In art, the term abstract is the representation of an idea rather than a replication. In abstract landscape photography, artists use natural elements to depict the concept of a landscape rather than shooting explicit images of a landscape.
Unlike traditional landscape photography, which gives the viewer all of the information needed to tell them what the portrait’s subject matter is. Abstract landscape photography gives just enough to elicit imaginative and emotional stimulation.
How to Achieve Abstraction in Landscape Photography
An abstract landscape photograph typically focuses on an isolated landscape element, like water droplets, rock textures, or grass blades. Light, movement, exposure, and color are the tools at a photographer’s disposal when creating an isolated element’s shot.
Light can create shadows or highlights in an image. Light, or the absence of it, can accentuate contrast and highlight details. The backlight can create silhouette images and interesting variations when combined with fog, waves, smoke, or any translucent subject.
Shutter speed is a significant factor: Long exposure times and movement can create blurred backgrounds. Similarly, fast exposure times can capture the sun’s reflections in nature that might otherwise be too bright to be viewed by the naked eye. Take into consideration the effect of bright sunlight, reflecting on the waves in a rock-laden stream.
The presence or use of color is a crucial mental cue for the viewer. Not all, but many photographs are best in black and white. Changing the same image to color provides contextual clues that can change how a viewer interprets the image. The result depends on what goal the photographer is looking to achieve with the image.
How Composition Affects an Abstract Landscape Portrait
Composition, or how elements in a photo are arranged, are increasingly important in a landscape shot. While traditional landscape portraits rely on a conventional design like a large body of water or field of grass in the background and a smaller subject like a plant or person in the foreground, abstractionism photography shots don’t have to play by the same rules.
As the artist in a shot, you have to select your composition to convey your intended message carefully. In traditional landscape shots, everything is clearly defined. In the abstract, the artist has to determine what they want the viewer to see.
Best Practices for Abstract Landscape Photography
If you are brand new to the art of this type of photography, it can be overwhelming to figure out. Sometimes removing all of the rules that you are accustomed to is freeing, and sometimes it is stressful. Here are some tips that can help you nail an abstract landscape shot as a beginner.
Know your Location
As a beginner, start by shooting in a location where you are familiar. Spend some time researching and planning to time your shoot when there is an appropriate amount of light for the intended goal. Know what external factors might affect your shoots like traffic or weather.
Start Close to Home
Learning a new skill is a challenging task for anyone. There is no need to make a big production out of it. Planning a big trip to travel to the perfect destination puts too much pressure on you as a photographer. Stay closer to home and look for opportunities in your backyard or nearby park.
Keep an Open Mind
Not everything is about planning. The creative nature of abstract photography requires an open mind. Look for unplanned possibilities and take chances to get the best shots. Being too rigid in your idea of what you want to shoot can ruin your photo op.
Pay Attention to the Colors
Narrow down the field of possibilities by choosing a focus color. Look for subject matter that matches your color palette and start shooting there. Remember, in abstract photography, color plays a significant role in how the viewer sees the image. Consider what feelings you want to elicit and what colors will do that best.
Use Texture to Your Advantage
Look at your surroundings. What textures do you notice? Does the bark on a tree look interesting? How about the texture of a bricked path or paved walkway. Consider the texture as your subject matter and look for ways to accentuate the texture with light, shadow, or color.
Look for Unique Patterns in Your Surroundings
Along with texture, patterns make an exciting subject matter for this type of landscape photography. Look at a city-building, and instead of seeing windows to offices, look like a geometric pattern of rectangles. Look at a winding river as a free-flowing line, and the imperfect spheres of rock gravel as shapes instead of rocks.
Get a New View (Perspective)
If nothing is triggering your creativity, try to change your perspective. Lay down on the ground or climb up in a tree. Look for shapes, not subjects. Pick a subject and try a very close-up shot or a very far-away shot. Try to take a slice of that subject and frame it differently instead of photographing the whole view.
Move the Camera
Movement is one of the foundational elements of photography. As a skilled photographer, you are probably more comfortable with keeping your camera steady. Still, movement can provide a uniquely skewed view of the environment that lends itself well to photography.
Shoot Abstract Landscapes Without the Sky
Traditional landscape photography almost always includes a wide-angle view of the land and sky to portray a complete picture. But in abstract landscape photography, there are no rules. Get rid of the sky in your shots. Don’t even consider including it. Focus on the trunks of the trees or the stones of a footpath.
Use Monochromatic Color Schemes
Abstract and mono-color schemes go hand in hand. Black and white are particularly useful for highlighting the light and shadows in a photograph. If texture looks interesting in color, chances are it will impact high-contrast black and white.
