11 March 2010

Seeing Abstractly

Learn to see abstractly by looking for geometrical forms and compelling compositions despite the “subject matter”. A good way to sidestep preconceived images is to consider a subject that’s commonly photographed, a well-known icon.

To learn to “see creatively” we should approach the subject in a more personal yet more detached manner as if you were a child experiencing it for the first time. This manner of “seeing” isn’t natural for many. We “know” what the Statue of Liberty, Washington Monument, and Gateway Arch “look like.” We need to reconsider these subjects “abstractly” as two-dimensional forms without reference to its well-known image.

Arch base

Look for suggestive forms, shapes, and lines for creatively framing you image. The actual “subject” is secondary. Your task is creating a compelling photograph. Use ambiguity to achieve a meaningful level of abstraction. By abstraction, I don’t mean, “Something no one can possibly identify.” Rather I mean forms suggestive of other things eliciting emotional reactions.

Frame the subject from an unusual viewpoint or limit the image to a fragment of the subject. Work to perceive the two-dimensional forms displayed on your screen as an interesting composition on its own grounds.


My view of the Gateway Arch was taken looking up one leg and then adjusting my view until the arch’s top touched the corner of the frame.

It takes a focused effort to find new ways of perceiving things you “already know.”

View from the Arch

A DSLR’s LCD display is helpful. Use the framed forms in the display to test possible compositions. Look for shapes suggestive of other objects with multiple references like an ear, tongue, road, or other identifiable form.

A higher density of references enhances a photograph’s potential richness and power. Try shooting in series.. Become fully engaged visually and physically. Move around adjusting view, position, zoom, etc. Continue exploring alternative viewpoints until you feel perhaps you’ve accomplished a step in the right direction. Evaluate your images later on a monitor rather than trying to prejudge what is good or bad on site.

Note: This blog entry was previously published on the Digital Photography School site with the title "Learn to See Abstractly" as a guest post. I've reposted it here upon request.

1 comment:

  1. These shots are gorgeous.

    Looking at the first, I thought you might like this: http://farm5.static.flickr.com/4049/4479212635_beb4b9879d.jpg

    Daniel Ogassian (ogassian.com) designed the concrete tile - it's called Optic 1 - it creates the optical illusion of movement.