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What Makes Good Abstract Photography? 6 Great Tips

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Abstract photography explores the concept of seeing. Photographers create dynamic imagery without the use of objective subject matter.

They often use the elements and principles of art and design.

So what makes a good abstract photograph? Here are 6 tips to help you find out.

Cool abstract photography featuring streaks of red and white light against black background
Abstract photography explores the concept of seeing. Photo by Ahmad Dirini on Unsplash

6. What Is Abstract Photography

Abstract photographers aim to convey photography that lacks identifiable subject matter. Or that conveys obscured subject matter. They seek to appeal to a viewer’s innate emotions.

There are some examples of early non-objective photography. But it was during the 20th century that photographers began to embrace abstraction.

Alfred Stieglitz, Paul Strand, and Edward Steichen all experimented with abstract compositions.

Modern photographers apply abstract concepts to generate unique imagery. These include Gaston Bertin, Ellen Carey, Wolfgang Tillmans, and Shirine Gill.

They use a broad range of materials and processes, both digital and analog. They continue to push the boundaries of photography through abstract images today.

A black and white abstract image of a wooden structure - good abstract photography
Many artists have devised ways of conveying emotional landscapes free from the object world. Photo by Jimmy Ofisia on Unsplash

5. Photograph Shapes and Forms

Shape and form, though related, describe two different visual phenomena.

Shape is a flat, enclosed space created through the line, it has both a length and width. The form also has length and width, with the addition of depth, making it three-dimensional.

An easy way to remember the difference is that a shape is a square whereas a cube is a form.

Shapes reinforce an image, denoting immediacy, space, and contrast. Sectioning an image with shape breaks an image down into visual components.

Blurred shapes allude to movement and dynamism. Bold shapes provide structure and gravity.

Colored neon shapes against a black background - good abstract photography
Shape gives an image structure. Photo by Martim Braz on Unsplash

Like shape, form brings structural integrity to a photograph.

The dimensionality of form also cultivates a sense of reality, lifting an image off the page. Form appeals to our visual comprehension of the world. This adds depth and life to an abstract photograph.

Shape and form create the basis for much of abstract photography. But the quality of a shape delineates the visual outcome of an image.

Organic shapes and forms convey a sense of relaxation and calm. Inorganic shapes and forms exude a sense of movement and immediacy.

Colored shapes and forms reinforce associations with color. Black or white shapes create the stark anatomy of a photograph.

An example of form in abstract photography, each component consisting of length,width and depth.
An example of form, each component consisting of length, width, and depth. Photo by veeterzy on Unsplash

4. Incorporate Texture

Texture is the touchability of a photograph. Appealing to our inherent associations, texture adds physicality to a photograph.

As a solid visual handle, texture anchors the eye to strategic points in an image.

The interplay between light and shadow stimulates texture, emphasizing depth, shape, and form.

Textures also cultivate narrative, delineating time and space. A rough, well-worn surface has a different narrative to that of a shiny patina.

Photographers use texture to express narratives in abstract photography.

Frederick Sommer’s abstracted landscapes are full of textures. Minor White’s atmospheric imagery includes his rich use of textural fields.

Minimalist abstract photography using texture to generate interest and narrative
The raw texture of this abstract image generates interest and narrative. Photo by Paweł Czerwiński on Unsplash

3. Use Minimalism

Minimalism is a branch of abstract art that began in post–World War II Western art. It involves striving to say as much as possible with as little as possible.

Minimalists use simple geometric shapes to convey a visual experience.

Photographers create minimalist photoscapes that illustrate visual intensity and restraint. Some famous minimalist photographers include Hiroshi Sugimoto, Uta Barth, and Jan Staller.

There are many ways to generate simple and effective abstract photography. Asking yourself “what can I leave out of this photograph?” can make all the difference between photographing figurative imagery and abstraction.

Cropping images to cultivate abstraction engages the viewer. It invites them to envision what occurs beyond the frame.

Making use of negative space offsets subject matter. It creates a sense of balance or potentiality. A unifying concept in a frame brings impact and importance to your composition.

A simple and effective example of abstract photography of a cracked white and yellow wall
Keeping it simple and effective. Photo by Steinar Engeland on Unsplash

2. Go Macro

Macro photography reveals worlds that are impossible for the naked eye to see.

For macro, you need either a macro lensadapter or extension tubes. True macro photography renders the image on the sensor or film at the same size or larger than that in real life.

Abstract macro photography is like standard macro photography. It takes close-up photographs of subjects.

Abstract macro photographers put the focus on compositional elements. These include texture, color, and light to convey emotion over detail.

It isolates components of a scene. It removes inherent context and draws out fragments of a composition.

This both confuses and intrigues viewers.

Atmospheric macro abstract photography of flower petals against a pink background
The closer a viewer looks, the more expansive a macro image becomes. Photo by Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

1. Add Colour

Colour only came to the forefront of photography in the 1930s. It appeared as a novelty. But audiences related to color photography on a whole new level.

Incorporating color into abstract photography nowadays may seem like a no-brainer. With modern technology, it’s black and white photography that’s out of the norm.

Colour is a powerful tool. Using it in abstract photography can alter the dynamics of a photograph.

Red is attention-grabbing. It signals heat, danger, and love. Blue evokes associations with the sky, water, melancholy and calm.

It’s these associations that shape a viewer’s comprehension of an image. They cultivate an emotional exchange that sculpts the tone of a photograph.

The prevailing atmosphere of an abstract image hinges on its dominant color palate. Keep a check on the colors within the viewfinder.

Do they contribute to the overarching message in your image? If not, make adjustments environmentally, in-camera, on-camera or in post-production.

Even incremental changes in hue can change the outcome of an image. Don’t be afraid to experiment a little.

Cool abstract photo of blurred colored streaks of light
Colour can relate to an audience on a whole new level. Photo by Shabu Anower on Unsplash


Abstract photography is versatile and fluid. There are many factors that contribute to an abstract photograph.

It is crucial to understand abstraction. Focus on shapes and forms, texture, simplicity, macro photography and color. This will help you create strong abstract imagery.

You’ll emphasize compositional elements rather than literal subject matter.

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