Embrace the Unique
Traditional landscape photography is about balance and symmetry. In abstract landscape photography, the opposite is true. If you struggle to find a good shot because you are looking for something simple, embrace the chaos and focus on an interesting element within the clutter. Rather than taking a photo that feels more like a ‘Where’s Waldo’ diagram, go close up and focus on a single detail within the chaos.
Match the Lens to the Shot
While traditional landscape photography is best with a wide-angle lens, this type of photography is different. A good macro lens is essential to get clear close-up shots. A tele zoom lens is also important to hone in on details from a distance. You never know what you might find until you zoom in on an interesting detail.
Shoot in the Raw, Work Your Magic in Post-editing
Digital photography opens the door to possibilities with post-production editing. You can take raw footage and manipulate the cropping, color, lighting, and special effects. Beginners with photography might find more confidence in manipulating images in a program like photoshop rather than shooting for the perfect shot.
Use Motion to Create Interest
Have you ever seen a photograph of a bustling city taken in a way that the cars and people seem to blur together? This is an iconic example of using motion blur to create an abstract landscape portrait. This type of photography doesn’t have to give perfect detail; it just has to provide the detail’s suggestion.
Take Advantage of Reflections
Instead of taking a picture of a beautiful oak tree full of fall color, look for a reflection of the water’s trees and shoot that. If this photography is about the suggestion of a subject rather than about the subject itself, there is no better way to capture the essence of that than in a reflection.
Ice and Frost Create an Easy Visual Interest
If you have ever woken up to a freshly glazed landscape after an ice storm then you have seen the raw beauty of ice and sunlight. Capture the light’s essence reflecting through ice or frost prisms as the subject for a shot for an easy introduction and beautiful photograph.
Forget About Scale
People or buildings are commonly used in these photographs to provide a sense of scale. In abstract landscape photography, no rules mean no need to create a sense of scale. If you want to shoot a leaf with a macro lens and give the impression that it is the same size as an elephant, there are no limits in this niche. Shoot to your heart’s content.
Skip the Horizon
The horizon is the common focal point of any decent landscape portrait. This type of photography doesn’t conform to such typical conventions. Skip the horizon all together and shoot a tree from the base looking up or down a canyon looking from above.
Lighting is Key
Lighting and shadows are your best friend when shooting for abstract landscape shots. The key is in the details which are accentuated by the absence or presence of light. If you get the lighting right, you can shoot any subject with great interest. You can make a piece of art out of a board or a rock or a tree with the right lighting.
Endless Opportunities by the Seaside
If you are still at a loss of where to shoot for abstract landscapes, go seaside. The water provides a naturally translucent subject. The sand and rocks provide great textures. There will be no shortage of good subject matter for abstract landscapes when you spend a day with your camera at the beach.
Don’t Do Too Much
The hardest thing for many newcomers to do is to keep the shots simple. When something like abstract landscape photography is new, there are a million ideas and a thousand how-to pieces of information buzzing around in your head. The best shots are effortless, like droplets of water on a leaf.
Weather Won’t Rain on Your Parade
Most photographers curse the storm clouds because of a bit of rain or overcast conditions to wreck a photoshoot. But to the abstract photographer, a cloudy sky is as good as a sunny day for visual interest.
Work with the Light
Take notice of how the light interacts with the scene. If the sun is creating an interesting shadow, work with that shadow to find the subject of your shot.
Don’t Be Afraid to Get Dirty
Abstract landscape shots are everywhere in nature. Get your hands dirty and do a little gardening. Take a picture of a spiderweb with a macro lens, capturing how sunlight reflects off the morning sun’s dewdrops.
Think Like a Graphic Designer
Sometimes photographers get caught up in the mechanics. If the result is an art statement, forget about the mechanics of how to get the shoot. Think like a graphic designer and look for the colors, patterns, and textures that you want to highlight in your subject matter.
Editing Can Improve Raw Shots
Every skill is one that needs practice. Don’t focus so much on getting the perfect shot in the field. Go more for concepts than perfection. Play with your abstract images in editing and try cropping different ways for artistic effect.
What to Remember About Abstract Landscape Photography
Abstract landscape photography does not follow any of the conventional rules of landscape photography. There is no need to focus on horizons, sky, or scale. Let your creativity inspire you and look for a world of possibility in small details. Use light, texture, and patterns to guide your eye. Do the best you can in the raw and then improve your images in editing.
The use of light and color are two of the most powerful elements of an abstract photograph. Just remember that an abstract picture gives the viewer a subject’s suggestion rather than depicting the subject.