Abstract landscape photography offers a unique opportunity to explore the world around us in a completely different way. By focusing on patterns, shapes, and textures, we can discover unseen worlds in even the most mundane places.
Although this style of photography can seem a little daunting, I am going to break down six tips that have helped me along my abstract photography journey.
Tip 1: Look Around
While it may seem like a simple tip, it’s often overlooked by photographers when exploring new locations. Instead of solely focusing on the grand vistas or the prominent subjects in the distance, take a moment to look around you. You might be surprised to find fascinating abstract patterns and textures in the most unexpected places, even right beneath your feet.
Pay attention to your surroundings and don’t be afraid to get close to the ground to capture the intricate details, just be mindful of where you step. For example, I was able to capture stunning sand patterns created by the natural ebb and flow of the tides.
Tip 2: Flatten Your Plane of Focus
To emphasize patterns, shapes, and textures in your photographs, try creating a 2D look for your scene. This technique simplifies the composition and gives your image an abstract feel. One way to achieve this effect is by shooting straight down with a wide or mid-range lens.
Alternatively, if your subject is a vertical object such as a tree or rock wall, try to keep your camera parallel to it. This approach allows you to capture a perfectly focused image at F16 without needing to use focus stacking. However, if the ground or wall is not entirely flat, you may need to use focus stacking to ensure your image is fully in focus from top to bottom.
Always take multiple frames at different focal points to ensure you have a range of options to work with. Even if you don’t require additional frames, it’s always beneficial to have them available in case you need to enhance the focus of the scene from top to bottom later on.
Tip 3: Work with Your Conditions instead of Against Them.
Ah, the age-old debate of weather conditions in landscape photography — it’s a topic we often focus on too much. The beauty of abstract or intimate landscape photography is that you can capture stunning shots under any weather condition. It all depends on the subject and what you want to highlight.
For instance, when I was shooting at the beach, I started with beautiful diffused light that gave the landscape a soft look. Suddenly, the sun broke through the clouds and produced incredible golden light. I decided to capture both and loved comparing the two shots.
If you’re shooting on a clear sunny day and want to avoid harsh shadows, look for scenes in the shade or create your own shade with a photo reflector or even yourself. It may sound absurd, but I have shot mud tiles in the desert, focusing on a small patch and using my shadow as diffusion. Surprisingly, the photo turned out pretty good.
Even if you’re on the coast and think that a clear day wouldn’t work with harsh light, specular details reflecting off the sand and water can create mesmerizing results. So don’t let the weather stop you from capturing great shots. If you’re determined enough, you’ll always find something interesting to shoot.
Tip 4: Try Using a Polarizer.
The transformative power of a polarizer on a scene is truly incredible. It can completely change the way reflections appear, offering a whole new perspective. Take a look at these two abstract photos side-by-side, with one using a polarizer and the other without.
You can see the stark difference it can make. If you’re heading out to shoot on the coast or in a forest, make sure to pack a polarizer in your bag and experiment with it. You never know what kind of beautiful images you might capture.
Tip 5: Create a Story.
Creating great abstract photography is all about focusing on shapes and patterns, looking for repetition in nature and interesting color patterns. Sometimes, that can feel a little too abstract (forgive the pun). But fear not! One technique that can help you create interesting abstract work is to tell practical stories through your images, thinking of the shapes as something completely different from what they are. For example, in the photos below, I see not just sand patterns or mud, but the faces of creatures, an aerial perspective of sand dunes, and even wild animals.
This not only gives more context to the photo than just saying, “Oh, look, some shapes and colors,” but also makes the hunt for these photos more fun. So, next time you want to shoot abstracts, try this technique and see what interesting stories you can create.
Tip 6: Capture the Things You Like, Exclude the Thing You Don’t.
Don’t feel like you need to go to the most awe-inspiring locations to create stunning abstract photography. You can find beauty and intrigue in the everyday world around you. The key is to have fun and focus on capturing things that pique your interest. When you’re looking for patterns and shapes, ask yourself, “Do I like this?”
If the answer is yes, then also ask yourself why you feel that way. Once you’ve taken your shot, take the time to carefully edit out any elements that detract from the interestingness of your image. This may mean cropping out empty space, removing distracting objects at the edges, or adjusting the composition to eliminate converging lines. Remember, the goal is to create a composition that is captivating and has visual flow.
Abstract landscape photography is an excellent way to explore the world around us in a completely different way. By focusing on patterns, shapes, and textures, we can discover unseen worlds in even the most mundane places. I really hope these six tips help you and thanks so much for reading!
About the Author: Michael Shainblum is a photographer, filmmaker, and educator based in San Francisco, California. He has been working professionally as a photographer and filmmaker for 17 years since the age of 16. He has been commissioned by clients such as Disney, Nike, Samsung, Apple, and Google. He also shares his knowledge via his Youtube Channel, Instagram, and workshops.