Abstraction in Photography

Abstract art presents a figurative representation rather than a literal or recognizable reality. It is a major form in the visual arts that goes way back before the birth of photography. It was used in paintings and sculptures even in the early days of civilization when humans would draw geometric shapes to symbolize reality, such as an activity or an animal. The world of painting is rich with abstract art and one can learn so much from other artists who have become renowned for their genius in practicing this style.

Photography has caught up with the other older visual art forms and although the medium is different, the essence of abstraction remains the same.

There are many definitions of abstract art. On one end it can be only partially removed from reality which means that certain aspects are still somewhat recognizable, and the other extreme is total abstraction wherein the subject can no longer be identified. As photographers, we must truly exercise our imagination and creativity to capture subjects in an abstract way, to look at them beyond their usual realistic countenance. We can do this by noticing their shapes, color, lines and tone and composing these elements in a conceptual way.

Quick Tips to Make Something Look More Abstract:

1. An effective method is to crop out visual references that will immediately identify the subject. You may frame the shot in-camera or crop it in post-processing but the main objective is the same. Go closer to the subject, if you can, until it no longer looks familiar. This photo of a white plastic handle has been composed so that only its shapes and curves are visible while the rest of the handle is cropped out of the frame.

2. Find something in your subject that shows clean shapes or lines. If you are shooting nature, for example, take advantage of the sky, rock formations or sand. Man-made structures such as buildings are also often used in abstract photography because of their obvious lines and shapes.

3. Look for repeating patterns in your subject that you can focus on because they provide a sense of balance to the shot. You can experiment by breaking the pattern with an element which would then add tension to the shot. Find out what would work best in the composition.

4. Light and shadows is a great tool in creating an abstract shot. They can form to create fascinating shapes and can also be used to evoke a particular mood. Images that are low key or predominantly dark may give the viewer a feeling of suspense or trepidation. Shots that are high key or well lighted can induce a feeling of lightheartedness or cheer.

5. Use colors to give more impact. These can help by either defining shapes or by blending details into something unfamiliar. Furthermore, colors in their many varieties in hue, saturation and value can also trigger off emotions from the viewer.

Since abstract art is non-traditional, it is not immediately embraced by the majority of viewers. There are some who may not like the abstract form so do not take it to heart if you receive lukewarm reactions from a few people. Ask yourself who you are shooting for. If it's for a client and they do not like it, then find another technique. However, if you are shooting for the love of it, then ignore those who do not understand or appreciate this art form. When you practice shooting abstract shots, you are sharpening your composition skills and flexing your creative muscles and these are essential if you want to grow as a photographer.

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