Abstract Photography

Part 3

Article and Photography by Ron Bigelow


Abstract Photography Subject Matter

The last two articles in this series concentrate on various subject matter to which abstract photography techniques can be applied.


Flowers are an excellent choice for abstract photography. The main strengths of flowers are the colors and the lines. Therefore, these should be emphasized when creating abstract flower images.

Figure 1: Strong Center of Interest

Flower abstracts tend to fall into two categories: images with a strong center of interest and images with either a weak center of interest or no center of interest at all. With flowers that have a strong center of interest, the lines of the flower (e.g., the edges of the petals) can be used as leading lines to direct the viewer’s attention to the center of interest (see Figure 1). With flowers that have a weak center of interest (or no center of interest), the lines become the main attraction in the image. Thus, the lines must be composed in such a way that they are interesting and draw the viewer’s attention (see Figure 2).

Figure 2: Weak Center of Interest
A primary technique for flower abstracts is the use of selective focus. This technique allows a photographer to crop out all distracting detail and to draw attention to the colors and lines that create the real value for the image


The recording sides of DVDs have an interesting property. They create a spectrum of colors when light is shined on them. This creates fun, abstract photo opportunities.

Figure 3: DVD

One opportunity involves capturing the color as a pure abstract (see Figure 3). The colors tend to be bold and saturated. This makes for interesting color patterns. Another opportunity requires the DVD to be used as a base on which other objects are placed. Some objects, such as water drops, will pick up the color and reflect it (see Figure 4). With objects that do not reflect the colors, the DVD provides a very vibrant background.

Figure 4: DVD & Water Drops
Two factors will affect the colors that a DVD displays: the light source and the angle of the DVD with respect to the light and the camera. The best way to get a great shot with a DVD is to just play around with the light source and angle until the right combination is found.

Sand Dunes

Sand dunes are a lot of fun to photograph and are a natural for abstract photography. There are a couple of main types of sand dune abstracts: normal/wide angle shots and close-ups.

Figure 5: Sand Dunes

The normal to wide angle shots tend to focus on form (see Figure 5). With these images, both the forms and lighting are critical. The forms must be interesting and the light must serve to enhance the forms. Consequently, these types of sand dune shots often use side lighting. This means that the images need to be shot either early or late in the day when the sun is low on the horizon.

Figure 6: Sand Dunes
Close up shots usually emphasis either smaller forms or texture (see Figure 6). Just like normal/wide angle shots, Close-up shots often use side light. This augments the small forms or texture.


Buildings provide a rich source of opportunities for abstract images. This is because they have a number of features that can lend themselves to an abstract interpretation:

Perhaps the most noticeable aspect of buildings is form. The overall structure of a building provides a form within which many sub-forms exist. When concentrating on form, usually, only part of a form is revealed in an abstract image. This is what gives the image it abstract quality and creates a bit of mystique.

Buildings have many prominent lines that can create abstract opportunities. For example, guardrails, edges of buildings, staircases, and hallways all have lines that can be shot from interesting angles to create abstracts images.

Figure 7: Broken Pattern with Building

Many buildings have interesting patterns. Even better is when the pattern is broken in some manner. This is the case in Figure 7 where the pattern of a house made of bottles is broken by the window frame.

Building textures provide the final abstract opportunity. This usually means that a close-up shot is required. Examples of texture abstract opportunities can be found in stucco, weathered boards, and worn cement.


It is almost impossible to walk through an area of rock formations and not find abstract photography opportunities. The two primary qualities that give rock its abstract feel are curves and color.

With most rock formations, curves run throughout the formations. It is just a matter of finding curves that catch the attention. Often, graceful curves work best. In addition, many rock formations have a strong color. In fact, some areas are famous for the color of their rock (southern Utah for example).

There are two approaches to capturing the color at its best. The first approach is to photograph just after sunrise or before sunset. At this time, the light will, likely, be soft and have a warm tone that will bring out the colors.

Figure 8: Rock

The second approach to capturing the color is to use reflected light. Reflected light is light that has reflected off some object before it illuminates the subject being photographed. For instance, the light might reflect off a canyon wall then strike a rock formation. The advantage with reflected light is that it picks up the color of the object from which it reflects. As long as the color of the object from which the light reflects is the same as the color of the object that is being photographed, the saturation of the color is significantly enhanced. This is the case in figure 8. The light reflected off a red, rock surface before striking the Indian ruins. This helped to bring out the red color of the rock.

Around the House

One of the best things about abstract photography is that there are photographic opportunities virtually everywhere. Thus, abstract opportunities can be found in your home, backyard, and neighborhood. That means that abstract photography is one of the few fields of photography that is not subject to the limitation of time (I don’t have the time to go on a photo trip), money (I can’t afford a photo trip), or weather (I flew two thousand miles to spend five days in a cabin while a torrential rainstorm poured outside).

Figure 9: Around the House
When photographing things in, or around, the house, it is best to look for objects that have interesting form, color, or curves. In addition, the best abstract opportunities, around the house, frequently involve photographing part of an object rather than the entire object.

Coming Up Next

Part 4 of this article series will continue to take a look at subject matter that provides abstract photography opportunities. Part 4 of this series will be posted around June 7.


Abstract Photography Part 2     Abstract Photography Part 4