Abstract art photography

surreal abstract photographyAbstract art photography is, I realised, not easy.

I had thought it would be easy for me because many of my photos have an abstract slant, such as this photo of what's left of a lotus flower after the petals had fallen off.

abstract art

More than once, I had people turning my photographs around to figure out what it was. I had created a few photographic images that, I thought, could be called "abstract".

But when I tried to create more, I realised how difficult it was.

Because abstraction is, in a sense, contrary to photography. Photographs essentially capture reality (even though some ultra wide-angle lenses distort), whereas the aim of abstraction is to move away from reality.

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I also thought that, with Adobe Photoshop, abstract art would be easy – since Photoshop offers so many different ways of manipulating and altering images, to the extent that a man can be transformed into a monster, or, for that matter, into a woman.

But most adjustments don't work. Or rather, I don't know how to make them work.

Just because I managed to produce a distortion of the original photograph does not mean that I have created a work of abstract art photography. It's hard to distort in an artistic way.


surreal abstract photographyThe image above, of some Chinese graffiti, was one of my early “successes” that encouraged me to explore abstract art photography. By the way, I cannot read Chinese and I don't know what the words mean. Hope they are not vulgar.

It was taken off a table top during a solo photography walkabout around the backlanes of Little India last year (2004).

The original image was of black words written on a red tabletop that was covered with scratches. It did not turn out as well as I had expected, and I was trying to see how I could improve it with Photoshop.

I didn't know much about Photoshop at that time – I still don't – and was just clicking around to see what happens when I happend to click Filter > Stylize > Solarize.

I got more or less the image above (which has since been adjusted slightly to improve the sharpness) and I thought to myself, "Hey, that's not bad".

I experimented further, clicked Filter > Stylize > Find edges and got this image on the left. And I thought, "Hey, that's not bad too.” That encouraged me to explore abstract art photography.

During that same walkabout, I also photographed this image below, which might also qualify as “abstract art”. It is a close-up of another graffiti – the sort that you would expect to find only in backlanes. It is actually part of the letter “I” in a large graffiti that read, “No urine”.

abstract art

The colors were not so rich on the original and I darkened the overall image as well as increased the saturation of the red. Apart from that slight adjustment, the image is untouched and, therefore, realistic. But because it is a small part of a much larger image, it is not what people normally see or pay attention to. In this sense, it is abstract art.

Close-up, in fact, is an easy and common way to produce abstract photographs. Many photographers who take extreme close-up pictures of flowers call such images "abstract art".

I don't have examples to show as I don't own the necessary lenses (or bellows, extension tubes and other accessories) for extreme close-up photography, but if you search the Internet for "abstract photography" you will find quite a few examples.

What I have to show, however, is this close up of Ayers Rock – the biggest rock in the world – situated right at the centre of Australia.

Also known as Uluru, Ayers Rock is more than 318 metres (986 feet) high and 8 km (5 miles) around. It further extends 2.5 km (1.5 miles) into the ground. And it is a single piece of rock, not a mountain.

ayers rock uluru

Most people take photographs of Ayers Rock from a distance, and most do it at sunrise when the light is most spectacular.

I did that too. But what to do after the sun has risen? Go back to the hotel? Fortunately, I had a self-drive car with me, so I drove around the rock to view – and photograph – it from various angles and I saw this gigantic crack.

I viewed it through my 200 mm lens, said to myself, “Wow!” and took this single shot.

I think this qualifies to be called abstract art? Few people would know it is Ayers Rock and few can guess how big the crack is. If you see an enlarged print of this picture (unfortunately it is not visible on screen) you will see the naked branches of a tree in the bottom right hand corner. That will give an idea of the scale of the image.

Here are a few more “abstract” close-ups, of a cloth taken at a cloth factory, and of the hands of a carpet maker in Pakistan.

close up abstract art close up abstract art

I would not call them genuine abstract art photographs, though. They are more in the category of ordinary, close-up photographs with an abstract slant.

Yet another way to produce an abstract photograph is to blur it, like what I did for the picture below.

gaussian blur

This was the ceiling of my old house in Serangoon Gardens, Singapore – the house, in fact, the room, where I was born in and lived for more than 30 years.

I woke up one morning and saw this interesting play of lights and shadows, grabbed my camera (I cannot remember why it was nearby my bed) and took a shot.

The original photograph was sharp and yellowish – but not quite golden – because of the morning sun. I thought this sllightly blur version (Filter > Blur > Gaussian blur), with the colors desaturated, makes a nice black and white abstract art.

Yet another way to produce an abstract photograph is to change its color, preferably in a dramatic way. This will produce a surreal image, and might be called surreal abstract photography.

I experimented first with this lotus flower picture, and was pleased with the result. Yes you can still recognise it as a lotus flower (click here to view the original image) but the colors are, well, surreal.

I tried again with a similar lotus photograph, and a slightly different color scheme, and the result was still pleasing.

Thus encouraged, I started experimenting with my other flower pictures - lotus, orchids and others.

BUT NONE WORKED OUT WELL. .

Yes, the colors were sureal and the pictures looked, well, abstract. But none had the evocative power of these two above.

This was when I thought to myself, that even surreal abstract art photography is not easy!

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