Nature’s Abstracts

Try your hand at making abstracts to instill new life into your photography

Are you stuck in a rut? Do you lack motivation to go out and make images? Tired of photographing the same old, same old? Are you looking for ways to diversify your portfolio? Do you want to add pop to your images? If you answered YES to any of these questions, read on. If you answered NO, but are interested in focusing your attention on something new, read on. If you’ve gotten this far, regardless of your answers, read on. Try your hand at making abstracts to instill new life into your photography.

Abstract images are characterized by line, shape, form, texture and pattern. Quite often they are random pieces of a whole and can be unrecognizable. They challenge you to comprehend the source from where they originate. They allow your creativity to flow as far as the mind allows. Fantastic images can be made from everyday objects and don’t require specialized equipment. A macro lens allows you to explore subjects more closely, but they’re not a necessity.

Shape / Color / Form / Texture: The image above was made in the slot canyons of Arizona. I simply captured a small section of the wall and then played a bit in Photoshop. I doubled the canvas size, selected the original image in its entirety and copied and pasted it into the blank area where I extended the canvas. This created a separate layer. I activated the Transform tool and flipped the copied section horizontally. The end result is a mirror image of the original. To amplify the abstraction, I kept rotating the image 90 degrees at a time. With the photo turned 180 degrees, I actually liked it more! For the sake of this Tip, I kept the original orientation.

Zero In: While leading a photo tour to the Oregon coast, I brought everyone to photograph sea stacks at sunset as they are the icons of the Pacific. As we walked from one hot spot to another, I glanced down at the sand below my feet and noticed a bright shell on a small section of windblown sand. Not being one to pass up a great photo op, I called my group over and asked them if they knew why I did. It didn’t take long for them to realize there was a photo at their feet, especially as I stared at the shell and smiled. It was a great teaching moment and one my participants will never forget. We all worked the shot for a few minutes and then resumed our quest of the grand scenic. The lesson to be learned is just because you’re tuned into making a specific type of photo, keep an open mind because a great shot may be just a few feet from your camera.

Move It: In camera methods can be utilized to capture abstract images. While leading a different photo tour to Yellowstone National Park, I brought my group to my favorite stand of lodgepole pines and stopped the vehicle. I informed everyone we arrived at our destination and I could see the bewilderment on their faces. There was no grand scenic nor wildlife. Once everyone set their cameras on their tripods, I demonstrated how to make slow exposures while moving the camera along a single axis. Basically, I had everyone pan their cameras upward during a two second exposure. The trunks became painted blurs but with enough definition to let the viewer know what they are. Long story short, we stayed there over an hour. We not only got some great pan blurs, we also baffled many a passer by who asked what animal we were photographing. After awhile we made a game of it evidencing it doesn’t take much to humor a group of photographers having a great time.

Look for Reflections: Reflections themselves can make great abstracts. As a nature photographer, I often look for reflections in still or slightly moving water. As a lover of other types of photography, the spectrum widens. Glass buildings, polished metallic finishes, and even barn windows reflect what shines upon them. Move in close to use the rippled glass or a bend in the metal to show the distortion of the subject. A polarizer can make or break the image. Depending upon its orientation, the reflection will be enhanced or totally eliminated. The effect is visible through the viewfinder so you can evaluate it live whether or not it works.

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    “The lesson to be learned is just because you?۪re tuned into making a specific type of photo, keep an open mind because a great shot may be just a few feet from your camera.”
    A very important lesson indeed and one it’s easy to forget. The more open we manage to keep our mind the more shots we can ‘see’ and take.

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