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Abstraction in Photography

Updated on February 2, 2018
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Titia is interested in photography, poetry, family, art, dogs, cats, insects, wildlife, history, war, camping, writing, and the environment.

Abstraction in Photography
Abstraction in Photography | Source

Definition of Abstract

Merriam Webster: Having only intrinsic form with little or no attempt at pictorial representation or narrative content

Forms, Color and Curves

Just as in Painting and Sculpture, the abstraction in Photography speaks to the viewer mainly through form, color and curves. An Abstract photo is taken in such a way that it will arouse the viewer's interest because it doesn't exactly tell us what you see, but it rather plays with your emotions. The point of interest to another dimension and it challenges your fantasy.

Showing off My Abstract Bottle Project

abstract photos
abstract photos | Source

Using a Plastic Bottle to Make an Abstract Photo

One night, long time ago, I sat at my desk, working on my pc and I had an old coke bottle filled with water standing on my desk. When I was leaning back to think (yes sometimes the old brain needs to do that), I suddenly noticed that this plastic water bottle was full of color. All the rubbish that's been sitting and lying around on my desk was shining through.

I got my camera and started to make photos, close enough so you won't see the shape of the bottle and I got some wonderful abstract photos, where color and shape were forming the composition.

The blue came from a bottle of Vicks Vaporub, the red came from a box of matches, the rest I don't know, whatever was laying there.

That opened a new world for me. I'm just an amateur photographer, who doesn't know anything about the technical side of photography. If you would ask me what my aperture was or my shutter speed, I couldn't tell you. Most of the time my camera is set on automatic.

The Abstraction of an Ordinary Plastic Bottle

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Abstract PhotoAbstract PhotoAbstract PhotoAbstract PhotoAbstract Photo
Abstract Photo
Abstract Photo | Source
Abstract Photo
Abstract Photo | Source
Abstract Photo
Abstract Photo | Source
Abstract Photo
Abstract Photo | Source
Abstract Photo
Abstract Photo | Source

Playing Around with the Shutterspeed

One time my hubby and I were driving home along the highway from Antwerp towards the Belgian coast. I got bored sitting there, doing nothing.

The Belgian Highways have lights and that popped an idea into my head. I took out my camera and started taking pictures. With the digital photography it's so easy to just click away, because what you don't want later on, you just delete.

We drove about 100km/hour and I took pictures, while playing around with the shutter speed. Just blindly fiddling around with the setting, because it was too dark in the car to see what I was doing anyway.

I moved my camera around while the shutter speed was still open. At home I played with the photos in my photo editing program Paint Shop Pro. I've embedded the original photo. I don't pretend they're good pictures, I only want to show you some actions and results.

The photo above is the most recognizable where you can still see it's a highway with lights.

Abstract Night Photography

The abstract highway
The abstract highway | Source

Playing with Shutterspeed and Moving Camera - Playing with Light at Night on the Highway

Click thumbnail to view full-size

Photographer Lester Hayes . - Wow, Wish I Had Seen This Video Sooner

While doing some research on Abstract Photography, I thought 'let's see what's there to find on YouTube', because today you can find anything on YouTube. I stumbled upon this beautiful interview with Lester Hayes. I must confess I had never heard of him before, but when I looked at this video, it was if he had taken the words from my mind and it was like coming home. This man is telling exactly how I feel about and what I want to do with my own photography. I was so glad to hear that he didn't know anything about photography (I don't either) but only knew what he wanted to photograph (I do too). Oh boy, his photos are just so beautiful. But in no way I will/can compare myself to this man, who was the pioneer of abstract photography.

Strangely enough I can only find this video interview of him on the internet, no other information about this man, who took a Kodak instant camera and made the most exiting photos with it.

The Old Kodak Instamatic Camera

I'll bet you can still find them second hand
I'll bet you can still find them second hand | Source


Stairs on a broken down factory building
Stairs on a broken down factory building | Source

I Do Love the Black and White in Photography

I think Black & White photography has been and is the most expressive form in photography that triggers the imagination of the viewing public.

In today's digital photography, it seems very easy to change a color photo into a black & white photo. It's only one push on a button. However not all color photos are suitable to change to black & white.

