How to Shoot in Abstracts

How to Shoot in Abstracts

What is shooting with abstracts, and why is it important? Well first of all, shooting in abstracts will help you compose your pictures with more dynamic qualities and interesting design as well as better composition. I often look for abstract shapes before I take my photographs, and in this article I will show you what I look for in composing my pictures in abstraction.




First lets look at the picture above. I shot this in Jaipur during my trip to India in 2014. It was shot at the Jaipur Fort just outside the city of Jaipur. Beautiful buildings. This image is shot looking for abstract shapes as directional aides and composition. What I saw was the middle image. Simple geometric shapes. I shoot most of my pictures this way, mostly due to my background in design. A big part of this shot is the amount of sky I have.

So let's break this down. The black and red brown areas are opposing directional aides. They keep this photograph weighted downward. The top area of the building thrusts over to the left and up to the top of the structure. This force draws your eye out of the bottom area. The grayish blue block serves as a directional aid back down to the bottom of the image. Many people ask we why I have so much sky in my pictures, well one for this reason, and two, for something called asymmetry.

The dictionary term for asymmetry is (the absence of, or a violation of, symmetry.), meaning something isn't centered. Too often people center everything in their photos, thinking that it is balanced, or center everything in their home with nic nacs, paintings and furniture. Ick. I love asymmetry as it is a stronger and more active compositional style.

You can add a lot of dynamics, energy and tension in your photographs using asymmetry, and that is what this picture has. It isn't as tension based as other images that I will present, but it has enough dynamics to make a statement.

In this image you can also see triangles. These are great as directional aids in your photographs. You want the viewers eye to move through your picture. Triangles moving in opposite directions gives you this.


It's All About the Goat

This next picture is a little more complex, but has the same underlying abstract quality that I look for.



It has a lot going for it, but the biggest thing is the shapes created, and the weight of one black ball of goat power. This goat cements this whole picture. With out it, the dynamic quality suffers. It would still be balanced by asymmetry, but lack the power. Let's go through this one bit at a time.

First the walkway. The direction of the walkway pushes this whole picture upwards. Mostly by the angle. It frames the photograph. Just like a good foundation, the blocks serve as the support mechanism for the entire image.

The next part is the wall. It too supports the image, but also acts as a container for the upper most part of the picture. It wraps the land above and the girls in a warm embrace. Then we have the sky with the curved triangle land mass. It Points you back down into the picture, so your eye doesn't leave the composition.

But Mr. Goat. He takes the prize in control, with his body movement thrusting back and up in a circular fashion. Of course he is the center of interest. You always have to have a center of interest in any photograph, painting, drawing, tapestry or anything artistic. Right down to drama. Watch a movie. In fact watch a Hitchcock film. You will see brilliant abstract composition in his films. Full of angles, triangles, empty spaces and other shapes. Pushing you here. Pulling you there. Just awesome design.

Like Hitchcocks films you will find asymmetry, just like the image above. There is nothing centered here, especially Mr. Goat. But his energy and contrasting colour makes him the center of interest. If this goat was creme colour and just standing there, it wouldn't have that dynamic quality and stronger asymmetrical design.

Lastly, lets look at the directional aids. As I stated before the walkway thrusting upwards. The goat spinning that energy off and throwing it higher. The triangle above bouncing that energy and swinging it down to the left, and finally the wall that pushes it back to the walkway.

The ladies also have a crucial role in all of this. The girls walking left push any excess energy away from the right edge, while the lady in the purple pulls that directional action over to the right. Everything working together to keep the focus and dynamism in control.

The spotting of colour of what the ladies are wearing just adds more flavour and interest. Even if this photograph was in black and white, it would still have the tension and flow that it does now. The colour just adds to the fun.

I think too when people go to galleries and see abstract paintings, they often poo poo them. Think they could do that. Well, if it didn't exist, I can guarantee you couldn't. It's so easy to see something that exists and say "I could do that." Abstraction is built on the same complexity as a painter who paints reality, however the abstract painter has a more  difficult challenge composing just shape, and making it work right.

I would suggest looking at Gerhard Richter for a good illustration of powerful composition using abstracts. There is a good documentary on him painting, in fact it's called Gerhard Richter Painting. Marvelous film. You will also note that Mr. Richter painted obvious subject matter as well as being an abstract painter. Just that in time he broke realism down to its simplistic form.


The Simplicity of Black and White

Since I mentioned black and white, here is an image that really illustrates abstraction and asymmetrical design.



Although this picture seems centered oriented, its not. It is all balanced by weight of contrasting shades of gray, and the power of the triangle.

Starting from the top this time with the sky, a resting place for the eye before we slide down the mountain face along the right treeline. Taking a breather here on the top of the next tree shape, we slide down again to the right edge of the tree island, zooming down and splashing into the water for another break before we launch back up by the prickly trees pointing towards the heavens.

These trees are the center of interest in this photograph. They come by this by being the darkest element in the picture and their percolating energy upwards. It isn't the grandeur of the mountains that we come to see here, it is blackness of the trees. Beautiful in its simplicity, powerful in its structure.


Back to the Start

Lastly, I would like to talk about the opening image. From all that I have covered here, you should be able to see all the great abstract shapes that make up this nice quite image. The big rectangle walls, the round head on the baby and his directional gaze, the bamboo leaders that the lady is carrying pushing your eye up to the corner. The big black door that slows down the bamboo force so you don't leave the page too fast. Then finally, the rectangle wall on the other side of the door to stop you, and slide you down to the wall, and run you back to do it all over again.

That big rectangle wall on the right side of this photo is very important. It serves as a directional aid. Once you arrive at this area, you are pulled back into the picture by the energy of the baby. Like the earth pulling on the moon. You just have to see what is over there. What do you see baby that is so interesting?

Now we could crop this image up to the man's back. Yeh, I guess you could, but then you would loose all that beauty in the simple abstract qualities. I like giving the viewer a place to sit and rest before venturing off into the photograph again. One of the hallmarks of asymmetry.

To conclude, there is an awful lot you can learn from shooting in abstraction, and be a better photographer for it. I encourage you the next time you go out and shoot, look at the world in abstracts.

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