If I choose abstraction over reality it is because I consider it the lesser chaos.
1 – Introduction
This essay features a variety of examples of color abstract photographs. These examples are presented by categories of images. These categories are organized by subject. For each subject the type of abstraction is listed.
This is the first of 2 essays featuring examples. The second essay, which will be the 6th essay in this series, will feature examples of black and white abstract photographs. I decided to separate color and black and white because they each call for a different approach. I simply do not compose the same way in color and in black and white. I also do not process the images in the same manner.
2 About Series
Most of my work is done on the basis of creating series of images rather than single images. Series for me, as for most artists, is a modus operandi, a way of working, an approach to art.
Series can also be called projects. A project is a series of images on a specific subject or idea. I talk about subjects in great detail in my series of essays on Projects, which is available on this site.
I worked on a variety of series when I created the images featured in this essay. These series were given the names that you see below: Roses, Reflections, Rocks and so on. These are simple names and their purpose is to help me organize the work. Classification is important for me. I dislike chaos when it comes to my work and keeping photographs organized by folders named for each series is fundamentally important to me. I lose my patience quickly when I don’t find something, whether it is a photograph or anything else for that matter, and for that reason years ago I decided to organize my work and my personal life in such a way that I am able to find anything I am looking for within five minutes. In addition to saving me time and energy I believe this decision adds years to my life because it allows me to significantly lower my stress level and therefore avoid stress’ damaging health consequences.
3 – About suspending disbelief
If you have not read my previous essay, number four in this series, I recommend you read it now. This previous essay focuses on the necessity of suspending disbelief in order to fully appreciate abstract images. Rather than engage in photographic sleuthing like many photographers do, try looking at the aesthetic or the metaphorical content of these photographs, not only for the images featured here but for all abstract images.
4 – About the examples
The examples start below. For the sake of clarity they are organized by sections. These sections are named and organized according to the subject of the photographs, the techniques used to create them, or the name of the series the images are part of. I used this naming approach because the purpose of this essay is to teach. If these images were presented in the context of an art show there would be no information about subject matter, technique, location or concept.
5 – Blurs: abstraction through technique
Techniques that impart an impressionist look to the image are also valid candidates for the creation of abstract images.
Here the abstraction is created by blurring the subject until all details disappear and identification becomes very challenging if not impossible. In this instance a slow shutter speed was used and the camera was moved during exposure. The combination of these two technical factors, together with extensive practice, create an image that I find to be best described as being an abstract-impressionist photograph.
6 – Lensbaby: abstraction through gear
Using uncommon lenses such as the Lensbaby helps take the image into a purely artistic direction and create either a full or a partial abstraction. Here this photograph of a petroglyph is only partially in focus making it difficult to identify what the subject is. The blurred areas also create a dream-like effect that encourages a contemplative and subjective approach to the image rather than an objective approach.
7 – Death Valley: abstraction through location #1
Here the potential for abstraction comes from the location, not the technique or the isolation of a detail.
This is because Death Valley is a location unlike any other. Much like Antelope Canyon, which we are going to look at next, the landscape of Death Valley is unique and offers no point of reference to other locations. This means that Death Valley is a place where you can constantly find new opportunities for unique abstract photographs. The abstraction comes from the challenge of recognizing what you are looking at.
If there is a title it may tell us where the photograph was taken, but without a title these are abstract images. Unless we have been there and we recognize the place we have no way of knowing the size or the nature of the subject. It could be a very large or a very small subject. It could be real in form and color or it could have been manipulated. It could be literal or transformed.
Just like any abstract photograph looking at these images requires that you are willing to approach them as abstract rather than literal. If you have been there you may recognize the location, but approaching these images as abstract requires you to look at them with new eyes, asking yourself not ‘can I recognize the location’ but instead ‘where is this image taking me, what is it making me dream of, what are my emotions when I look at it, how do I experience it on a subjective rather than an objective level?’
Doing so means approaching an abstract image like you would approach a work of fiction, be it a book, a sculpture or any other work of art. Doing so demands a willingness to believe, an openness of mind and the ability to set aside suspicion to fully immerse ourselves in the admiration of the image. Doing so is not unlike meditation. One has to empty one’s mind, stop the constant flow of thoughts, questions and anxiety, and focus on the moment, the present. Focus on one’s breathing, on ones’ act of being, on fresh air coming in and out of one’s lungs. Forget everything in order to fully appreciate the moment.
8 – Antelope Canyon: abstraction through location #2
Antelope Canyon is another location that is unlike any other place. The fact that it has become well-known means that most people are able to recognize the location. However, the shapes and colors are by nature abstract. For that reason, Antelope Canyon, and most other slot canyons, are propitious places for the creation of abstract images.
9 – Clouds: abstraction by isolation of details
These images are easily identifiable as clouds. Yet, what makes them abstract is that the clouds are purposefully isolated and the photograph is closely cropped to show only a specific area of the cloud bank.
We do not look at clouds like this when we are outside. We see everything: clouds, landscape, horizon and whatever else may be there. Plus, the colors of these images were optimized to increase its vibrance and make it a source of aesthetic interest in the image.
