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Typically, when you look at a photograph, you immediately know what you’re looking at. A tree-filled forest, a cityscape, a group of friends, or a kitten playing with a ball of string are examples of realistic photography. It’s unmistakable what the photo represents, and no explanation is needed.
Abstract photography, however, is the art of using perspective, light, textures, and often unseen details to present the world in a way that goes beyond the obvious. Abstract photography subjects may include an extreme closeup of a flower’s petal or the undulating curves of a sand dune at dawn.
Traditional photographs present the obvious, while abstract photographs present the world in a way you’ve never seen before. The beauty is that practically anything can be the subject of abstract photography, opening up a world of opportunities to use your creativity. In today’s article, we’ll look at 9 different abstract photography ideas to get you inspired. Read on if you’re looking for inspiration to take your abstract photographs to new heights.
When you look at ordinary, everyday things, most of the time, they don’t stand out or make an impression. We’ve seen them so often that our mind doesn’t register anything unusual. However, look closely at many objects, and their texture might surprise you. The fine threads in a ball of yarn are a great example, as well as the unique texture of a conch shell lying on the beach. Photos of texture tempt viewers to reach out and touch your photographs to experience a new tactile sensation, making them quite powerful and eye-catching.
The natural world is teeming with ideas for abstract photography. Sandy dunes are a popular subject, but there are so many more. The bark of a tree or the ripples on a pond after you toss in a pebble. Rock formations at the right angle and light can be engrossing, or the way wheat fields undulate in the breeze on a sunny afternoon. Again, these are subjects most take for granted, but you can show them in a new, exciting, and inspiring way with abstract photography. The best part is that natural landscapes surround you no matter where you live. A community garden in New York City, for example, can be a treasure trove of abstract photography opportunities.
Traditional photos capture an object, person, or place at a single, specific moment and then freeze that moment in time. Adding motionchanges everything, and all it takes is a slower shutter speed. A child spinning around in circles in a blur gives the viewer a sense of excitement and joy. A cauldron of bats leaving their cave at dusk would be an amazing photo at the right shutter speed, conveying their frenetic energy. The ethereal nature of motion is the key and will transform your static shoots into something more poetic and enchanting.
Humans typically look at the world horizontally, and our photographs tend to do the same. When you change the angle of your photographs, you change the perspective and give viewers a unique view that they might have never experienced. A photo taken straight up the side of a massive skyscraper, for example, can be incredibly powerful and awe-inspiring. If you want to capture a smaller subject, you could shoot a hermit crab from below to turn it into a monstrous, otherworldly being, or go up high for a bird’s eye view of the world. When you leave the horizontal, the perspective your photos convey leaves with you.
If you look at most photographs, the lighting helps you see the subject clearly. However, when you use shadows and light, you can take an ordinary object or scene and turn it into something extraordinary. The diffuse light streaming in through a dense forest is a perfect example. It obscures the surrounding details and puts the focus on the center of the photo. Using silhouettes is similar. They capture the shape of an everyday object without the fine details, presenting it in a way that most have never seen. A herd of elephants in silhouette against the setting sun on an African plain conveys their magnificence and grace much differently than a traditional photo. The same goes for shooting a clear, blue sky through the center of the jet black crevices of a cave.
Look at most photos, and what do you see? More often than not, the answer is things you’ve seen before: people, places, objects, animals, etc. But here’s the thing; as a photographer, you get to use your imagination and creativity every time you shoot. That opens the door to photograph objects, places, and even people that, for whatever reason, aren’t something most of us see every day. The gnarly knot of an old oak tree can be fascinating when shot in the right way. The same can be said for the jagged edges of a saw or the cracked paint on an antique doll’s face. Just because something is odd doesn’t mean it’s not beautiful.
Macro photography is another realm you can easily explore when shooting abstract photographs. Getting close to a subject brings out details that the human eye misses (or the brain ignores) and expands the viewer’s idea of what something is all about. The beautiful color on a butterfly’s wings and the subtle way they shimmer is a perfect example. By isolating a specific part of your subject, you bring out its complexities and beauty in a way that opens a viewer’s mind to what that object truly is. In some ways, you create more interest, as the viewer will be intrigued by what they see, or even slightly confused, and want to explore it further.
Mirrors and reflections have interested humans since the beginning of time. Who doesn’t stop and look at themselves when they pass a mirror? Images reflected in mirrors or on the water bring a unique perspective many have never experienced. The rear-view mirror scene in Jurassic Park when the T-Rex chased Dr. Ian Malcolm is a prime example, albeit on film. One excellent idea is to shoot the reflection of an ordinary object in a pool of gently rippling water. Other ideas for reflecting images include a puppy lapping water from a puddle or someone’s reflection in a scuffed, badly scratched antique mirror.
Our last abstract photography idea is to shoot your photos through a physical barrier, like a hole in a piece of wood or a piece of antique or colored glass. This will make your subject appear obscured, tinted, or changed in some unique, interesting way. Shooting through holes in objects focuses the eyes on a specific part of your subject… A shot through a wine glass, colored bottle, or even a Christmas ornament can add interest and excitement to an otherwise standard photo. Shooting through the slats of a picket fence can take an ordinary backyard scene and make it surreal. Let your imagination run wild, and you’ll find many things to shoot through right in your own neighborhood!
The advantage of abstract photography is that it can be anything you want it to be. All you need is your camera and vivid imagination, and you can start shooting abstract photos everywhere you go! There are no limits, no rules, and no one to say, “you can’t do it that way.” Indeed, you can make up your own rules as you go and be a trendsetter!
We hope this article has given you an abundance of ideas about how, when, where, and what to shoot in your abstract photography. Keep your eyes and your mind open, and it’s a sure bet that, when you’re out and about, abstract photo ideas will appear wherever you go!
Featured Image Credit: Aunnop Suthumno, Unsplash
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Genevieve is a biologist and science writer and has a deep love for capuchin monkeys, pumas, and kangaroos, which has taken her around the world to work and volunteer for several wildlife rehabilitation centers. A Canadian expat, Genevieve now lives in Argentina, where she wakes up every morning to horses and cows saying hello from the vast plain next to her home office window. Having the privilege of sharing her knowledge and passion for animals of all kinds is what makes her fulfilled and happy.
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