Abstract photography is possibly the most difficult style of photography there is. It forces the photographer to look outside the box and discover something that is not as literal as, “being in the right place at the right time.” Many photographers ask me how to accomplish great abstract photos. I think this is because of the fact that photographers have to let go of almost all control and produce a photo that absolutely does not follow a specific rule set. I always tell workshop participants that if you want to produce the very best abstract photos, “you have to free your mind,” and you have to put the focus on balancing out color and contrast in your photograph. This allows the subject to simply become abstract and allow your viewer to create their own interpretation.
Keep in mind that there are some parks throughout the world that hold an abundance of abstract subject matter – color, texture, & contrasting features. These locations also have tons of other photographic options for the photographer, but I could spend the rest of my life going to these locations to only work on abstract photography.
Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, United States
There isn’t a nature photographer out there who doesn’t know of Yellowstone for landscape and/or wildlife photography. However, Yellowstone is also a geological hotspot. You do realize that if the Yellowstone Caldera ever decided to erupt full-force that life on Earth as we know it would be history. It is this very fact that gives us amazing color and texture studies to focus on in addition to the already known wildlife and landscape photos. In addition, all of the thermal features can add atmosphere when the near vicinity is producing blue-bird skies, allowing a secondary layer to your abstract photography.
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Hawaii, United States
Hawaii currently possesses one of the worlds most active volcanoes – Mauna Loa. The rivers of lava that flow from Mauna Loa’s upper reaches hit the ocean and continue to grow the island even at this very moment. As this lava, which is very liquid in nature, cools near the island edges at the Pacific Ocean, we have the ability as photographers to discover a new, twisted, and almost alien like world. This place looks like it is straight out of a Ridley Scott movie, and the beauty is that it is ever changing. You could go back year after year to discover different abstract photos in the same place as you did in the year prior due to the ever changing landscape here. In addition, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park falls right in the middle of the dry and wet sides of the island so sunsets become almost indescribable at times.
Grand Staircase-Escalante NM, Arizona & Utah, United States
The desert southwest of the United States holds some of the most unique geologic formations anywhere on the planet. Couple this with a uniquely dry atmosphere that produces gritty sunrises and sunsets and you have the perfect blend for creating abstract photography. There are so many layers of color and texture around every bend here that it is almost easier to park your car and spend some time walking in a location that you think has opportunity. Realize that most of the locations that you would park your car offer limitless abstract photography opportunities.
John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, Oregon, United States
Most people think wide-angle lens for landscape, but what if you were to try a telephoto? Would things change? Absolutely. On my last visit to John Day, I used a 600mm lens to get in really tight amongst the commonly photographed area of the Painted Hills. By doing this, I was able to create study upon study of how the light fell across these colorful features at sunrise.
Landmannalaugar National Park, Sudhurland, Iceland
Hands down, the most amazing place on the planet for creating abstract photography is Iceland. This island has so much volcanic activity that it is as if you fused together all of the United States’ destinations into one. Landmannalaugar, possesses some of the most intense natural color palettes I have ever photographed in my life. Layer upon layer of colorful earth to which you can easily attach vivid water palettes. This in turn yields, not only the abstract macro photograph, but the enormous abstract landscape photograph as well. Well worth the time and money it takes to travel here.
Abstract photography is not the easiest type of photography to tackle. In most cases I am using 70-200mm zooms all the way to 1200mm telephoto lenses to accomplish successful examples. They key for me has been to really look for color, texture, and contrast in areas that most people look to photograph the obvious landscape. You don’t don’t need all of the aforementioned expensive glass either, you can always walk closer to the graphic design that you see out there in the wild. You do need to free your mind a bit and really focus on what you are and are not including in your viewfinder.