Abstract Photography

Part 2

Article and Photography by Ron Bigelow


Abstract Photography Techniques

Part II of this series focuses on abstract photography techniques. Now, while each technique will be demonstrated with a photo of some particular subject matter, each one of these techniques can be used with many different types of subject matter. The goal is to learn the techniques and then apply them to whatever is found that will create impressive abstract images.

Selective Focus

Figure 1: Selective Focus

Selective focus is one of the most common techniques used when creating abstract images. To apply this technique, a large aperture is used to create a very narrow depth of field. The camera is then focused on the center of interest of the image. Everything else will be out of focus.

When using selective focus, there are a couple of ways that the technique can be made more effective. First, the color of the background should be different than the center of interest. This will make the center of interest stand out. Second, curves can be used to help direct the viewer's attention to the center of interest. Both of these methods can be seen in Figure 1.

Light and Shadows

Figure 2: Light and Shadows

Using the interplay of light and shadows can create drama in an image. Some photographers tend to think only in terms of light. This is a mistake -- for light is nothing without shadows. Shadows are not simply a dark mass that borders the light. Rather, shadows are an entity as alive as the light. It is the shadows that shape the light, that draw attention to the light, and that integrate with the light to produce striking photographic opportunities. This is particularly true with abstract images.

When using this technique, the main purpose of the shadows is to enhance the forms in an image. Consequently, for this technique to be successful, it is necessary to start with very interesting or dramatic forms.

Another thing to keep in mind with this technique is that it usually works best when the shadows are fairly dark. This creates the contrast that adds drama to an image.


Figure 3: Lines

Lines can be very effectively used in abstract images. For this technique to be effective, the lines must be the dominant characteristic of the subject matter (see Figure 3). In a way, the lines almost become the center of interest.

The lines must be either graceful or dynamic. In addition, all of the lines must work in harmony. Simply having a bunch of haphazard lines running in every which direction will not work.

One last point is that, when using lines in this manner, it is usually best not to have overly strong, saturated, or contrasting colors in the image because this would detract from the lines and weaken the image.


Figure 4: Texture

A technique that is very similar to the use of lines is the use of texture. In fact, texture and lines are often used together (see Figure 4). To be used successfully, the texture must be one of the most dominant characteristics of the subject matter. Furthermore, the texture must work in harmony with any lines that are present.

As when using lines, it is usually best not to have overly strong, saturated, or contrasting colors in the image in order to avoid having the colors detract from the texture.


Figure 5: Blur


Deliberately blurring objects can create some interesting images. This technique works best with images that have a romantic or dreamy feel. Therefore, it is important to select the subject matter carefully.

There are a number of ways that the blurring can be done. There are special soft focus lenses that produce soft images. This is how Figure 5 was created. Soft focus filters attached to regular lenses can also be used. For the cost conscious, panty hose stretched over the front of a lens also works. Of course, the blur can always be added during image editing with Photoshop (or any other editing software).

As a last comment on this technique, deliberately blurred images often print best on matte paper. Matte paper produces a softer, gentler image than glossy or luster papers.

Zooming In

Figure 6: Zooming In

The zooming in technique requires a zoom lens. A long shutter speed is used, and the focal length of the zoom lens is changed during the exposure. Generally, the zoom is started at a wider angle and zoomed into a narrower angle. This produces the zoom effect seen in Figure 6.

There are a few important points with this technique. A tripod should be used. Otherwise, there will be blurring caused by camera movement during the exposure. A strong center of interest is required. Without a strong center of interest, the image just ends up being a blur of lines with nothing to grab the viewer's attention. There should be a contrast of tone or color between the center of interest and the background. This will make the center of interest stand out. Last, this is a trial and error technique. It requires many images to be shot in order to produce one outstanding image.

Partial Object

Figure 7: Partial Object

With the partial object technique, the entire object is not photographed. Rather, the image focuses on just a part of an object (see Figure 7). This technique depends heavily on form, color, and lines. The use of lines tends to be particularly important.

Photoshop Filters

Figure 8: Photoshop Filters

Abstract images can also be created during image editing. An easy way to do this is to use Photoshop's filters. Photoshop has many filters that can be found in the Filter menu. The key here is to try different filters until one is found that produces an interesting abstract image.

One thing to keep in mind is that abstract images created during editing often look best when printed on matte paper.

Coming Up Next

This article covered just a few of the techniques that can be used to create abstract images. In the next two parts of this articles series, several types of subject matter that provide abstract photography opportunities will be covered.


Abstract Photography Part 1     Abstract Photography Part 3