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Abstract Photography

by Catherine Ramsey (follow)
Blog (395)      Tutorials (61)     
What is abstract photography?
Also referred to as conceptual or experimental, abstract photography is about breaking the rules and allowing us see things in a way that we wouldn’t normally see. It’s unique and it’s surprising! Abstract photos can be created both in-camera and through post-production, but today we’re going to be looking at our in-camera techniques.

Light painting
Light painting can be achieved using any source of moving light during a long exposure, in a darkened space.

For example, a person standing in a dark room could be lit up in camera by shining a torch over their body. In a way you are literally painting in the areas you want the camera to capture. Just make sure that the length of your exposure gives you enough time to “paint” your scene; between 10 and 30 seconds is usually adequate. Some terrific abstract results can be achieved using torches, fairy lights, sparklers, LEDs, or even a phone screen if no other light is available.


Smoke can be a great way to create ambiguity and add an air of mystery to your photos. Use it to emulate fog or to surround your subject. Try coloured smoke bombs or backlighting the smoke at night for an even more ethereal appearance.

We all love our bokeh (the circular blur seen in the out-of-focus parts of an image), and you might have tried creating it using fairy lights.

But there are many other ways to capture bokeh that you might not have tried; out of focus street lights at night, the glittery afternoon sun on the ocean or sunlit raindrops on a window are just a few examples. Think outside of the box with this one.

Motion blur

We’re usually told that a blurry photo is a bad photo. But depending on the aesthetic or the mood you want to evoke from your imagery, it can add another dimension to an otherwise boring subject.

Just like light painting, try capturing long exposures of swaying trees, carnival rides or moving vehicles.


The next time you go for a walk after some rain, keep an eye out for puddles and the reflections in them. You’d be surprised by the abstract scenes you can make by approaching it from different angles – a flock of birds flying past or the reflection of a person looking back out of the puddle, for example. The same can be said for window and glass reflections or even mirrors.

Something as mundane as a shadow can be used to make a beautifully haunting image. Wait until the late afternoon for the strongest and longest shadows, and watch for interesting shadows to appear. Setting yourself up in a busy area, with lots of people walking past will give you a good chance to observe their shadows on the pavement.

Architecture, Patterns and Geometry

Even buildings can be captured abstractly. Look out for particularly interesting elements of urban design and repeating geometrics - brickwork, tiles, windows, painted walls and fences, for example. You might also consider capturing them from unexpected angles – from the ground up, from the roof down or tilted to the side.


Capturing subjects in macro (especially with a shallow depth of field) will quite often appear abstract to the human eye as we’re not used to seeing things at such close range or in so much detail. Try photographing natural objects like plants, insects and animals, or even everyday household items with unique textures or patterns.

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