“Church Window” and “Mud Trails” by Mike Cable

Close up detail macro shot of luminous abstract patterns on a church window

“Church Window” by Mike Cable

They say that necessity is the mother of all inventions. In my case, I would have to say that is true. As a photographer who lives in a rural area, I have to find a way to adapt to the subject matter around me. While I have access to a lot of seascape imagery, there is only so much you can do with it without becoming redundant, which is the last thing I want to do. I made a conscious decision that I was going to photograph the abstract and challenge myself. I would eventually end up looking for the unusual in the usual, mainly because it’s all around me. It just happened to turn out that I have an eye for things that most people would pass by. In regards to the images in this post, they were no exception.

The first photo came as a result of taking a closer look at an old church I found. A big mistake made by many photographers (including me) is only looking at the big picture. It’s really important not to overlook details by breaking the big picture down into a smaller one. You will miss a lot of great photos by failing to do this. I do this by simply getting up close to my subject … literally inches away in many cases. I look hard for any interesting patterns, forms, shapes, textures, colors or something intriguing. In the case of the church window, I noticed some really interesting patterns in it, but they needed to be isolated from the rest of the window to create a pleasing abstract. By looking at the window closely rather than as a whole, I was able to turn an otherwise average photo into an interesting one. The sun really helped me in this case as it illuminated the glass and gave the image some extra contrast and pop. I also went with a square format with this photo for aesthetic reasons. I’ve personally found the 1:1 aspect ratio works better for a lot of situations. So make sure you don’t overlook different aspect ratios as an option, especially if your camera has different ones built in. When in doubt, shoot your subject matter in different formats to see which works better.

The second image was one where I made my own luck, so to speak. I was photographing in an auto junkyard and noticed a large truck fender lying on its side. I decided to flip it over to see if anything interesting would catch my eye. When turning it over I noticed some mud caked inside. I took a closer look at the mud and noticed some really interesting formations. A macro lens was definitely needed for this photo because of the size of the mud formations. By getting as close to my subject as possible I was able to do two things. I was able to create an illusion where my subject matter appeared much bigger than it actually was, and I was also able to capture a lot of detail without having to crop the image. Because the mud formations were narrow and long, I used the panoramic aspect setting in my camera whereas using a 4:3 aspect ratio left too much space above and below the subject. Remember to explore ratio settings!!

As for my gear, I always use a dedicated macro tripod and a macro lens with 1:1 capability for life-sized magnification of the subjects. I use a tripod because I’ve learned the hard way that an image can be found anywhere in a scene. The flexibility of a tripod that can move in almost any awkward direction solves that issue in most situations. I used a tripod mounted with a Canon Powershot G-10 to take the church window abstract with the self timer to avoid any movement that could possibly rob me of a sharper image. The camera was set to aperture priority at f/8. The second image was taken with a Fujifilm S200 EXR bridge camera. The macro tripod was absolutely necessary in taking this photo. For this shot, I used the self timer once again and set the camera to aperture priority at f/8. Both images were taken in JPEG mode, as well. My editing for them was basic with minor sharpening, contrast and saturation adjustments in Adobe Elements 7.

So, in conclusion, the next time you’re out and find yourself without typical subject matter to photograph like a landscape, remember to look at the things you might normally pass by. It could be anything from a piece of driftwood, patterns in the sand, seaweed, peeling or paint on a wall; just use your imagination! It just may salvage an otherwise unproductive day and expand your photo opportunities at the same time. It opened up a whole new world of possibilities for me, expanding my portfolio significantly. Photographing the abstract will definitely make you a better land or seascape photographer for the same reasons I mentioned previously, as well. It will cause you to look at your scenery in a different way. Doing so can mean the difference between an average photo or one that goes beyond the rule of thirds. – Mike Cable

These images are available as prints by contacting Cable. Follow him on Facebook, Pbase, Twitter and Flickr.

Equipment and settings: “Church Window” – Canon PowerShot G10 compact camera – aperture priority at f/8. “Mud Trails” – Fujifilm FinePix S200 EXR superzoom camera – aperture priority at f/8.

Close up detail macro shot of abstract patterns in rust on a truck hood

“Mud Trails” by Mike Cable