Sunlight Reversed

Sunlight Reversed is a negative of a photo of a small stable window.
Sunlight Reversed is a negative of a photo of a small stable window. | Source

Old Spiderweb

Old Spiderweb in the corner of a window in my barn
Old Spiderweb in the corner of a window in my barn | Source

Form, Color and Lines in Abstract Photography

In Abstract Photography the form, the color and the line are playing big roles. I don't pay any attention to any photographic rule when making my photos. Well, almost not. Very often the rule of third (not putting the accent right in the middle) goes here too, but that has become standard in my thoughts. Composition is the most important. The image needs to be balanced, there should be no place where your eyes will go immediately every time you watch the photo.

I'll show you some more, some were assignments from my photo club, some I just made for fun.

More Abstract Photos by Titia Geertman

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Drippings of a candleThe remains of a carnaval wagonThe fire in our wood stoveReflection of a lamp in old metal kettlePaint on a corrugated wall
Drippings of a candle
Drippings of a candle | Source
The remains of a carnaval wagon
The remains of a carnaval wagon | Source
The fire in our wood stove
The fire in our wood stove | Source
Reflection of a lamp in old metal kettle
Reflection of a lamp in old metal kettle | Source
Paint on a corrugated wall
Paint on a corrugated wall | Source

Blue Wall

blue wall changing
blue wall changing | Source

Changing Photos into Abstract Photos - You'll Need a Good Photo Editing Program to Do This

Of course there is also Digital Abstract, which is made by using a good photo editing program, like Photoshop, Paint Shop Pro or the free program Gimp. I've never used Gimp, but others do and they are quite pleased with it. I have tried to use Photoshop, but I always fell back to Paint Shop Pro, probably because that was the program I started out with.

With Digital Abstract you use a 'normal' photo and take out details to make it abstract and using the editing possibilities to change form and/or color.

Below I will show you some examples, showing the original photo and what I turned it in to. Keep remembering that I'm just an amateur in this whole field of photography.


Never work on your original photo, make a copy first!

Leave Your Original Photos Alone

Never work on your original photos, you might lose them

One thing you should never do is working on your original photo in an editing program. Save your original photos in a special map and make a copy of the original to work on. I found out the hard way, when I didn't know anything about computers and digital photography. I've lost a lot of beautiful photos that way.

I used to work on my originals, make them smaller and save them, not knowing that at that moment, I lost my original photo. I've made so many photos when I had my first digital camera and as I was only using them on the pc, I thought it wouldn't hurt to save them in a small format. Until I learned that you can never retrieve a big photo from a small one, but by then the damage was done.

What I do now when I put my photos on my pc, is save them in special maps, sorted by either subject or date. When I want to work on a photo I first make a copy of the original and save it in another map under a different name. Then, when something goes wrong, you always have the original to start over again. I don't want to tell you how many times I accidentally hit the 'save' button when working on a photo. I've also learned to save in between stages, so you can always start over from a certain point and don't have to do it all over again. Especially when I use text, I save the photo before adding text, because ever so often I discover a typo later on.

Video Example of Abstract Photography

Abstract Portrait

As you can see, the original photo was a bad one, very flat and overexposed, but I took a detail out of the original and worked on that. First I darkened it which brought up the deeper red color. Then I played around with contrast until I thought it was enough. It's expressing more emotion now.

digital portrait
digital portrait | Source

Abstract Potatoe

One day I found this sack of potatoes, which should've been thrown out long ago but was overlooked. (Does that tell you something about my house keeping skills?)They were all growing tentacles and they just looked like gorgeous photo material to me. So I put up a black sheet on my kitchen counter and put the potatoes on it and I photographed them from all different angles. That alone brought some very nice photos. What I did with this one is taking a small detail (lower right corner) and played around with sharpness and contrast.


Video Example of Abstract Photography

Abstract Ashtray

The last one is a photo of a part of a green glass ashtray. I don't even know why this photo was made, probably to figure something out. Taking a detail of this original photo, gives you a rather nice abstract result. The thing that bothers me though is the brownish area on the right. I think it would've been better if I had cropped that out.

ashtray | Source

Poll: Abstract Photos

Have you ever tried to make Abstract Photos?

See results

Adobe Photoshop

Adobe Photoshop is one of the leading photo editing programs of today.

It's expensive and not too easy to learn, but it's worth its money. Some people are real artists in using this program and lots of courses are given all over the world.

I'm a Paint Shop Pro user myself and therefore didn't learn to work with Photoshop.

Long time ago I met a professional photographer who also published his work and he said: 'I'm working with Photoshop for 7 years now and still haven't explored all its possibilities".

