Seeing the Abstract

Hi again,

Thanks for all your kind comments on my three part series on trees. Like a lot of things I do, it started small and grew into something bigger but the result was satisfying and very rewarding to me. This week I’m writing this post from the comfort and warmth of Panama City, Panama. Unfortunately, I’ll be home before this article goes live! The plus is that beginning next week, you’ll see a series of articles and post about our nineteen day stay in Panama including posts on our full day transit through the Panama Canal.

You often hear the sayings “one thing leads to another” or “when looking for something I found something else” both generally meaning serendipity, a chance event in a good or beneficial way. That’s the case with the photos and the topic of this post, abstracts. As I was looking through my photos for tree images, I came across a couple of abstract photos and the idea for this post was born. Abstract photography isn’t something that I practice a lot but when I do I’m reminded how much fun it is because it forces one to dig deeper into the creative process making it more of a challenge that the usual stuff I photograph.

There’s no commonly accepted definition of abstract photography although many well known photographers have tried. Typically, many authorities point out that an abstract image doesn’t have an immediate connection to the real or known world or another way to say it, as a fragment of a scene that removes it’s context from the viewer. Generally, an abstract photographer uses shapes, forms, colors, lines, patterns and textures as central features in the composition. If you’ve ever been to a museum or gallery that has a display of modern art or photography, you may have had the same reaction I’ve had “what the heck are they trying to tell me” or “I don’t get it.” I had this experience just the other day at a gallery in Panama City, a few drawings, paintings and photos that I just didn’t get! Years ago, my traveling partner told me about a quilt exhibit that she saw in an art gallery when she attended the International Quilt Show in Houston. She said I had to see it to believe it. Fortunately, this exhibit soon came to the Milwaukee Art Museum. These quilts were made by African-American women from the isolated village of Gee’s Bend, Alabama. They didn’t have patterns or fancy store bought materials, they used what they had to create these very abstract looking quilts that were made for everyday use, to keep warm. (To learn more Google, Gee’s Bend Quilts.) Viewing those quilts and learning about the women that made them gave me a deeper appreciation for the use of patterns, shapes and forms to create pleasing and interesting art in all forms.

What follows is my feeble attempt at making abstract photos. For some, I’ll explain what I did to create the image while I’ll leave others to your imagination. Let’s get started.

This first series of photos are of trees (remember they don’t move much!) usually taken late in the day or when the clouds mute the sunlight. To take these, I use a slow shutter speed, a low ISO and aperture opening of around f-16 to maximize the amount of time of exposure, depending on the scene. Then hand holding the camera, I pan up sometimes slow, sometimes fast, again depending on the light available and the scene. The top two photos are of aspen trees in the fall of the year with brightly colored leaves. Note the patterns and textures of the trees and colors of the leaves in the background. The third photo was taken along a hiking trail deep in the forest, I like the “painterly” effect this images creates. The bottom three photos are of trees without leaves and converted to black and white to add moodiness and besides that they looked better! My favorite is the fourth photo, I especially like the breaks in the mostly vertical pattern. Which is your favorite?trees-9662trees-9634abstract-5355


These photos are of vegetation such as grasses and flowers. The bottom photo is taken looking down at a pot of mums, then the camera is rotated to give that swirly look. Viewers can make out the flowers in the center of the photo as the rotation is more pronounced toward the edges of the image.trees-0727abstract-9863abstract-4240

This series of photos uses water, reflections, patterns and indirect light to create the abstract look.trees-7340IMG_5340.JPGabstract-3404

This photo is one of my favorites because of it’s simplicity and design. Can you guess what the reality is? Answer 1 at the end of this post.abstract-1654

Observe the patterns, lines, shadows and light used to create these abstracts. Some of the subjects may appear to be more “real” and more in context than others. Any guesses what the fourth photo in this series is in real life? Answer 2 at the end of this post.IMG_3792.JPGIMG_3703.JPGchristmas lights-7443abstract-8613abstract-7486IMG_3228.JPG

This grouping is a little far out and probably need some explanation. The top photo is taken from a bridge at night overlooking a highway with car lights coming and going. The next four photos were taken at night of lighted parts of buildings (they also don’t move much). On the second and third photos, I twisted the barrel of the zoom lens to give the impressions of movement. The same technique was used on this stained glass window on a local church to create these whimsical images. One of the things I should mention is that this an experimental process, there isn’t a formula although it helps to know how the exposure triangle (aperture, shutter speed and ISO) works. From there it’s experimentation, trial and error. Lots of error!abstract-3361abstract-3358abstract-1578


These two photos were made by having the camera sitting on the dashboard of my truck then driving down a fairly busy street at night. Don’t worry, I used a shutter release cable to shoot these images. Look how the patterns, the vibrations of the vehicle and the unevenness of the road prompt viewers to ask “what is that?” I rather like this effect.abstract-3728abstract-3725

As you might suspect, these photos are of buildings using forms, shapes and angles to create the images. When I’m teaching photography to others, I often ask them to take photos of buildings or parts of a buildings. Much of the time, photographing a part of a building will tell more of a story than the whole building. What do think?abstract-3369abstract-3368abstract-1214_MG_1790.JPGabstract-9455

Next a couple of people pictures, the top photo was hand held at a party with one of those disco balls and colored lights to give that weird light pattern. The bottom photo was taken sitting on a bench with the camera nearly on the ground of people walking by. The motion is created with a slow shutter speed.abstract-1256abstract-0473

Ok, one last photo and one of favorites of all time titled “Madeline Island Ferry.” It was taken from the ferry dock as the ferry was leaving for the mainland. It was very windy making the water very rough and heavy ferry bounce around a little more. The effect was created by panning the camera from left to right, again with a slow shutter speed. I’d welcome your thoughts.abstract-9913

That does it for this week, hope you enjoyed the abstracts. For the next several weeks, stay tuned for photos and stories from our recent trip to Panama.

Until next week, happy travels!



Answer 1: Ice and open water.

Answer 2: Dancers in the Capitol Rotunda, taken from the second floor.



6 thoughts on “Seeing the Abstract

  1. Tom – I look forward to your posts – Your Abstracts are quite varied and creative! Kurt

    1. Beautiful! Tom I’m so happy we met in Panama. These abstracts are very interesting and a pleasant experience viewing. I look forward to keeping an eye on your blog for more photography, and for sure our Panama experiences via your eye and skill.

      1. Thanks Toni for your kind comments. Yes, the first Panama installment will appear on Sunday. If you follow my blog site you’ll receive an email when an article is posted. The follow is at the end of a post, click and enter your email address. Hope you had a good trip back from Panama. We enjoyed our extra 12 day stay. Take care, Tom

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