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Abstract Photography Up Close

“What is it?” tends to be the usual response from viewers regarding abstract images. This reaction isn’t really a surprise since abstract photography is less about the literal definition and more about a subjective expression aimed to engage, provoke or entice. As a form of art what takes precedence is the form, color, line and texture within the composition to evoke stimulation. But there is more to abstract photography than mere obscurity. There’s the psychological aspect. As quoted in John Suler’s essay, Photographic Psychology: Image and Psyche: “An abstract photograph draws away from that which is realistic or literal. It draws away from natural appearances and recognizable subjects in the actual world. Some people even say it departs from true meaning, existence, and reality itself. It stands apart from the concrete whole with its purpose instead depending on conceptual meaning and intrinsic form.” Simply stated, we “see” what we feel.


There are several reasons to pursue abstract photography.

  • You can transfer the ordinary into the extraordinary
  • By disciplining your eyes to see things, not as whole units, but as colors, patterns, textures and lines, you can experiment with limitless possibilities. It relinquishes most rules associated with photography
  • It is a very powerful means of communication and can be created anywhere with any subject matter
  • Abstract photography is a popular commercial form of art and the rewards for a good abstract photographer are worthwhile. Art buyers pay large amounts for good abstract work


Some kinds of macro photography can be considered as abstract. The end result can still be recognizable, but taken in such a way that it is unique to the viewer’s perception. Flowers, plant life, anything colorful or provides reflection will make great abstract subjects. With macro photography, the aim is to crop tightly using the whole frame, emphasizing color, texture or pattern. Try to avoid any blank spaces (though negative space is acceptable) and because of the macro’s depth-of-field and close proximity to the subject matter, always use a tripod.


Composition is the tool by which we give structure and form to our feelings of visual delight. Without composition, we cannot communicate the emotions that moved us to take the photograph in the first place. There aren’t any given camera settings to follow, but it is recommended that you switch to manual mode and try out various shutter speeds and f-stops in order to reveal the true potential of your goal. Bracket your shots and alter the EV settings.

It doesn’t mean you can be negligent in the technology, but it encourages you to be more experimental in your approach. Try soft focus filters, shake the camera deliberately for visual rhythms, pan your shot or even use double-exposure. Using a slow shutter speed to shoot a flag or flower blowing in the wind will give an interesting abstract image. The trick to keeping abstract photography attractive when using your camera’s shutter is to crop tightly. To create great abstract images, remove everything that does not, in some way, strengthen the viewer’s emotional reaction. This is the art of subtraction. It is the success of the arrangement rather than the beauty of the individual members that helps make a subject photogenic.


Of all the elements in design, line is the strongest. Without line, there is no shape. Without shape, there is no form. Without form, there is no pattern. A stronger sense of composition may be developed by reducing visual subjects to their simplest forms, namely lines and shapes since it is vital that the eye of the viewer flows fluidly. You are creating a continuous visual rhythm.

Lines can balance an image, drawing the eye toward the main point of interest or by reciprocating a desired pattern, not so much directing the eye to a certain point, but to a repetition of points.

  • Converging lines have a very strong dynamic quality, consuming the viewer into the scene
  • Diagonal lines are quite directional, leading the eye toward some unknown destination
  • Horizontal and vertical lines, while more static, have the ability to create a sense of calm and serenity
  • Radiating lines, like those found in many floral close-ups, push out the edges and involve the viewer actively in imagining what lies beyond the frame
  • Zigzags are whimsical
  • Curved lines are sensual and seductive. Any time you have a curve, the eye will follow it. It functions as a guide to usher your view throughout the image with no end point in sight
  • Parallel lines are rigid and very formal.


Form is seen in three-dimensions, while shape (i.e. texture and patterns) has only two. Form assures us that an object has depth and actually exists. Basically, form creates the core of an image while color and curves add enhancements. To express form we depend on light and the resulting shadows. The best conditions to articulate form is by using side lighting to reveal its definition under sunny conditions. Shape, on-the-other-hand, is best defined when the subject is front lit or backlit for there should be a strong contrast between the shape and its surroundings.


By using close-up photography, the more you will appreciate texture. Pictures based solely on texture exude a deep emotional response because they convey (in both a visual and tactile manner) so much about the object (e.g. age, brilliance, softness/roughness, whether it’s structured or amorphous) without having to show the whole ensemble. A compelling image of texture (unlike line, shape, pattern or color) is dependent on low-angled sidelight. However, as a rule of thumb, finely textured surfaces need softer, more diffused lighting to bring out their qualities than do rough surfaces that seek more dramatic effects.


Color is unavoidable in life and arguably the most emotional and persuasive elements in a close-up image. Color can sometimes say more in a photograph than the subject. It draws the viewer in and the color of a subject will immediately inform the viewer as to what they are looking at or it will elicit a strong emotional reaction. For example, of the four primary colors (red, blue, yellow and green), red has the property of appearing closer than it is and therefore, grabs our attention first. It displays a characteristic of being physical and passionate and can stimulate our pulse rate. Blue, in contrast, is associated with intelligence, essentially soothing and unflustered. It is a color that affects us mentally rather than physically, for it can calm our emotions or leave them cold. Yellow is the strongest color psychologically. Yellow can lift our spirits and our self-esteem. It is the color of confidence and optimism. Conversely, it can display weakness, fear and anxiety. And green strikes the eye in such a way as to require no adjustment is therefore, restful. Being in the center of the spectrum, green evokes balance and security on a primordial level. To enhance the richness of color, do your photography during the “golden hour,” in late afternoon when the sinking sun bathes everything with a warm, golden glow.

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MasteringPhoto, powered by bestselling Routledge authors and industry experts, features tips, advice, articles, video tutorials, interviews, and other resources for hobbyist photographers through pro image makers. No matter what your passion is—from people and landscapes to postproduction and business practices—MasteringPhoto offers advice and images that will inform and inspire you. You’ll learn from professionals at the forefront of photography, allowing you to take your skills to the next level.