up your camera.

Discover abstract photography

Abstract photography isn’t just a bunch of squiggly lines – although it can be! Abstract photos can be as rich and complex, as beautiful and inspiring as any other genre of photography. Try it and see if you surprise yourself.

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