Abstract Photography Requires a Different Look

You need to go outside to photograph landscapes, you need a model to photograph portraits, but Abstract Photography only needs a different look at things, it's all about looking for the maybe not so obvious details. There's abstract in everything if only you know how to look for it.

Some years ago the front of our house got a new layer of concrete plaster. They used a machine to do that and while the man was working I saw so many potential abstract photos in the structure of the plaster, that I could have taken a thousand photos.

Plaster on the Wall 1:

Greenish blue netting was first stuck to the wall which would prevent the plaster from falling off.

Plaster on the Wall 2:

The cement was sprayed on the wall with a machine and when the man had to stop, he would end with making a loophole with this hose. I thought it would make a nice abstract photo.

Plaster on the Wall 1

Abstract in concrete plaster
Abstract in concrete plaster | Source

Plaster on the Wall 2

Abstract in concrete plaster on the wall of our house
Abstract in concrete plaster on the wall of our house | Source

Paint Shop Pro from Amazon - Psp 9, That's the Program I Work With

When I started to work with a photo editing program, I looked around the internet and stumbled upon the Paint Shop Pro 7 Dutch version from the Jasc Software company and they just had this great discount so I bought it. It took some time to learn the ins and outs, but I found some great tutorials on the internet. A few years later I bought the PSP 9 version and up till today I'm working with that version.

In the meantime Jasc Software was taken over by Coral Draw, so now the programs are called Coral Paint Shop Pro. PSP provides me with sufficient possibilities so far. I've tried Photoshop, but once you're used to a program, it's difficult to switch to another program. Anyway, I try to take my photos in a way, that they hardly need working on.

Bullit Hole in a Window - I Regret That I Only Took One Photo

A WW2 bullit hole in the window of my late aunt's house.
A WW2 bullit hole in the window of my late aunt's house. | Source

When I was cleaning the windows in the house of my late aunt before rendering it over to its new owners, I found this weird hole in one of the windows. We didn't know of course what caused it, but it looked so perfectly to a bullet hole that it wouldn't surprise me if it has been sitting there since World War 2, knowing that the house and all that was in it never changes since her father bought it in 1930.

I took a photo from very close (macro) and it gave this beautiful structures of broken glass.

Abstract Yellow Reflections

Click thumbnail to view full-size
From above where the segments resembles a kaleidoscope pictureDetail: worked with the contrast tool a lot.Detail of one segment. Used contrast and sharpen tool.Darkened it with the 'curve' tool and played around with the color shifting.Close detail and used a bit of contrast and sharpening tool. I like this one the best.
From above where the segments resembles a kaleidoscope picture
From above where the segments resembles a kaleidoscope picture | Source
Detail: worked with the contrast tool a lot.
Detail: worked with the contrast tool a lot. | Source
Detail of one segment. Used contrast and sharpen tool.
Detail of one segment. Used contrast and sharpen tool. | Source
Darkened it with the 'curve' tool and played around with the color shifting.
Darkened it with the 'curve' tool and played around with the color shifting. | Source
Close detail and used a bit of contrast and sharpening tool. I like this one the best.
Close detail and used a bit of contrast and sharpening tool. I like this one the best. | Source

This Was It and I Hope You've Enjoyed My Photos

I've tried to give you some idea of what Abstract Photography is about. There are marvelous abstract photographers around, but most of us will never reach that level and I don't think we shouldn't want to reach that. Just have some fun with your camera. You don't even have to have one of those expensive ones. Look what beautiful photos Lester Hayes made with his simple Kodak instamatic some 80 years ago.

Abstract Photography has to do with the way we look at things and maybe it's time for you to look a bit closer. Just look around where you sit now, while reading my story and try to find the forms and lines and colors of your future abstract photos.

When we were young, my dad (who was an artist) taught us to look through a frame. He made us cut out a small square or rectangle in the middle of a sheet of paper and then we had to held that at (half) arm length and we had to look through the hole, while moving it around to find the best composition. That's how I've learned to look at details.

Don't forget

So don't forget: Never ever work on your original photo, make a copy to work on

Cat Paws in Black and White

cat paws
cat paws | Source

The Paws of My Tortie Cat 'Red'

The paws of my Tortie cat 'Red', just before he decided to slap me, because I came too close with that weird black thing (my camera) and that made her feel very uncomfortable.

© 2013 Titia Geertman


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