What Else?

February 01, 2024  •  Leave a Comment

We've slipped back into stick season here in Eastern Idaho, with a warm snap having melted a great deal of snow below 5,000 feet. The eight-day forecast indicates colder temperatures and precipitation are on the way, so the scenery ought to be transitioning back to normal soon. Sorry, Mr. Groundhog, but regardless of what you see tomorrow morning I don't think winter is going anywhere. The skiers want more of it and I'll second that sentiment.

In the interim, however, it's not looking very seasonal in and around Idaho Falls. Both the Teton Valley and Jackson Hole are still the winter wonderlands you'd expect to see, but I haven't had time to run over to either one. My shutter finger is thus a bit twitchy. 

To remedy the situation, earlier in the week I pulled out food dye and glassware of various shapes and sizes, filling each vessel with a different color of water. Then I mixed and matched, looking through the viewfinder to see what I could create - like this:

If you want to know more about how to do this, drop me a line. Set-up is simple, it requires very little space, and it's kind of addictive.

Abstract photography can range from an unexpected interpretation of a recognizable object to something completely obscure. 

This type of imagery isn't for everyone; there's a bias toward representational visuals. Generally speaking, if you post an abstract photograph it won't generate as much positive feedback as an image featuring a scene that can be easily identified, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't make abstracts if you find them interesting. 

Dabbling with abstracts is a good exercise even if you don't intend to do anything with the images you make.

Considering objects and/or scenes in this type of unique way encourages creativity. It also exponentially expands opportunities: potential subject matter can be found anywhere. Not only will this help you to think outside the box when you're in popular (and over-photographed) destinations like national parks, but you will discover plenty of interesting things you can shoot without leaving home.

The more abstracts you make, the more possibilities you'll see.

"One should not only photograph things for what they are, but for what else they are."
Minor White

If you're new to abstract photography, here are a few ideas to help you find the "what else" White speaks of:

Go Tighter

Get close to an object and you'll begin to see all sorts of detail. Get really close and it may no longer be immediately recognizable. Depending on what you're shooting, you can either use a macro lens or simply zoom in. Try various angles. Experiment with depth of field. 

This is an extreme close up of a daylily bloom.
(macro lens) 

LOOK INSIDELOOK INSIDEDaylily (Hemerocallis)

Newfields, New Hampshire
Mineral stains from groundwater seeping out of cracks and trickling down the surface of the rock creates colorful streaks on the cliffs at Pictured Rocks in Munising, Michigan.
(zoom lens)

Mineral Stain IIIWEEPINGPictured Rocks National Lakeshore

Near Munising, Michigan

Painting With Motion

There's no limit to what you can create by using intentional camera movement. The combination of chosen subject matter, how the camera is manipulated, and how long the shutter is left open will determine the result.

You can try all sorts of movements while the shutter is open. Vertical. Horizontal. Zoom. Use a circular motion. Flip the camera from rightside up to upside down - or vice versa.

Conversely, you can use objects in motion to create an abstract. In this case the camera does not move, but the combination of a long exposure and a moving subject creates the intentional blur. An example of this would be a tight shot of a wheat field on a windy day.

I made the image below at Hiawatha National Forest in Upper Michigan. This is vertical ICM. What you're looking at is a combination of tall grasses and maple trees.

ESSENCE OF AUTUMNESSENCE OF AUTUMNAbstract rendering of brilliant foliage in the Hiawatha National Forest

Michigan's Upper Peninsula
Look for patterns and reflections 

Urban environments can be especially interesting in this regard. Buildings that feature a great deal of glass can create great distortions: sometimes distortions of distortions. 


Denver, Colorado
That said, there's no shortage of patterns and reflections to be found in the natural world. These are sand dunes at Death Valley National Park.

LINE BY LINELINE BY LINEMesquite Flat Sand Dunes

Death Valley National Park, California


When processing abstracts, think freely. The less recognizable the subject, the more you can experiment. Up doesn't have to be up. Who says you can't rotate the photograph? 

Try combining images. Experiment with distortion. Flip the image horizontally or vertically. Change the white balance. 

Anything goes.

DISTORTIONSDISTORTIONSAn abstract view of Cloud Gate, the sculpture which is the centerpiece of Millennium Park

Anish Kapoor, artist

Chicago, Illinois
As for compositional elements, I consider a lot of the same things when making an abstract as I would when creating a more conventional image: factors like placement, balance, color contrast, how I want the eye to move through the photograph, and so on. 

The photograph above has a lot going on, so I wanted to ground it by placing the "x" smack dab in the center. The outer oval is symmetrical and also serves as a frame within the frame. 

In case you don't recognize the subject, it's the Cloud Gate sculpture in Chicago's Millennium Park. I was standing beneath it, shooting nearly straight up.

Give abstraction a try! You won't have any shortage of subject matter. We're surrounded by things that have the potential to be very interesting.


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