Abstract art is among the most difficult to define art currents, and abstract photography is no exception. Often referred to as experimental, non-objective, concrete or conceptual, abstract photography depicts an image that doesn’t hold an immediate connection with the object, tangible world. It may include a fragment of the natural world, a deliberately staged setting, or an original mix of shape, color and light designed to create a separation between the object and its context.
As the abstract images can be obtained with or without a traditional camera, the realm of abstract art is not limited to photography, extending to painting, illustration, film, and the digital world. Our article will cover the most important aspects of abstract photography, organized into three main categories. You will also find inspiration and useful tips on how to take your own spectacular abstract photos.
Black and White Abstract Photography
Regarded as the most stylish and elegant type of abstract photography, black and white photography is often used in fashion, wedding, and architecture. Abstraction in photography works well when the subject is presented in a simplified color scheme.
Macro photography is another type of technique that often helps artists create stunning abstract black and white images. Macro photography refers to taking up-close shots of various subjects, often resulting in abstractions of the real world. Flowers, plants, and everyday objects are just a few of the subjects artists use to create impressive abstract macro works.
Black and white photography is a great medium for creating abstract images, as the lack of natural color isolates the subject even more. As the meaning of abstract photography is to present the subject out of its normal context, black and white images are perfectly fit.
Masters of Abstract Black and White Photography
One of the famous names in black and white photography is László Moholy-Nagy, a Hungarian photographer, and printer. Generally accepted as part of the Constructivist movement, the Bauhaus school professor has created a body of work that can easily fit the abstract aesthetic.
His black and white images depict urban and industrial landscapes. The unique perspective he uses when taking the pictures makes his images a great study for abstract photography. All photography enthusiasts should be familiar with the art of Moholy-Nagy, a contemporary master.
Abstract Landscape Photography
Abstract landscape photography, also known as abstract nature photography, is an impressive endeavor. Through the use of camera movement, light and shadow, exposure time, and various focal lengths artists manage to produce amazing results. Abstract artists explain that taking advantage of light and the silhouettes it creates is vital to abstract landscape images.
Almost any natural landscape can be transformed into an abstracted version of itself by a creative mind. Modern landscape photographers experiment with camera and subject movement, as well as various other techniques to create their images.
A great example of expressionist abstraction of a natural landscape is the view of orange sandstone hills. Due to the unique angle chosen by the photographer, the image becomes an abstract pattern. This non-objective perspective invites the viewer to make his own interpretation of the subject. Choosing the right texture is vital for abstract landscape art; waves, beaches, clouds and fields being usually the favorite subjects.
Masters of Abstract Landscape Photography
Alvin Langdon Coburnis probably the best photographer to become famous for his abstract landscape art. The 20th-century artist is a pioneer of American pictorialism, becoming the first major figure to explore abstract photography.
His work depicts natural and urban landscapes transformed into abstract concepts. Using unique shooting angles, Coburn manages to create a fine body of work that is still remarkable. His landscapes are hauntingly beautiful, taking the viewer away from the actual subject and into a realm of imagination.
Abstract Portrait Photography
Portraiture has also been subject to the influence of the abstract current. Although it might seem harder to create portraits that don’t hold a resemblance to their subjects, artists found a way. Through image manipulation, superimposition and even mixed techniques, photographers created stunning abstract portraits.
Abstract portraiture first appeared in painting, but photographers were quick to adopt the techniques. The works of people like Pablo Picasso, Francis Bacon, and even of the 60s golden boy, Jean-Michel Basquiat, incorporated abstract tendencies in painting. Although mainly known as part of other artistic currents, all three of these painters produced abstract portraits, using different means.
The most famous artist who made the transition between abstract portrait in painting and its photographic representation is Andy Warhol. Famous for his gigantic prints of up-close shots of celebrities, Warhol used multiplication and color manipulation to create abstraction. Examples of his works of abstract portraits are numerous, and still define our idea of the modern portrait.