10 – Reflections: abstraction through isolation of large areas of the subject
Reflections are a rich subject for the creation of abstract images. Reflections are by nature not real being a mirror image and not the real thing. Things look different when they are reflected in water. They are inverted. They also change constantly depending on how the wind blows, the water flows or the light changes. All this offers endless possibilities for the creation of abstract photographs.
11 – Bristlecone: abstraction by isolation of medium areas of the subject
Here again small areas of the subject were selected to create a series of abstract images. My approach to composition was similar for all the images in this series. I focused on small areas of the tree trunk, looking for interesting shapes and contrasting colors and textures.
12 – Arcosanti: abstraction by isolation of details
Looking at these images it should be virtually impossible to identify the original subject unless you have been to this location. The fact that it is not heavily visited, and the fact that the subject of these images is in an area accessible only by permission, makes identification challenging.
13 – Roses: abstraction by isolation of medium areas of the subject
Even a rose can be an abstract if it is photographed with the intent of abstraction, as I did with the two examples below. Of course we can all tell that this is a rose, but the extreme close up takes it out of its context.
Without the context we cannot say where it grows or where it is located, we can no longer see if it is alone or among a dozen or a million roses, we cannot say if it is on a rosebush or in a vase, or if it is standing alone or held by someone. Our imagination is triggered in directions other than if the context was available to us. We can admire the rose for itself. We can admire its beautiful curves, its delicate colors, its softness and its visual quality. Or we can imagine a story around the photograph, a story about the rose, how it came to be here, who was involved, what are the circumstances that led to the situation that we imagine.
The lack of context creates a limitation that is in itself an abstraction. This abstraction in turn triggers our imagination because we want to recreate a context, recreate what has been removed from us. We admire the visual beauty of a single rose and we dream because there is nothing to tell us otherwise and there is nothing to channel our dreams in a specific direction. The rose becomes everything we have.
14 – Rocks #1: abstraction by isolation of small areas of the subject plus processing manipulations
In this series extreme color, contrast and form manipulations were applied to the original photographs. The color of the final image is totally different than that of the original. In addition the image was reformatted and the contents of the image were warped and stretched. The outcome of these artistic processes is that the original capture and the final image have very little in common. In fact, if placed next to each other, the original is unrecognizable.
15 – Rocks: #2: abstraction by extreme close up
Here manipulation was far less extensive than in the previous example. Artistic changes were limited to adjusting the contrast, the saturation and the purity of the colors on a local level. Some unwanted areas were cloned out and some of the images were reformatted slightly but no warping, stretching or global color changes were done. The shapes and colors come from the original rock rather than from image manipulation.
16 – Conclusion
This series of essays focuses on the study of abstract photographs. In it we are looking at examples of abstract photographs and we are studying which subjects and which approaches are propitious to the creation of these images. However, from the perspective of art appreciation, in the end it does not matter how an image is created, what was the original subject, or which gear and techniques were used. What matters is that the image is interesting, beautiful, fascinating, intriguing, or has whatever qualities you are looking for when you look at artistic images.
It is easy to fall prey to the study of technique, or to become a subject-sleuth and try to bat 300 trying to figure out each and every subject used to create abstract images. If such is your bend I don’t have a problem with it. I do it too, and I believe that most photographers do. This is important for us because it informs our craft and our approach and because it prevents us from creating images that already exist.
However it is equally important to step away from this visual investigation and instead spend time enjoying these images for their aesthetic content. It is important because aesthetics are the purpose of art. It is the reason why these images were created. Aesthetics are the artist’s motivation. Not obfuscation, not treachery, not fooling the audience but instead providing images that are enjoyable to look at, to immerse ourselves into, to escape through and to enjoy for the visual pleasure that they bring to us. Only then can art be fully appreciated for what it was intended, what it is, and what it will be.
17 – To be continued
This series is not over. In the next installment, we will look at black and white examples of abstract photographs.
18 – Workshops with Alain and Natalie Briot
If you enjoyed this essay you will enjoy attending a workshop with us. I lead workshops with my wife Natalie to the most photogenic locations in the US Southwest. Our workshops focus on the artistic aspects of photography. While we do teach technique, we do so for the purpose of creating artistic photographs. Our goal is to help you create photographs that you will be proud of and that will be unique to you. The locations we photograph include Navajoland, Antelope Canyon, Monument Valley, Zion, the Grand Canyon, White Sands and many others. Our workshops listing is available HERE.
We also organize the Fine Art Photography Summit each fall. This the Summit takes place in Zion National Park with field workshops afterwards to Bryce Canyon, Escalante Grand Staircase and Capitol Reef National Park. Our guest speaker is Jeff Schewe. Kevin Raber will be joining us and participating, in this unique event. Alain Briot and Jeff Schewe will be giving the classroom presentations. The link to the summit is the same as to our workshops above.
19 – About Alain and Natalie Briot
You can find more information about our workshops, photographs, writings and tutorials as well as subscribe to our Free Monthly Newsletter on our website . You will receive 40 free eBooks when you subscribe to my newsletter.
I create fine art photographs, teach workshops with Natalie and offer Mastery Tutorials on composition, image conversion, optimization, printing, business and marketing. I am the author of Mastering Landscape Photography, Mastering Photographic Composition, Creativity and Personal Style, Marketing Fine Art Photography and How Photographs are Sold. All 4 books are available in eBook format on our website at this link. Free samplers are available so you can see the quality of these books for yourself.