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Abstract Photography: The Art of Speaking Without Words

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Abstract photography is something that cannot be defined with words. This is a very elusive subject and as the name suggests, this type of photography is abstract and can be done at anytime and anywhere. The choice is yours! It is all about having a perspective and approach to the subject you choose and decide to capture. Abstract photography is an idea which suits each its own.

The best part about abstract photography is that there are no guidelines which are involved in clicking these images. Abstract photography is based more on vibrancy, colours and anything that you see in your surroundings. It is a visual language which is captured by the camera of the photographer. Every colour in abstract photography has its own significance. For instance, the colour black depicts sadness and fear but is also the sign of elegance and command. It all depends upon how you click a particular shot!

Understanding the Essence of Abstract

abstract photography meaning
In the Abstract (Source)

Let’s begin with understanding what the term ‘abstract’ in abstract photography means.

The subject in focus should be the key element of your photography when shooting abstract. Abstract images can be created anywhere unlike other photographs. There are so many patterns, structures and colours which we see whenever we go around. All of that is abstract. Abstract photography is a result of a lot of creative imagination and is very good for budding photographers. This type of photography is known for improving the skills of a photographer which helps them in understanding this subject deeper and better.

Definition of Abstract Photography

definition of abstract photography
An Undefinable Something

Abstract photography has no definition. But the closest explanation for this term is:

The photos and images which are imagined and are not real are termed as abstract images. These are images which will make you question your thoughts and vision. They have a huge variety in subject matter as anything around us can be termed abstract. These are images which take you to a different world when you see them and try to understand them.

In the words of Barbara Morgan:

"Abstraction is inherent in the photographic medium and through abstraction, the photographer exercises choices that carry photography beyond record-realism to the expression of his or her personal viewpoint."

History of Abstract Photography

history of abstract photography
Equivalent by Alfred Stieglitz: The First Ever Abstract Photograph

This type of beautiful photography was invented by Surrealist Man Ray and Bauhaus leader László Moholy-Nagy but it got its real definition from an American photographer named Alfred Stieglitz who practised this kind of photography and enhanced his skill and made it so popular. The first set of abstract photography ever presented in the world is series Music – A Sequence of Ten Cloud Photographs. It is titled Equivalent as it has 12 years of Alfred Stieglitz showcasing hundreds of cloud photos. This was created in the year 1922.

In the year 1929, Walter Benjamin stated that photography and abstraction don’t go hand in hand. He quoted, “It is another nature which speaks to the camera rather than to the eye.”

By this, he put practice into words in an essay. This was a push to all the other newbie photographers to click more images of different subjects and make them look as real as possible.

Abstract Photography Today: The Inspiration!

abasract photography today aaron siskind
The Most Crowded Block in the World: Aaron Siskind

This type of photography today is considered as extremely artistic. Some renowned photographers like Aaron Siskind and Minor White are known for the amazing and different work that they have showcased with the help of this photography. In the 1950s and 1960s, Aaron Siskind worked very closely with Pollock and studied this subject even more.

abstract photography silver
Silver: Wolfgang Tillmans (Source)

Famous abstract photographers, Thomas Ruff and Wolfgang Tillmans are known for this genre of photography. Thomas Ruff has the talent of changing the web images into some beautiful unidentifiable forms. These photographers use a lot of different papers and methods to create the work that they do. Wolfgang Tillmans has a series named ‘Silver’ which uses silver paper to create abstract photos.

Usage of Abstract Photography

abstract photography use
Different is Good

Abstract images possess a power that no other form of photography does. These images are different and that makes them so much more used than other photography types. As these images can be created anywhere that works a lot in the favour of them and the photographer. They can be created at home, in the neighbourhood or at any place of your choice. They don’t need a particular setup, timing etc.

Essentials to Abstract Photography

There are three major essentials to abstract photography: Form, Curve and Colour. Let’s get in details of each and understand why they are important.

  • Form

abstract photography essential form
What’s Your Focus?

This means the shape of the object in focus. Your abstract image will be created in the framework of the object. The colour and curves are the enhancement to the form aspect of abstract photography. This is the basic requirement to do abstract photography. Choosing a subject which has dynamic, unique and powerful shape is always good for abstract photography. To abstract photography, individuals react emotionally and not logically. For a photographer who wants to make an impact on the minds of the viewers, it is necessary to look at the emotional angle of an abstract image to get reactions from them and the images stay with the viewers forever.

  • Curve

abstract photography essential curve
Stop and Stare

Curves are nothing but aspects that5 control the sight of the viewers. They add a lot of interest to the image which makes the photo stand out. There are two ways how curves add interest and attract viewers attention:

They gather a lot of interest to the centre of the photo. They will attract the viewers focus to just one side of the photo. This is mostly the centre point of the photo. This may be the colours used in that region or the focus of the entire photo lies there.

The second way curves work in abstract images is that they focus on the entire image and not just the centre and they are intangible in nature. These images are dynamic and graceful and look way more full and colourful. There is no focal point in this image and the entire photo is work of art.

  • Colour

abstract photography essential colour
A Bold Move

This plays a very important role in an abstract photo. The colour of the photo is, most of the time, very bold and grabs a lot of attention. Some abstract photographers want to use the bright, single or bold colours always because they capture the viewers’ attention for a longer duration. You can have a mix of colours in the same belt or blend the colours of your choice to make the photo stand out from the rest.

