What Are Abstracts?

September 22, 2017  •  Leave a Comment


Kyle Cook





Definition of Abstract: Abstract art expresses the artist's ideas or feelings instead of showing the exact appearance of people or things. Abstracts in photography are basically the same as abstract art. It shows your feelings about your subject without including the entire object.  


New Hampshire Water AbstractNew Hampshire Water Abstract How do you FIND abstracts to photograph? First, you look at an object (or scene) and decide what attracts you to it. Is it color? Pattern? Shape? Texture?  Let's say you find a group of colors that you are attracted to. How do you make an abstract from them? Well, as shown in our examples, reflections can make interesting abstracts. Water reflections can make beautiful abstracts. Ripple the water to make interesting shapes, or wait for a breeze to do it for you. Yes, you can see that it's water, but it's not totally obvious what it is - it's a "collection" of shapes and colors that look interesting together. Glass reflections can also make interesting abstracts, but you don't want it to just be a reflection of a recognizable object - it needs to be abstract - whether it's a portion of something that's be being reflected, or a distortion of the reflection that makes it interesting to you.


Now, water tends to move on its own, often "giving" you the abstract. What if what you are attracted to doesn't move on its own? Move yourself! You can do a motion blur by moving your camera up and down, up OR down, in a circular motion, or sideways. Sometimes you get interesting patterns and textures by shaking or wiggling your camera as you shoot. Sometimes, it just looks like you've messed up. Abstracts made by camera movement can be visualized in your head, but realize that your camera may not give you the results you envisioned. However, it just might accidentally give you something you LOVE!


On the HoodOn the Hood   Swirl of FlowersSwirl of Flowers



The joy of digital cameras is that you can "play" with your camera and do all sorts of crazy things, and you are not wasting film or paying lots of $$ to develop it! THAT, I think, is one of the most valuable aspects of digital photography. If you don't like it when it's on your computer monitor, and all the playing around with it doesn't bring you any joy, trash it!


So many things can become abstracts. Slow down your shutter speed and catch a dancer or a child in motion. To truly make it abstract, it shouldn't necessarily be recognizable as a dancer or a child - it might just be a colorful shape made by the motion of the person. Zero in on a portion of a larger object and make that your subject.


Mayan HeaddressMayan Headdress    Muted ColorsMuted ColorsGreat Smoky Mountains National Park


Abstracts are not just closeups or blurred motion. They are representative of the whole, but NOT the whole, if that makes sense. Challenge yourself to find abstracts wherever you go - inside, outside, familiar or less familiar objects. It's a fun challenge and one you might just use in the near future.....


Get out there with your camera and start looking for what attracts you. Then PLAY! Play with color, shape, texture or motion. Most importantly, HAVE FUN!


Aspens in FallAspens in Fall      Moving BladesMoving Blades


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