Masters of Abstract Portraits Photography
An important artist you should check out if you need ideas or inspiration for abstract portraits is Lazar Markovich Lissitzky. Known simply as El Lissitzky, this Russian avant-garde artist produced a remarkable body of work. Starting as an architect and painter, El Lissitzky also experimented with abstract photography.
His self-portrait, entitled The Constructor (produced in 1924), is a great source of ideas on how to create abstract art. Using monochrome photography, collage techniques and added drawn details, the artist produced a memorable abstract portrait.
Abstract Urban Photography
An urban abstract is exactly as the name suggests: any abstract image photographed within a city. What’s great is that the urban landscape has such a great potential and you can find opportunities everywhere you look. A great place to start would be the local neighbourhood, where one can begin practicing abstract urban photography and get the hang of it.
Any abstract urban photographer would advise on seeing the environment differently, as if you were seeing those surrounding for the first time. There’s a need to drop any preconceptions about what an attractive subject is. In the abstract world, everything has potential and can turn into a piece of art.
Isolate your subject, reducing your composition, so that your frame encompasses the element or elements most appealing in that environment. Attention to detail is very important when it comes to abstract urban photography.
Masters of Abstract Urban Photography
One of the most appreciated abstract urban photographers is Justin Green. His work has been featured in publication such as The Guardian, Photophique, Creative Review, and Time Out, among many others. Green shoots the abstract world within the cities he visits, looking at things like symmetry, texture, patterns, and decay. He photographs both natural and man-made subjects that often go unnoticed by ”inexperienced” eyes.
Abstract Photography Ideas and Tips
Abstract photography is one of the most permissive artistic forms of representation. The outside world, still life, natural elements and the human body make great subjects for abstraction. Now that you know what is abstract photography, you can start creating your own images. If you want to experiment with abstract photography techniques, here are a few abstract photography tips to guide you through this process.
Concentrate on Shapes, Lines, and Colors
Look for attractive patterns in your subjects and know that abstract photography benefits from the accentuation of one of these three compositional elements. If shooting in an urban setting, make sure to also check out our guide to architectural photography.
Try Macro Lenses
As we already mentioned, macro photography is one technique that will help you produce amazing abstract images, so give it a try. You will manage to capture previously unseen details of people, natural or urban elements, everyday objects. You can visit our collections of macro photography tips for more info.
Use Objects as Filters
Shooting through stained glass windows, a transparent glass bottle, or even water will distort your image, creating the desired abstract effect.
Play with Your Camera Settings
Throw out the rulebook! Abstract photography allows you to shoot out of focus, at extreme and unusual angles, and even upside down. Play around and leave the theory behind. Our collection of digital photography tips might come in handy.
Have Fun with Editing
Photographers are generally discouraged from heavily editing their work in post-production. When it comes to abstract photography, there are no limits to how you can manipulate your images. Experiment with coloring, rotation, even collage techniques until you get the perfect result.
Combine Different Techniques, Styles, and Types of Photography
You can try your hand at abstract macro photography as mentioned before, or even abstract nature photography and tips on nature photography for help.
By photographing texture you’ll allow the viewer to almost ‘’feel’’ the image. Everywhere around us we can find interesting textures to shoot if we’re paying enough attention to our surroundings. Work with different angles to capture the feel of the texture best.
Pay Attention to Shadows
Shadows add depth to the surrounding elements, which is why it’s worth including them in your photographs. Plus, they also add contrast, making that image pop. In abstract photography, you are allowed to photograph all kinds of shadows, especially unusual-looking ones. Don’t be afraid to shoot them, especially if you’re a fan of abstract black and white photography.
Abstract art photography is a style that allows creativity to flourish, so any passionate photographer should dip their toes in the world of photography. You can use almost everything as your subject, from buildings to plants and trees, to everyday objects and even nude models. Look at the work of the masters of abstract photography and then build your own style. The secret of abstract images is the constant experimenting with camera settings, lighting, and patterns.