The Rules of Composition in Abstract Photography

In simple terms, composition means the arrangement of objects in a photograph. Many things need to be covered when you want to understand the concept of composition but the two main things which build this are - the Rule of Thirds and No Rules.

The Rule of Thirds

abstract photography rule of thirds
The Rule of Thirds

This means that the image which you are about to click should be divided into three parts both, vertically and horizontally. The focus of the image i.e. the centre of the image should be located in the space where the lines cross each other.

No Rules

bstract photography no rules
No Rules Apply

This is the best part of abstract photography. There are no rules that you need to follow and you can still click a beautiful image with your skills and talent. It is not necessary to follow the composition or the rule of thirds when you find an object which you think will be good for abstract photography.

The Art of Subtraction

abstract photography art of subtraction
Remove What’s Not Needed

Abstract photography touches the emotional chords of individuals. The key to creating good and memorable abstract images is just to focus on one element and remove all the other things which are just adding a lot of traffic! This is called the art of subtraction.

You have to keep the colour, form and curve well in sync to get a perfect abstract shot.

Techniques and Tips for Abstract Photography

Although Abstract photography is the “no rules” photography, there are some techniques that will help you click the picture you want.

  • Movement of Camera

abstract photography camera technique
Blur it Out

Blurring the snot out of everything is the most common and simple way of mixing colours and lines in an abstract image. Moving your camera, the way you want is the best part of clicking abstract images.

  • Movement of Subject

abstract photography subject technique
Movement Makes Abstract

Whatever maybe the size, shape or colour of the object in focus in abstract photography it doesn’t matter. All you need is a subject of your choice and your talent to make it look attractive and that it connects to the viewers.

  • Remove the Reference

abstract photography reference
Use the Zoom

A zoom lens is all that you need here! The more you will zoom into the image the more the image will have abstraction. Clicking the best abstract image begins with a zoom lens.

  • Click Through the Things

abstravct photography everyday clicks
Everyday Abstract

Start with the everyday objects which you see around. Click through coloured flower vases, clock, coloured glass or just through the window. Understand how different things react differently with the angles you click on. It is the best way to do abstract photography.

  • Use Multiple Exposures

abstract photography different exposures
Use Different Exposures (Source)

Take an in focus shot in the camera and the other two shots in the out of focus setting. This will give more soft-focus shots which make the abstract images stand out.

  • Post – Processing of the Photos

absract photography post processing
Add a Little Drama

This is done to make the shot look more delicate. You can use a lot of colour combinations here and also look into the white balance and temperature of the photos here.

Abstraction of Abstract Photography

Here are some tried and tested methods that give amazing results in abstract photography.

Abstraction by Isolation or Elimination

abstraction by isolation
Isolate the Message

This is a process of choosing what you like in a shot that you have taken. Some parts of the image are stronger, colourful and more meaningful and the concentration lies just there. Removing the parts which don’t have as much importance as others in the image is abstraction by isolation or elimination.

Abstraction by Decreasing the Distance

abstract bhotography decreased distance
Up Close and Personal

These are close up shots taken by the zoom lens. As you get closer to the object in focus the details of it become important and the major aspect of the photograph.

Abstraction by Increasing the Distance

abstract photography increased distance
From the Air

These are more blur shots which are taken from a distance. As we move away from the object, we get to see a bigger picture. Most of the aerial abstract shots are an example of such kind of photography.

Abstraction by Randomized Patterns

abstract photography random
When in Doubt, Randomize

These are random patterns which mean nothing to a common man. These are ideas and thoughts which come in the minds of photographers while taking a pattern which they find interesting.

Abstraction by Movement

abstract photography movement technique
On the Move

These are abstract photographs which are clicked when you are on the move. Most of these photos are a blend of colours, patterns and themes all in one frame.

Abstraction by Alteration

abstract photography alteration
Altering Reality

This type of photography is done keeping the colours and tone in mind. A lot of time while clicking the photo or post production structures and textures of a photograph need to be changed. This is called as ‘abstraction by alteration.’

Some Beautiful Abstract Photography: Examples from Around the World

Looking at some of the famous abstract photography work by a lot of photographers is important to understand how to make your work different. Each of these photographers use different techniques, and although these techniques are universal, the photographers manage to make it unique by adding their personal touch to it.

abstract photography kinetic abstract
Kinetic Abstract by Andrew Gustar
abstract photography abstract falls
Abstract Falls by Steven Bratman
abstract photography the choir
The Choir by Enki22
abstract photography abstract flowers
Abstract Flowers by Vlastimil Koutecký

Final Thoughts

abstract photography summing up
No Words Needed

Understanding the object and ways of clicking it is of utmost importance in abstract photography. An abstract photo can be read in various ways and has its own different qualities. As a photographer, it is important for you to understand all of that and convey it through your lens. Abstract photography is like a flow which needs to be understood by the viewers. In spite of having no specific subject, with the help of this type of photography, you need to convey your message to the individual properly and meaningfully.

Creating an emotional connect with the viewers is necessary as humans tend to relate to an image which is just an idea or a burst of colours. Once you find that connection, you will be able to easily master the idea of abstract photography.

Have you ever tried abstract photography? What was your experience with it? Do you have any tips that'll help your fellow photographers? Do let us know in the comments.

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