After learning the basics of iPhone photography, you may be ready to get more creative with your compositions. Abstract photography techniques will make your shots look artistic, turning ordinary subjects into extraordinary images. While the style of photography may seem complex, its methods are simple. Abstract photography captures the essence and mood of a scene instead of just the subject and background. While there are a few tricks you can apply during the editing stage, the best abstract photos are well-planned and carefully composed from the start.
1. Look For Geometric Shapes
Angles and straight edges (squares, rectangles, triangles) have a strong visual impact. Look for shapes in architecture, like windows, columns, doors, corners and staircases. When shooting a building from the outside, include the sky. Set against the architecture’s straight lines, the sky will become its own geometric shape. To soften the visual impact of the image, look for circles or irregular shapes. A singular circle can become the focal point of the image or you can fill the frame with several circles. Irregular and organic shapes (leaves, flowers, pebbles) have a more subtle, natural impact.
2. Lines and Curves
Lines and curves lead the viewer’s eye through the frame. Leading lines in particular give perspective as they run back from the foreground and pull you deep into the scene. When you fill the frame with multiple lines, they become the dominant part of the image. Additionally, lines that run diagonally across the frame create a dynamic and balanced image. You can also experiment with horizontal and vertical lines. On the other hand, curved lines are more soft, graceful and gentle than straight lines. Look for curves in spiral staircases, roads, bridges and architecture. Also search for irregularly-shaped lines, like bare tree branches or ripples in the sand.
3. Repeating Patterns
Repeating patterns are everywhere, often found in ordinary objects like plain office buildings. These patterns, which are rarely noticeable until emphasized, can create strong geometric shapes. Look for rows of columns, balconies, windows, tiles or other decorative patterns. In nature, repeating patterns are everywhere as well, like in tree trunks, leaves and sand. Get as close as you need to so that you can fill the whole frame with the pattern. Shoot from straight on so the lines aren’t tilted. Or, purposely shoot from an exaggerated, tilted angle for added interest.
Texture makes your images seem tactile, bringing them to life and connecting with the viewer. Capture the subject up close to get all the details. You want the viewer to feel like they could reach out and actually touch the peeling paint, lapping water or silky feathers. Note that when you shoot soft textures, the image will be more delicate, and when you shoot rough textures, the image will be more severe. Side lighting is best for capturing texture because it creates small shadows that make the texture stand out. If the image isn’t coming out the way you want it to, come back at another time of day when the light has moved.
Color is the first thing people notice about a picture. It holds the viewer’s attention because it’s stimulating to the mind. Colors evoke different emotions based on hue, saturation and color combinations. In abstract photography, color can even be the main focus. Here are a few ways to experiment with color:
- Fill the entire frame with one color.
- Make vivid colors pop by setting them against a black background.
- Make bright colors more intense by increasing saturation during editing.
- Create a dynamic, energetic photo with two or more contrasting colors.
- Use soft or muted colors that blend into one another to create a calm image.
6. Light, Shadows and Silhouettes
Shadows and silhouettes create mystery, giving the image an unearthly quality and piquing the viewer’s curiosity. To photograph shadows, shoot when there’s direct sunlight instead of when the sky is overcast. Right after sunrise or right before sunset (the golden hour) are the two times of day that will create interesting shadows on the ground and walls. Look for people, trees and buildings that cast shadows on surfaces. During editing, try flipping the shadow image upside down for a greater abstract feel.
7. Negative Space
Negative space is the empty space surrounding a subject. Large areas of negative space draw the eye to the subject, even one that’s small within the frame. Negative space doesn’t always have to be white, although in styled shots a white background can make the subjects stand out more. For a still life, setup your shot with a lot of plain background and space around the subject. When outdoors, line up a row of buildings or the horizon on the bottom grid line in your native camera app, filling the top two-thirds of the image with sky. Outside, any plain surface can provide negative space, like the ground or walls.
When you photograph reflections in water, metal or other shiny surfaces, you’ll create an artsy, distorted image. This distortion, which is a result of an uneven reflective surface, gives your photography a painterly look. Seek out reflections that have interesting shapes or beautiful colors. Shoot just the reflection or include both the subject and its reflection in the same frame. Water reflections are excellent if you want to create symmetry with the reflection and the subject.
9. Blur and Distort
While traditional photography promotes crisp, focused subjects, abstract photography allows for blurry and distorted images. Blurred photos can look dreamy and imaginative. To achieve the effect, shoot through a semi-transparent object, like frosted glass, a shower curtain, bubble wrap, a foggy window or water. You can also blur motion by using an app that lets you take a long exposure shot, like Slow Shutter Cam, or by moving the camera when shooting a stationary subject. Rotate the camera during exposure to get a spiraled blurry shot or move the camera up and down for a linear blur.
10. Get Creative With Apps
Finally, experiment with some of the many creative apps that are out there in the app stores. Apps like Circular will quickly and easily turn your photos into interesting tiny planet art, while apps like Blur FX will apply a selection of blur effects to your image turning it into something totally different. You may then choose to layer elements of different photos into one composite using an app like Superimpose or apply a distressed effect using Mextures or Distressed FX.
Share Your Abstract Photography
Don’t forget to share your own abstract photography with us by tagging your images on Instagram with #mobiography. The best will be featured in our weekly showcase of mobile photography or in the Mobiography magazine.